“Interesting—your essay-letter, full of insights. But best of all your letter to
Ropar. Brilliant”—Eugene Peterson
Thanks for the web address. I’m basically agnostic about reincarnation.
Maybe John the baptizer was the reincarnated Elijah, maybe no. More
important to me is the understanding of the nature and spirit of both. Both
seem to epitomize the spirit that Oswald Chambers characterized of the
anti-Christ: one of “absolute moral perfection.” Elijah especially, did
many things contrary to the Spirit of Christ (no wonder he was a depressive
and sometimes suicidal—but God’s servant none the less). Jesus claimed that
the calling down of fire from heaven to punish ones enemies is not of God’s
It’s interesting to consider that the “hardened”, Jewish mindset still puts
its hopes in a “power” Messiah. Like all good fundamentalists, Israel
thinks that a divine, external force is able to whip people into shape. No,
Jesus softens ones heart, in his time, and everything happens on the inside.
His calling and election are ultimately irresistible, a call that St. Paul
claims is “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). We are now living in the
dispensation of the grace of God. Tell that to a Hassidic Jew. Grace and
mercy mean little to one “hardened” by God (Romans 9:18). Christians,
though, maintain the “hopeful imagination” regarding all people. Anyone
could be called of God now, and that should be our approach. This was the
heart of St. Paul regarding Israel, though he is the first to claim they are
”hardened” (see Romans 9:1-5).
Elijah “prepares the way of the Lord” in the sense that his spirit keeps
alive the Jewish hope of a conquering, power-mongering god. Christian
fundamentalists are of the same spirit and are presently doing the “work of
Elijah”. They present to the world a Christ I used to know: the god of
retribution and power, or “forces” as Daniel put it. This part of the church
craves a conquering, rod-wielding returning Jesus who will finally “kick
butt” and force peace on earth. The fundamentalist Jews and fundamentalist
Christians are sleeping in the same bed. Both will receive the desire of
their hearts; that’s how God does things: “with the devious you will show
yourself shrewd” (Psa.18). How this actually works out is not clear and is
really not important.
God gives us the desires of our hearts, good and bad. For
some reason God
has “hardened” the Jewish heart and I feel he will somehow give them its
desire: a hierarchical, power-imposing king and kingdom to come, however
that works out. The coming, ruling “messiah” will rule in the spirit of
”absolute moral perfection,” insuring that the law will be kept or there
will be hell to pay. God lets this happen for a period of time. The
fundamentalist idea that God is on our side (others “Left Behind”), and
incidentally, we too shall reign in power with him—is a heady one indeed.
It also falls short of Jesus’ “poverty of spirit” ideal and therefore,
ultimate Reality. Fundamentalist Christians need to ask themselves: why is
my spirit so aligned with Israel’s spirit—a people apparently not yet
called to know God and his true nature? St. Paul promises that they will get
their turn, but this is beside the point.
Judgment must cave under its own weight and this power- kingdom will fall
magnificently. Broken, poverty-stricken Israel will finally arrive at the
threshold of where Jesus works: poverty of spirit and a pervading sense that
”I cannot begin to do it” (we receive from God best when in “need”). Then
Israel’s eyes will be opened to see their Brother—the one whose nature they
had persecuted. Then, “all Israel shall be saved”, according to St. Paul.
Then, mercy will rejoice over judgment. Judgment is a process and, by its
very nature, can never be an end in itself. The real “end”, or “Omega” is
Jesus and what we are in him.
During the “messianic kingdom” (whatever this actually represents), real
character development was not happening (externally imposed “holiness”,
maybe, but not real character development). This is indicated by what
happens at the end of the “thousand years” (probably not literal): The
devil is let loose and the whole rickety thing collapses, pictured by an
immediate, stampeding, mass reverting to an anti-God stance as seen in Rev.
20:7-9. I would guess all this is figurative and not literal, in that God
himself pours fire down from heaven—a thing that Jesus says is not a part
of his essential nature, and he “changes not”. Fire, in figure, represents
in the Bible, refining and purifying. Seen this way, this section of
scripture becomes hopeful and is not vindictive.
The Bible’s talk of “Kingdom”, the “thousand years”, the “Lake of Fire”,
etc., are literal to the dispensationalist. They are figurative to the
”covenant theologian.” Maybe it’s some of both, I don’t know, and it really
doesn’t matter. Bottom line, God eventually becomes “all in all”, every
enemy is subdued unto him, even death itself.
Antithetical to the power/kingdom model of the fundamentalists is the good
news about God himself. Karl Barth said the gospel is about God, God
himself, and only God. Evangelical Christianity in its worship of the idol
of “free will” (rather, we have “limited choice”) has made the gospel all
about us and what we do! This feeds into our natural narcissism and promotes
endless amounts of self-examination, self-incrimination and religious
scrupulosity (Paul said he had come to the point where he no longer even
judged himself). It also makes the “fewness doctrine” reasonable and “hell”
The reason the doctrine of universal reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19) is
such a big part of the true gospel is that it’s the one doctrine that speaks
directly to the nature and sovereignty of God. It subverts our worship of
”will” (Paul called it “will worship”) and restores God to his rightful
place: worthy of, and able to receive, worship by all. It is the means by
which “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess...”.
Meanwhile, those who have the “good news” commission to represent the true
nature of God, continue to covertly do the work of dispelling false images
of God, and the restoring of right ones (see Hos. 2:16-17). This is
accomplished with or without the use of the verbal name of “Jesus”. I would
rather have a Native American medicine man that represents the nature of God
faithfully, than one using the name “Jesus” who slanders his name espousing
his false doctrines. Our battle is one of “wicked spirits in high places”
according to Paul—not “names.” Phonetics is nothing, the “divine nature”,
disposition and personality of God are everything. “Sacred names” only mean
something within the context of what those names represent.
Our battle with “wicked sprits in high places” brings up I think a vital,
final point. However “gospel” may translate to each of us and how we then
”release” it to bless others: it seems it must inhabit the “now” and our
responsibility to our families, our under-privileged society, and the
environment. To some of us it will mean giving ourselves a break. Valid
”gospel” is always by “attraction” and never by “promotion.” We live in the
present, the time between Alpha and Omega. That’s where the exciting
opportunities exist—and trust that the “Divine Nature” will “make
everything beautiful in its time” (Eccl. 3:11), no matter how things may
work out “on the way.”