The Eschatology of Death
The dying have no future, and they know it. They speak of, and limit their vision to, the present and its sufferings. The future of the dying is a very limited one, and, usually, they do not go beyond a few days, or more than a month, in their thinking. Theirs is the eschatology of death, and men without faith have no other eschatology. Death and the certainty of death blots out all other considerations or else governs them all.
The same is true of cultures. Death comes upon them rapidly when the faith of the culture collapses or wanes. The confidence which once enabled them as a small minority to dominate their world melts away, and they cannot set their own house in order nor control it. Dying cultures block out tomorrow, having no confidence in their ability to cope with growth and the problems of growth. Dying Greece and dying Rome both saw themselves as overpopulated and as overwhelmed with peoples and problems, and so too does our modern, dying statist humanism feel. It talks desperately about zero population growth and zero economic growth, because behind such thinking is a zero future, an intellectual and religious bankruptcy.
The father of modern humanistic economics, Lord Keynes, when asked about the consequences of his economic theories "in the long run," answered simply, "In the long run, we are all dead." The growing disaster of Keynesian economics, and a world practicing it, should not surprise us. It was born without a future, and it was a product of an age which, like the dying, lived for the moment and with no thought of the future.
The dying live for the moment, because they have no future. Converted into a formal philosophy, the name of such a state of anticipated death is existentialism. For the existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, man is a futile passion who wills to be a god but is faced only with the certainty of death.
In one area after another, the eschatology of death governs our world. Yesterday, a letter came from a young man in Alaska which read in part as follows:
I'm a surveyor, but I'm not registered by the state because I haven't passed a test, but I can't take the test because I haven't worked for a registered surveyor for eight years... At this time...there is no chance of employment for a registered land surveyor. I have to turn down work, because I can't sign for it. I have an education in land surveying and I feel that I could Pass the test...The registered land surveyors have legislated themselves a monopoly.
Alaska may call itself the last frontier, or a new frontier, but it was born dead, with an eschatology of death. Like dying New York City, it strangles itself with its own ungodly laws.
This situation is not unusual but commonplace. In some cities and states, no young man can qualify to be a plumber, or a carpenter, or in various other callings, unless his father is an important person in the union. The dying legislate against the future.
This eschatology of death is common to all ages and classes. The old are very prone to damning the younger generations, but one of the menaces of our time is the growing demands on public funds by the aging. With the decline in the birth rate, the United States may face a crisis in not too many years when each gainfully employed person will be supporting two persons on social security, and other forms of aid. Such a situation will not occur only because disaster will first overtake any society which works itself into such a predicament.
The younger generations are no better, of course. They seek statist solutions for all problems: totalitarianism in the economic sphere (and therefore in the political as well), and total permissiveness in the moral sphere. This is irresponsibility, and irresponsibility is an urgent invitation to disaster and death.
Not surprisingly, humanistic education is dominated by the eschatology of death. It creates a demand for instant results and instant gratification. It teaches children to play at being a state senate, or a congress, and to legislate feelings, as though "good" wishes can determine reality. The child matures physically but remains a child, demanding instant results and gratification, utopia now without either work or faith. Education for permanent childhood means a society of incompetents, of all ages, whose politics becomes a demand politics. Because a demand politics produces disasters, the politicians who feed or gratify this demand are readily and angrily made the scapegoats for a graceless and irresponsible citizenry.
In Speech and Reality (1970), Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote of the social dangers and evils confronting modern civilization. These are, he said, first, anarchy. In anarchy, people and classes "do not care to come to an agreement." Instead of ties uniting men, there are now divisions only, with each pursuing his own interest. Second, decadence is a very great evil. Decadence is manifested at a critical point: parents do not have "the stamina of converting the next generation to their own aims and ends. Decadence is the disease of liberalism today." The consequence is the barbarization of the younger generation. Since they are not made heirs of the past and its faith, they become the barbarians of the present. (The modern family, like the modern school, is a school for barbarians.) "The only energy that can fight this evil is faith. Faith, properly speaking, never is a belief in things of the past, but of the future. Lack of faith is a synonym for decadence," Rosenstock-Huessy held.
Third, in his list of evils is revolution, which is a consequence of anarchy and decadence. The old and the past are liquidated or eliminated as meaningless and irrelevant, which indeed they have made themselves to be, by their lack of faith and their destructive education of the young. Fourth in the list of evils is war. War is a sign of impotence. A system or philosophy of life which has no power to convert becomes imperialistic. For the zeal and faith of peaceful missionary work it substitutes brutal terror. A failing faith resorts to war, because it lacks the contagion of faith and conviction and can only force men into its own system. War is the resort of those who lack true power and are declining.
In brief, Rosenstock-Huessy said, anarchy is a crisis created by a lack of unity and community. Decadence is the collapse of faith. Revolution means a lack of respect, indeed, a contempt, for the past and present. War is an indication of a loss of power and a resort to force to perpetuate or advance a system.
All of these things are aspects of the eschatology of death. But there is still another aspect. Because the modern taboo is death, people are prissy and hesitant about the plain facts of dying. It is often assumed, out of fear, that most deaths are costly, long, and lingering, which in most cases is not true. Death often comes quickly. It is also assumed that death comes to a bland man, again not true. It comes to Christians and to unbelievers, and with many shades of difference. Death among some of the ungodly who die a lingering death unleashes a radical hatred of the living. One man, a life-long reprobate and adulterer, abandoned his wife as "too old" and moved in with a younger widow, whom he enriched to a degree. When terminally ill, he was ordered out by his mistress, and only his wife would have him. Instead of gratitude, he daily showered her and their children with hatred, profanity, and abuse, hating them for their faith and health, "wasted" on them, he would shout, because they "didn't know how to live." This is an aspect of the eschatology of death, its hatred for life and the living, and its will to destroy them. At the heart of this is what Wisdom long ago declared: "But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul; all they that hate me love death" (Prov. 8:36).
We are surrounded today by dying men whose eschatology is death and whose politics, religion, economics, education and daily lives manifest what Samuel Warner has called "the urge to mass destruction." Of this world system, Revelation 18:4 declares, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." In spite of this, all too many professing Christians not only refuse to separate themselves but are insistent on the morality of sending their children to humanistic state schools, an act of anarchy.
We have described the nature of the dying. What about the dead? The dead cannot wage war nor revolution, nor manifest hatred. The dead have their place, and they remain within it. No corpse can outgrow its coffin, nor conquer an inch of ground beyond that which it occupies. The dead stay in their coffins.
All too often the church is like a coffin. Instead of being a training ground and an armory for the army of the Lord, it is a repository for the dead. The people within have not the life and power to occupy any other ground, to establish Christian Schools, to conquer in the realm of politics and economics to "occupy" in Christ's name even one area of life and thought and to bring it into "captivity" to Jesus Christ (Luke 19:13; II Cor. l0:5). Where Christianity is confined to the church, it is dead, and it is only a corpse claiming that name but having none of the life nor the power thereof (II Tim. 3:5).
Christianity cannot be caged into a church and confined there like a zoo animal. "It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Romans 1:16). Power commands; it exercises dominion, and it reaches out "to every creature" (Mark 16:15) with the good news of Christ's redemption and lordship. It works to bring all things under the dominion of Christ, who is "King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16). Jesus began and ended His ministry "preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God" (Mark l:14f]. That Kingdom begins with our redemption through His atonement and continues with our exercise of dominion with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness over every area of life and thought.
Coffin churches have no such gospel. Instead, they summon the living dead to enter the safety of their particular casket, far removed from the problems and battles of life. They encourage their people to gush about the peace within the coffin, and to embellish the coffin with their time and effort. Coffin churches have no ministry to a dying world.
When our Lord declared, "ALL POWER is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18), He did not limit that total power which He as King of Creation exercises to the narrow confines of man's soul. Christ's "all power" is over all things in heaven and in earth in their every aspect, and over every atom, moment, and possibility in all of creation. He is the Lord, lord over all. To limit His lordship and power to the church is as absurd as limiting the sun to shining over Europe, or selected portions thereof. Even less than we can limit the sun to one continent or one country can we limit Christ the King to one sphere or institution. To do so is a denial of His deity and is practical atheism.
Because "all power" is His, the Lord of Creation sends His elect messengers out to "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20). All nations are to be summoned to bow before their King, both as individuals and in every aspect of their lives, civil, ecclesiastical, educational, familial, vocational, and all things else. An eschatology of life and victory allows us to exempt nothing from Christ's dominion and lordship.
A sickly term in Reformed theological circles refers to God's "well-meant offer of the Gospel;" the image of God it invokes is a false one. God's word is never a "well-meant offer" but always the command word, the word of power which redeems and regenerates, or reprobates. To be "well-meant" smacks of impotence and failure, and it speaks of men whose powers are frail, fallible, sinful, and dying. It belongs to eschatologies of death. God's word is the command word, the word of power, the word of life and death because it is the omnipotent word. Only of Him can it be truly said, "The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up" (I Sam. 2:6). Apart from the Lord, man has no future. In every area of life and thought, "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Ps. 127:1).
Education in its essence is always the transmission of the basic faith and values of a culture to its young. Education is thus in essence always a religious concern.
In many cultures, the basic values have been non-verbal and non-literary, so that education then has not been concerned with literacy but with other skills. A few cultures only have been concerned with literacy, Biblical faith and culture in particular, because of the insistence on the knowledge of the Scriptures. Modern humanism (as against classical humanism) under-rates verbal and literary skills.
Thus, not only is education a totally religious subject, but the curriculum, its contents, and its methods are all religious, in that they reflect the faith and values of a culture. To allow our children to be in humanistic schools is to be unequally yoked and to serve two masters.
(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 14; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 14, June, 1979)
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