A Post-Human Eschatology

Written by: 
Published:
November 10, 2022

Eschatology today must become post-Christian, post-historical, and (indeed) even post-human if it is to recover the universality that grounds, justifies, and distinguishes it. Post-Christian, post-historical, and post-human do not mean that Christianity, history, and humanity do not matter. On the contrary, these three are needed today more than ever, along with others. They serve as points of reference, aggregation, and motivation for community praxis, for the flourishing of everyone’s faith journey, and for the gospel witness itself. But over time, denominations, churches, and cultural systems that were created to promote human growth have stiffened and become ends in themselves. They have obscured and even replaced the kingdom of God. To identify or superimpose a church, cultural, or political system with the kingdom of God is not only naïve but also overbearing idolatry. What is urgently needed, therefore, is to refocus on the kingdom of God, the true eschatological goal to which denominations and institutions are only sincere but often misguided witnesses.

The eschatology that flows from the kingdom of God is the central category of Jesus's proclamation in the Gospels and the core of what eschatology should be. It is not even centered on Jesus himself, less still on the church, but rather on the world and cosmos as the universal goal of God-reconciliation, freely offered through Jesus. The traditional view highlights a path from the Gospels to the Pauline Epistles as the natural development of a nascent movement and small group of disciples that consolidates into a church. But we must consider the opposite path, which subordinates the church to the kingdom of God as preached in the Gospels. Not from the Gospels to the Epistles but from the Epistles to the Gospels. Not from the kingdom of God to the church but from the church to the recovery of this kingdom of God. It is not the Epistles but the Gospels that warrant the Kingdom’s universality in the New Testament.

It is to recover this universality through which we should view eschatology as post-Christian (previous article), post-human (this article), and post-historical (next article). kingdom of God eschatology, as described in the parables of Matthew 13, for example, is a reality with an inescapably universal calling. However, the components of selection, choice, and sifting, which also by definition configure an important aspect of eschatology, are not its central address or basic perspective. Even the well-known category of “remnant” must remain subordinate to the universality and inclusiveness of the Kingdom.

The kingdom of God is inclusive by nature. But unfortunately, the criteria for being welcomed into it too often do not align with the conditions that Christian churches, human groups, and cultural systems consider mandatory. Kingdom eschatology has, as its vocation, the breaking of monopolies, privilege, ambition, ideological fixation, and the often-narrow practices of groups that present themselves as mediators of hope. The kingdom of God places potential in front of pretension. Human instruments—small or large, religious or secular, spiritual or cultural—clumsily exchange a part for the whole. They confuse a confession with the confessed, a prayer with the worshiped, a doctrine with life, and finally, a human organization with the Kingdom.

Ellen White’s book The Great Controversy can also be considered in this context. Its eschatology, and that of the Adventist Church that draws upon it, appears today to be excessively ecclesiocentric (actually Adventist-centric), anthropocentric, and historicocentric. The eschatology isn’t necessarily false, but it is excessively one-sided. In fact, every confessional eschatology is one-sided from its inception. But it is one thing to defend a flexible and self-conscious one-sidedness and quite another to want to defend a one-sided eschatology that purports to be definitive and complete. Consequently, The Great Controversy is unsuitable to express today, as it is written, the universal scope of that eschatology announced by Jesus in the Gospels. Distributing and promoting it alone poses both a theological and human danger. The narrow and one-sided eschatology it expresses, which aims to become even more narrow and exclusionary (the concept of “remnant”), is a “dis-eschatology” rather than an “eu-eschatology.” That is, it is an eschatology that announces disaster rather than life, exclusion rather than welcome.

Why speak of a post-Christian eschatology? Precisely because Christianity has neutralized and imprisoned an important part of the eschatological thrust. The future had been neutralized by a cyclical conception of history typical of pagan religions. But a linear Christian view of history, which thought it could correct the determinism of the cyclical paradigm, paradoxically produced the same deconstructing effect on the future. Today, the Christian future is not the bearer of hope but only one of formulas and caricatures, which have become excessively one-sided.

Why speak of a post-human eschatology? Precisely because Christianity has become heavily anthropocentric in its ethics and soteriology. It has almost lost sight of the redemption of creation and non-human creatures (Romans 8:22). This is what many authors are trying to say today in an effort to correct a distortion that is unfortunately reinforced and radicalized even more in contemporary Christianity. It is the call, for example, of Elizabeth Johnson in her recent book Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril.

The entity—the person—that best guarantees this missed universality is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit certainly cannot be dissociated from either the creator-Father or the redeemer-Son. However, neither can the Spirit be assimilated, let alone subordinated. On the contrary, Father and Son are able to carry out their particular works because of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being a mere extension of the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is embodied in the long-standing issue of the "Filioque." This doctrine appeared very early in Western church theology and was canonized in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Symbol during the Second Council of Toledo in 589. Since then, it has cross-conditioned the understanding and experience of the Holy Spirit in Western Christianity.

The "Pneumatological turn," which I’ve discussed in previous articles on eschatology, is the recovery of the Holy Spirit as the center of Christian eschatology. Life that proceeds from the Spirit reaches the whole cosmos. The goal is not solely human salvation but also all creation and the ecosystem. Thus, true eschatology, by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s power, is necessarily post-human—not in the sense that it excludes humans but in the nobler sense that it goes beyond and extends reconciliation to all of creation.

This Pneumatological eschatology is doubly universal. First, because the inclusion it promotes and fosters is granted and extended to all life, particularly to compromised and deteriorated lives. Every life form is welcomed by virtue of the Spirit’s kenosis. Being heard and welcomed is not because of awareness, conviction, or decision but the pre-rational condition of suffering. Second, because the Spirit not only welcomes the deteriorated and impoverished but makes those lives flourish. The Spirit brings to completion the survival of every creature in the cosmos. He is the source of life and therefore the foundation of every possible future.

And the Spirit gives life in a sober and understated yet decisive way. It is the Holy Spirit who is the real protagonist of the "end times." Thus, the end times are not really an end but the beginning of new life. Only with him and through him is the future possible. But the Spirit is a type of presence that is not fashionable. In contrast to the necessary heroic intervention of the Father and the self-emptying of the humble Jesus, the Spirit is instead discreet and anonymous, precisely to better guarantee the presence and flourishing of others.

The prominence and narcissism of people today have been exacerbated by the individualistic and interventionist model of contemporary society. Strong individualism is required moral proof of one's own responsibility. One must appear and give one's “face.” This is a sign of seriousness. The opposite, that of hiding, is stigmatized as disengagement and indifference, as in cleverness to hide a crime. The virtue of anonymity has disappeared. All works, all productions, must be signed. They are a monument to the vanity of the protagonists in action. Narcissism is today’s virtue.

This is not the Spirit's way of being and acting. He does not appear or intervene like this. Yet the Spirit is there more than others, with no credit given because we think it is all because of us and our initiative and responsibility. The Spirit is a behind-the-scenes presence—a supporting, not invasive, presence, gently and tenderly initiating that which he believes we are able to pursue and conclude.[1] The Spirit is the force and the parasympathetic nervous system of God. His presence makes the other presences possible, always and everywhere. The Spirit is the presence of God as a condition of life. Every life presupposes it and is possible only because of its constant and unobtrusive presence.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Bernard Sesboüé, The Faceless and Voiceless Spirit. A Brief History of the Theology of the Holy Spirit, (Milan: St. Paul, 2010)

 


Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of Villa Aurora and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.

Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found by clicking here.

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

Spectrum Banner Ad: Click for Grow the Vision