One gets the impression in the vigor of youth, that growing up is a restless evil and filled with meaningless trivialities. And while certain versions of growing up like growing weak-willed, being obsessed with sports, or having an unhappy marriage really are silly and should be avoided, other parts really aren’t all that bad. It’s almost as if, in the absence of certain evils that destroy the beauty of life for many around the world, that growing up is wonderful.
Ben Meyers posted about apocalyptic thought and creation a few days ago, which in a strange coincidence I had been thinking and writing about myself (the few paragraphs of scratch I have produced share only one or two lines of thought with his own). But one of his points was that certain forms of genuine progress can be made in the world through institutions that exist in the world. Ben’s point here is trivially true if you haven’t been to grad school for theology. And what’s hilarious is that non-theology graduate students also believe change can come into the world, but they often believe that it can come only through institutions and especially through the institutions that they love the most.
Anyway, I don’t think Ben means permanent progress or even progress as equivalent with God’s kingdom. Over all, I agree with him. For instance, by helping a group of kids learn to read you have made progress in the world. This does not mean that evils far worse than the good you assisted in do not happen. It also does not mean that your motives included evil and that you never abused your power as a teacher. It means that people who could not do a good thing (read), now can do that good thing and if they were taught to read at a church or a school, then good occurred through the institution.
I’m as pessimistic about human nature as anybody. I have a natural tendency to be misanthropic and my belief in total depravity gives me several reasons to hold no hope for anybody. But, there are not only humanistic but theological reasons for thinking that genuine good can be done in the world through institutions and for people. Ben has realized that.
What’s hilarious though is that he has received several critiques of his motivations. I suppose its because he teaches in the super-duper influential field of theology and as theology professor and has so much authority and power to protect. Ben was essentially criticized because he had become friendly with institutions because institutions help ensure the future for children and though fallen are a part of the created order. Predictably, his critics think, “He is like totally the man, dude.” While I do believe that the context of others can assist one in interpreting said others’ motivations, it is too difficult to do other the internet. Seeking to divine the motivations of others is fun, but I’m not Father Brown and I don’t work on Baker Street.
So I just want to note that when you leave grad school, become a real pastor, build things with your hands, see people overcome their addictions, write computer programs, help hungry people find food and work, all the while still believing Romans 5-8, seeing the horrors on the news, and burying the young, seeing old friends leave the faith, and dealing with people who won’t make simple decisions to solve a problem they’ve had for decades, etc. You notice some things and one of them is that being a citizen of God’s kingdom can happen in the very human world of institutions like your job or the church. Yes, institutions are fallen and many (all?) are opposed to God in various ways, but Jesus doesn’t tell everybody to literally sell everything and follow him geographically.* Many people who are his disciples by self-identification (they want to go with him), he leave in their towns. Neither then do the apostles ask everybody to follow them about. They, instead, instruct them in being the church where they converted and some of them become a part of the traveling circus of ancient Christian mission work. My wife wrote about the very issues Ben deals with, but without the Marxist over-tones, because the same anti-creational rhetoric is used in college ministries in the United States: don’t bother with studying, getting enough sleep, or your personal future, your finances, or the well-being of civilization, proverbs and Genesis 1 are for total noobs!
My concluding thoughts:
- It’s okay to grow up. Most of Jesus’ disciples were grown-ups.
- Jesus loved children and grown-ups can make children.
- Apocalyptic thought does affirm creation precisely by promising that the restless evils therein are not features but defects. Thus, it always comes with a call to some sort of transforming life. The apocalyptic of sin and powers being ineffective against God’s grace in Romans 5-8, still concludes with the ethical norms of Romans 12-15.
- Experiencing the evils of the world, while still doing good and doing good work is perhaps the precise point of creation-affirming apocalyptic in Scripture, like Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles.
*In the following passage of Scripture we see Peter tell Jesus, “We’ve left everything to follow you.” This isn’t true on a literal level in the story. We know Peter still had possessions, he went right back to being a fisherman after the crucifixion. Also, after he is named as a disciple in Mark, he still has a house. Jesus does not chastise him for having a house. The point being that Jesus does, and he can do this, ask different things of different people in the gospels. So the part that is addressed to us is what must be discerned. It is also important to note that the very human pleasures of family and property are precisely what Jesus and the gospel writers assume will lure people into following Jesus.
Mat 19:27-30 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (28) Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (30) But many who are first will be last, and the last first.