Eschatology is the study of the “end times.” There are many opinions about the end times. For myself, I think the world entered the end times with the Incarnation of Jesus. At that time a new reality of human history began and everything that has happened since and will happen until history is long past is founded on that event.
If my thinking about the end times is right, the whole Christian period on earth is part of the end times and all that is in Scripture concerning this period may apply to us or to Christians who have come before us, and after us. The four gospels and the Book of Acts tell us the history of the beginnings of Christianity. The book of Revelation tells us the rest of the story. It is a very complex book because that is the way history is. Another difficulty is that we cannot know where we are on the time-line if there is one. A third problem arises from the fact that John had to describe spiritual entities in terms of physical images.
All in all, I believe the end times we live in are complex mixture of physical and spiritual events of which most occur outside the realm of our human understanding unless their meaning is revealed to us by God.
In my previous post I wrote about a reformed Christianity maintaining the integrity of biological science. In this one I think I will go to the other end of the spectrum and write about rediscovering our spirituality. First though, I will begin with a caution.
Back in the seventh century there was a monk, ascetic, and author named John who wrote a book titled The Ladder. After his death he was designated a saint so in those days before surnames he came to be known as St. John of the Ladder. The ladder of the book is a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, something like Jacob’s ladder. There are 30 steps on the ladder representing 30 steps to spiritual perfection whereby a person could ascend to God. This sounds good so far, but the ladder is standing over the pit of Hell and it is possible for people to fall off the ladder into spiritual damnation.
You may wonder why I am telling you this as I have very little expectation that you will be trying to follow the steps in The Ladder. My point is that The Ladder is similar in its approach to spirituality to the many, many self-help Christian books published every year. These books present sanctification as a do-it-yourself project and fool most people who read them into thinking they can do something they cannot, so they are likely to fall off of the ladder. The ones who can do what the books recommend are as likely to end up sanctimonious as sanctified.
Our sanctification is a project taken on by Christ and the Holy Spirit when we become part of the family of God. Our role is to cooperate in the process and resist being our naturally difficult and reluctant selves. God had plans for us from before Creation, and these plans will be carried out no matter how much it takes to shape us into what we are meant to be. Our part is to pray for the grace to be able to participate and rejoice in the process. This being so, we do not have to look at ourselves or do works to develop into spiritual people. Spirituality is more than looking to ourselves. It is being able to see and know the things of God.
We, at this stage in our existence, are primarily physical beings. This is good and what God intended yet it also raises barriers to our spirituality. These blockages are categorized in the New Testament as the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world is all the physical reality that surrounds us. At one end of its nature it is so beautiful and kind it can lead us to believe in the reality of God. Other aspects of it threaten our very existence. Whichever face nature is showing us, it is significant, immediate, and forceful. It is hard to get our mind off of it, but that is what we are going to have to do if we are to rediscover our spirituality.
Our flesh is also urgent and in its necessities not to be denied. However, we are often confused about what we need and what we desire. In our desires we can use our flesh and nature in ways that are not for our good, either physically or spiritually. I think some of the things we can do are so far from God’s purposes for us they can be called soul-killers. These, of course, block any access to the spiritual things of God. This leads us to the third category.
The devil stands for all the spiritual beings in rebellion against God. Their leader, Satan, was described by Jesus as the father of lies, and it is by lies these beings work against our physical and spiritual wellbeing. These deceptions range from the denial of the existence of evil spirits to imitations of the glory of God. To list all of the lies being told in our culture would take a gigabyte at least. Not only are we surrounded by lies, it has become so that the only people who get in trouble for what they say are those who tell the truth. Rediscovering our spirituality will give us the understanding to recognize all these falsehoods; however getting to that point will require discarding some things in which we have been deceived.
It is wrong to present myself as an authority on spirituality, so what I am going to do is remind you of three sayings of Jesus and then discuss how they apply to contemporary American Christianity. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “No one comes to the Father except through me.” “The gate is narrow.”
American Christianity appears to offer many routes to God. Churches, the Bible, Bible study, good works, other religions (if practiced sincerely), openness to the Holy Spirit, sacraments, and other seemingly good things are said to be ways to God. Most of these are ways to bypass Jesus. It is not surprising that this is so. If you read the New Testament carefully, you will see that Jesus was not an easy person to relate to. Those who came to him with questions rarely, or never, got the answers they expected or wanted. He spoke of loyalty to him coming before relationships in our families. He also told us we should lay down our lives and take up the cross of obedience daily.
We are much more likely to be told Jesus is our friend and that we are his brothers and sisters. This is partially true, but he is also prophet, priest, and king and we ignore this fuller truth at our hazard. It used to be said that “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Perhaps the saying for our time is that “The path to spiritual deadness is marked by partial truths.”
Many Christians have become, to a greater or less extent, universalists. This is the belief that all or most people will be given a pass to eternal life because “God is Love.” There are lots of objections to universalist beliefs. My major personal one is that it allows persons holding that belief to yammer on and on about the “Problem of Pain”—while their unbelief prevents them from knowing the answer. A more objective reason for rejecting universalist beliefs is that they make everything that happens on earth meaningless. This not only includes all that Jesus did on earth but the worth of the choice people make when they chose to repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
We will rediscover our spirituality when we learn to be focused on all it means to be truly Christian. That means we become obedient disciples of the God-man who came to earth. Quite a while ago, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “To a great extent, in spiritual things, we get what we expect from the Lord. Faith alone can bring us to see Jesus.” So let us raise our expectations of spirituality and increase our faith so we will become people able to worship the Father in spirit and truth, and thus become spiritually alive.