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The Hidden Kingdom Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 22 February 2014

Many years ago, a rather businesslike friend asked me to write out a conspectus of Christianity on one half-page of foolscap. His atheism was wavering, all on its own, so there was no point arguing with it. I was trying to express my understanding of the Christian outlook in a positive way. A recent convert myself (first into the Anglican church), I thought the exercise might be to my own benefit. I selected three Bible passages, and put them under headings.

Under the heading “Old Testament” I copied from Isaiah:
 
“And to old age I am he; and to hoar hairs will I carry; I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
 
Under the heading “New Testament” I copied from Matthew:
 
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
 
And under the heading “Futurity” I copied from the Apocalypse:
 
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last. I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death.”

Gentle reader will try the exercise himself, before criticizing my effort. It cost me, as I recall, the better part of a night's work, thirty-six years ago. Had I to do it again, I might try to make my handwriting smaller.

My lay sermon today deals technically with the third part, but is not fastidious. Really I am dealing with all three.

On my own website I posted, Tuesday, a piece entitled “Endtiming.” It is on the bad popular habit of indulging cheap and shopworn apocalyptic scenarios. Much of this is mere media blather: disaster porn on impending political, economic, social, and environmental mega-catastrophes. Each invites, “So what?”

The disintegration of, say, the United States would not be the end of the world. Nor would be a large rise in sea level. For people living in the affected areas I could foresee various inconveniences, but life would go on. Worse things have happened on this planet.

More worrying, to my mind, is the decay in apocalyptic thinking among Catholics (and other Christians) today. A kind of gnostic or oriental fatalism is flooding back into our Church, enfeebling the theological virtue of Hope. A torpid vanity underlies this: the belief that for our sins we have somehow earned divine retribution on the full cosmic scale; that we have, without even trying very hard, “forced God's hand.”

Chastisements we can anyway expect, from the operation of nature alone. For our sins, we certainly deserve retribution. But when we escalate from immediate events, to the full scale of the End Time, we are pulling a Pilate. We are washing our hands. In effect, we raise ourselves above equality with God, then take no responsibility for our actions.

It is like the national debt: nothing should be done, because nothing can be done. The only task remaining is to watch for the day: to calculate when it will finally engulf us.

Apocalypse, from ἀπo-καλύπτω, the Greek for “uncovering.” To start with we have the conception backwards or inside-out. We imagine a covering, instead; something descending upon our world, as opposed to a discovery of what lies invisible within it.

Let me recall for a moment a Canadian apocalypse I have seen. It is the uncovering of the land beneath the winter snows; the sudden explosion of life in the springtime, in grass and leaf, flower and fruit, lambing and birdsong. A hidden kingdom spontaneously emerges, that lay within our world as seed.

Suppose, now, we had always lived in winter, and never seen this spring. Suppose now we witnessed the incomprehensible, the apocalyptic, opening of the first flower.

How to describe this to the winter dwellers? How to convey colors they had never seen? Or begin to portray the scent, the touch, of each spring creature? One might begin: “There is a hidden kingdom beneath the snow; it will come.”

Let us now consider this as an act of divine retribution – against the winter, against the deathly coldness of it, against the glacial accumulation of dead ice. We may further imagine it beginning as the melt, the flood, the inundation; as the catastrophe that ends the winter.

This notion came to mind while re-reading and reviewing for my purposes the so-called “Olivet discourse” or “little apocalypse” of Christ (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). Tireless scholarship has been devoted to quite perverse ends in its interpretation. Attempts are made to construct a timeline out of remarks that seem to me to have been purposefully designed to defeat any timeline.

This “discourse,” or prophecy, is again and again treated as mere prognostication. This is not surprising, for Christ was apparently replying to very temporal questions from His disciples: “Tell us, when will the end of the world happen? What signs should we look for, when it is approaching?”

Christ gives the parable of the budding figs.

We ask natural human questions, from our winter world of time, while trying to imagine what we cannot imagine. The “when” is almost everything to us; it is almost nothing to Christ. He replies in an astounding blaze of prophetic poetry, yielding line after line that has remained fixed in Christian and in literary memory down the centuries.

In what C.S. Lewis called “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible,” Christ says it will all happen within the lifetime of those living. But who says we ever were, or ever will be dead?

 
David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: http://davidwarrenonline.com/
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (9)Add Comment
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written by Sue, February 22, 2014
"...the catastrophe that ends the winter"...
((((((((Global Warming))))))))
Perhaps what those infernal IPPS scientists are unwittingly measuring is the warmth of Cosmic Love.
Eppur si muove!
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written by Jools Cantor, February 22, 2014
"In what C.S. Lewis called “the most embarrassing verse in the Bible,” Christ says it will all happen within the lifetime of those living. But who says we ever were, or ever will be dead?"

By those living you mean Christ's auditors? I was taught that "this generation" refers to the future generation that will witness the signs; that once the signs begin to manifest, things will unfold so quickly that the end will fall within the same generation.

And am I missing your point about dying? Surely we will die and we will be dead, except for that last generation?
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 22, 2014
An eye-opening essay. Indeed, we do actually fear the Lord, as Peter did Jesus, because He changes the world we have wrought. He makes all things anew...my life, my habits, my expectations...all the pitiful things I cling to, even my feeble image of Him.
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written by Lord Jowls, February 22, 2014
Until reading the last line of this sublime essay, I had carried with me for decades the explanation that Hans Kung gives for Lewis' "embarrassing" Bible verse: that Christ made a mistake, an aspect of his humanity. I find Mr. Warren's take much more hopeful.

As for his winter-catastrophe-spring imagery, I expect that my three readings of this essay have not yet got to the bottom of it.
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written by Craig Payne, February 22, 2014
Lovely essay; I even copied out part of it in my journal; however, for now I want to comment on Jesus' words in Matthew 24, since some others have already mentioned them. Lewis simply misinterprets this prophecy. (So does Kung, but that's a bit more understandable.)

In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, the Lord's "coming in the clouds" is ALWAYS referring to a coming in judgment against a city or nation. Jesus is predicting the coming judgment against Jerusalem. His words were probably spoken around the year 30; Jerusalem fell in 70, 40 years later. A biblical generation, in other words.

So, no need to be embarrassed by Jesus' words or to try to explain them away. They were an exact prediction which was exactly fulfilled.
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written by Paul, February 22, 2014
I did a similar list for myself, it took me considerably longer than yours though. Under OT "The Law". Under NT "Grace". For future "Hope". Grace is what holds it all together for me.
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written by Howard Kainz, February 22, 2014
Re: C.S. Lewis' embarrassment: Thomas Aquinas in his Catena Aurea on Matthew 24 cites the Patristic interpretations of "generation" as being important. For example, Christostom writes: "That He said, 'This generation,' He meant not of the men then living, but of the generation of the faithful; for so Scripture uses to speak of generations, not of time only, but of place, life, and conversation; as it is said, 'This is the generation of them that seek the Lord.' [Ps 24:6] Herein He teaches that Jerusalem shall perish, and the greater part of the Jews be destroyed, but that no trial shall overthrow the generation of the faithful."
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written by monk chanan mattison, February 22, 2014
I would like to respectfully orient ourselves to the statement of Our blessed Lord about the general time period referred to as 'the Last days' and the 'Advent Season' of the Lord's Second Coming, "When ye see the sprouting of the leaves, then ye know that summer is near." Even so, the time IS near, for there are so many signs, if 'ye have eyes to see and ears to hear.' Sure we know not the day and we can't 'date the last things' but we can tell 'summer is near' concerning the Last Days. I would suggest that the falling of the two towers began the 'Last Days' for it was an event like none other, setting up the final scenario of the clash of civilizations. Large segments of humanity then began to show 'delusionary' views such as the 'Neo-cons,' or at least some of them, and then the opposite 'politically correct' delusion, the Obama delusion, and the turning against the faith of our younger generation, hostile in an official capacity in America, the on-line pugilists against the 'faith of our fathers.' These things, plus large-scale climatic catyclisms such as Japan suffered last year, with strange changes in the weather, even on a local scale - all combining. I say we are in the "Last Days." Its true we have been instructed from the time of the early Church to prepare, to hold our heads up and expect His blessed return, after for instance a 'Great Apostasy' in the Church - this has occurred, it being so Apostate that seminaries teach doctrines opposed to the Scriptures, Holy Tradition, and the Holy Magisterium. Well, Scripture, Tradition, even the Magisterium at times has admitted that Antichrist will come out of an Apostate Church and so we should expect it soon, whether months or years. So get ready and as our Lord said, "Watch!"
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written by Layman Tom, February 24, 2014

I love God. What does He want from me? I think it is to believe in Him. I think of my life and all my blessings as His gift to me. A further gift is the ability to throw all of it away and turn my back on Him if I choose. Why would He give me free will, knowing that I am a jackass and just might blow it? I think it’s because He wants a gift in return that only I can give him. He want's my faith.

Faith would not be, well, faith if there weren't any confounding mysteries. Compared to leading biblical scholars and theologians, I'm a rube, a dullard, a bumpkin. Yet they, with all their intellectual might, cannot come to a consensus on the meaning of, or a time frame for these short verses. And they've been debating them for centuries! Call it intellectual couch potatory, but I'm cool with that. What can I possibly add to the discussion? If I study and get the requisite advanced degrees, will I be able to solve the riddle? Nope. Jesus knew what he meant when He said it AND I think He knew that we wouldn't understand parts of it even some 2000 years hence. I think He was as intent on giving us mysteries to prove our faith by as he was in saving our souls. I'm cool with the idea that to have real faith, I have to believe some things that don't make sense to me just because He's my father and He said so! He’ll come back and fulfill prophesy in His time and my job is to try all my life to be ready and hopeful. Maybe it will be today.

David, I really like the "winter yields new life" idea of revelation. I think that might be the most insightful parable on this I've ever heard, so Kudos!

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