I promise not to spam you mercilessly with Wide Margin stuff, but I’m excited today because a parcel of fifty copies of Christians and Catastrophe arrived at my doorstep. To celebrate, here are a few choice quotes.
Matthew 24 has that edgy feeling that everything can be lost, but also everything can be saved. The Bible discourages the idea that security is normal. While, understandably, we usually strive to replace danger and helplessness by safety and control, we must also realise that the latter is ultimately illusory unless rooted in God. Also, as a response to danger, there are two sorts of behaviour, good and bad. Abraham does the risky thing. He sets out on a journey into the unknown and is commended for it. It demonstrates his faith in God. By contrast, King Ahaz (Isaiah 7-9) does what appears to be the prudent thing. He makes worldly-wise political arrangements and is condemned for it. They demonstrate his lack of faith. Situations of risk or danger can be a spiritual trap precisely because they can make people huddle together and emphasise their identity as against others.
I have already said why I think memories are so important, but in a church or Christian community, our most important memory work happens in a eucharistic context. From the point of view of those facing disaster, the great eucharistic word is ‘renewal’. We are told that it was ‘on the night when he was betrayed’ that Jesus inaugurated the commemoration (1 Corinthians 11:23). Human failure is therefore the first circumstance we are invited to think about, and this is important because when we struggle with the knowledge that things are getting progressively worse and hope is diminishing, our natural reaction is to blame other people. But despite the reality of suffering as a result of other people’s behaviour – Jesus really was about to be betrayed, and knew it – it is not what Jesus wanted to talk about. Instead he promises that he will not take another Passover meal until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16). He assures his disciples (and us) that whatever disasters might follow, the feast of the kingdom cannot finally be postponed. Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, hope flares up again, even in the direst circumstances, and it does so because we reactivate our memories of that first event and the promise it contains.
What all this means, rather surprisingly, is that the New Testament has very little to say about the next life. What matters is the here and now. There may be death and disaster just round the corner but that is all the more reason for getting busy. Jesus knew that his death was imminent, and that it was likely that his offer of the kingdom would not be accepted, but the offer was made all the same. Judas was caught up in purposes that were bigger than his understanding, but his betrayal still mattered. James speaks in his letter of ‘the coming of the Lord’ but only after he has attacked the rich for their exploitation of their workers and their luxurious lifestyle (James 5:1-7). Peter announces suddenly that ‘the end of all things is near’ but he certainly does not consider this a reason to down tools. It is all the more necessary, he says, to be serious and disciplined (1 Peter 4:7).
I’m very pleased with this book; I don’t agree with all of it, of course, and I don’t think that many will. But it’s certainly made me think about what it means to be living as a Christian in these times, and that’s precisely what Jonathan’s intention was.
I hope that whets your appetite, and of course, if you want the rest, you know what to do.