By: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
Written in response to an article by Bill Sizemore: http://www.newswithviews.com/Bill/sizemore34.htm
Essay Summary: Biblical prophecy is ambiguous in its specificity, and the multiple interpretations of the end-time prophesy (eschatology) illustrate this point strongly. Thus, it may be that God meant prophetic scripture to have two purposes: 1) To truly inform of the specific events that were divinely authorized and hence would occur in history, and 2) To give various metaphors instructing about the types of forces and outcomes that are operating in life as authorized by God and embedded within the creation.
Prophesy as Prediction and Pattern:
Eschatology deeply influences our view of the meaning of life because of our respect for God’s will and power. If End-Time prophesies only informs us of inevitable manifestations of God’s pronounced decrees, then we should simply submit to the fact of that inevitable manifestation, work in the world to spread the Gospel according to the command of the Great Commission, and prepare our souls for that day. To resist Divine Will is futile since we will ultimately be overcome by the overwhelming force of His will.
Current events appear to confirm the interpretations touted by some schools of eschatology, but our certainty and self-validation should be tempered given the fact that nearly every generation through history has felt that their time was the immediate precursor to the Lord’s return. In our day, the Zionist dream of a Jewish State has manifested, and reasonable scenarios could be constructed that validate a possible Armageddon scenario.
Evangelical Christendom, in general, supports the concept of God’s “Chosen People” returning to the Promised Land. Israel’s existence has become the single most inflammatory issue in the entire world. In effect, God has brought onto the modern stage the drama of Isaac and Ishmael and has inflamed the entire Islamic world. The stage has been set for another confrontation between the God of Abraham and those who do not recognize His sovereignty.
We know that eschatology motivates men because we all move to intangible forces based on our beliefs and vision. But the Bible does not provide an absolutely linear recitation of the events that will take place. Thus, the object of our faith as Christians, with regard to the directions and sequences of life, is indefinite. This leads to factions and divided forces among those who would organize the body of Christ to action. The radical Islamic vision of taking the world for Allah, by force if necessary, is a mission statement much easier to grasp and mobilize around than the exhortation to “show your good works” and “spread the good news to all nations.”
Thus, as the larger body of Christians, we are divided because of our lack of certainty as to how God is actually directing History, and the desired divine endpoint. If the whole drama of end-time prophesies was already played out in 70 AD, then we are left asking why the Arab/Israeli confrontation resonates so tightly with what appears to be Biblical prophesy. All appearances seem to validate that we are now seeing a True confrontation over the Promised Land, and a battle for the hearts of His Chosen People. Thus, we are faced with choosing whether Revelation, Daniel, and the other end-time prophesies refer to a past or future event.
Certainly, the conventional perspective is that prophesy concerns itself with single historical events that were simply predicted and then executed by Divine fiat. And certainly such prediction-actualization sequences are intended and evidenced by History. But, the question we see begged by the returning spiral of historical pattern is whether Biblical prophecy serves a deeper archetypal purpose. Possibly the events of 70 AD were predicted by the same prophesies that also predict a later day Tribulation. And further, might it be that God has established a pattern of supernaturally authorized principalities that direct human passions? In other words, prophecy may have a dual function, both predictive of actual events, and informative of spiritual forces acting on/in life.
Prophesy may declare and reveal God’s intended actions in a specific era, but also reveal the macro and micro patterns that men’s passions will inexorably re-manifest. Cursory examination of life and nature quickly validates the fact that God has used repeating themes upon which to build the structure of life. For example: The atomic orbital with its nuclear center, the earth-moon system, the Sun-planet system, the galactic core-stellar body system, the galactic cluster and superclusters, all speak to the principle of repeating theme. Biblical text likewise shows how men play out the same drama over and over. One of the most striking play and replay-patterns is the Abraham-Sarah as sister deception, that was again played out by Isaac and Rebecca.
We see innumerable examples of the octave-concept in the fractal and the infinitely repeating pattern which manifests itself on every new level of personal drama, natural cycles, and the historical stage of nations. Thus, the perspective of “prophesy as revelation of repeating historical pattern” may yield resolution to some of our most profound philosophical dilemmas.
Again, if prophesy has already been played out once in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem, and this same pattern is now being acted out again, we see evidence of the fact that God has ordained repeating drama as part of man’s lesson to learn about who He is, and how He wishes to manifest His will.
The fact that the amillenial perspective can be so strongly defended by Scriptural pattern indicates that God wishes us, the Church, to overcome by our good works. There are times when God rescues (as in Jonah), there are times when the evil are removed (as in the days of Noah), and there are times when the righteous suffer as (as in the destruction of Jerusalem and the martyrdom of the saints).
To simply look at History as a linear play, as a foregone conclusion, as a map that must simply be traveled and acted out leaves little room for free will. Yet scripture makes clear inference to God’s already having known us before we were in our mother’s womb. We are thus left with a paradox, a vexing puzzle which gives God knowledge and power, but leaves little room for free will and the choice for man to map out of his own path.
This philosophical dilemma leaves us with a question as to how much we should participate in life, how much we should simply submit to God’s direction, and whether we are actually simply puppets acting under His control. Simply stated, we are faced with resolving the paradox of free will and a de facto predestination because of His ultimate knowledge of man’s choices and end state.
But, the paradox resolves when we see prophesy as a pattern that God can use, rather than must use. When prophecy is seen as a revelation about the nature and possibilities of life, it becomes a guidepost or warning lamp that illuminates the patterns and forces operating in life. When we see that God has ordained these patterns and forces, we can allow God to operate in life, but recognize that our own actions have influence. By organizing peoples and nations to oppose the forces of decay, we can avoid manifesting the disasters that may come from simply submitting to the ever-present winds of destruction that blow against our backs.
By recognizing that God has chosen to operate in the sphere of force and cycles, rather than the micro-managed manifestation of every single human’s life, we retain our authority as free-will agents. With this perspective, we can see that His capability of omniscience and omnipotence remains intact without impugning His character. Many lose their faith, being unable to rationalize the painful events of life, and thus characterize Him as evil, powerless, or uncaring, since a powerful caring God could clearly stop or prevent the disasters of life.
But, God has given man the power to act, the freedom to choose, and warnings about the forces operating in life. Thus, He has implicitly given man co-creator power in the universe, but placed man in a position of subservience, only a little lower than Himself. As the sheep of His pasture, as servants of the Most High, we have no place for arrogance or sloth; we must still live life by faith and works. We must still rely on Him to intervene in the places where human hands cannot touch, such as in changing hearts. In essence, He has delicately balanced the God-power He inherently possesses, with man’s true ability to choose. Thus, life has true consequence and meaning.
On its surface, prophecy appears to be a linear exposition of God’s plan for man’s track through history. But clearly, Biblical text is the ultimate metaphor, providing the fundamental pattern by which the Holy Spirit quickens our hearts and conscience. Thus, prophecy may likewise embody both patterns and specifics and provide an insight into God’s patterns of struggle ordained for men.
We know that men will struggle and suffer in life because of verses such as, “The evil of the day is sufficient unto itself.” And of course, this simply reveals that His intent is for life to be challenging, but rewarding in the victory. The existence of a meaningful world required that God allow (or create) evil as illustrated by Isaiah 54:16 “Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy.” But God has not created evil without limits; rather, he circumscribed the boundaries within which evil could operate, just as he delimited man’s authority and ability to act.
The possibility of evil, pain, death, and loss is integral to the possibility of Free Will. And likewise, the possibility of a True and Freely Given Love depends on the actual existence of Free Will. And given that God is Love, relationship is the ultimate payoff God receives in return for His effort in creating the universe and man.
Again, eschatology is the big picture, the largest view of the forces inside of which men struggle. This may be a world without end where man struggles for eternity with repeating patterns. Or, this universe may be a finite play where after the prescribed drama God may roll up the stage and start over again new.
The ultimate fate of the universe is unknowable from our perspective. But the Lord’s prayer gives us a clue as it ends “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, FOREVER, Amen.” Inside each of our hearts, we each hope for an endless universe, an age without end. At least on this earth we expect a life with struggle, but hope that with the pain there is ultimately significance.
The prophecy of a 1000 years of God’s rule may be a metaphor for an age of indefinite length where Godliness reigns. It may be imposed by a top-down Holy Spirit, Jesus coming again with power, and a grand finale. And, it may be that His power is already operating in us, and we must endure the tribulation while the good work proceeds. Regardless, we must “occupy until He returns.”
As believers, we must use both faith AND works to overcome evil, and thus maintain and expand our territory for Him. When all has been done that can be done by human hands, faith fills the gap. God may then intervene at the last possible moment to produce a satisfying outcome. Life often proceeds through the stages of struggle and suffering, purification and soul/spirit growth, and eventually, completion and victory come with persistence and miraculous intervention.
Does Biblical eschatology reveal a unique track that history will follow ultimately? Is the play of History already definitely and specifically written in Scripture? It may be. Still, scriptural ambiguity leaves open the possibility that History may repeat itself in various ways, reflecting the archetypal shadow established by God Himself.
Thomas Lee Abshier, ND