Where evil—hunger, prejudice, bigotry, oppression, materialism, greed, and global warming—persists, God’s reign remains a hope rather than a realization.” —Olive Hemmings
During the Exvangelical podcast interview I did a few weeks ago, Blake Chastain and I talked a little about Adventist apocalypticism: the preoccupying worldview that, when in shadow, drives some Adventists to see in every negative headline and tragedy an unambiguous sign of coming apocalypse. The fall 2016 issue of Adventist Today tackles this topic with “a new look at the end times.”
I appreciated a short commentary from Washington Adventist University professor Dr. Olive Hemmings. In “Prophetic Eschatology and the Ethics of the Kingdom,” Hemmings attempts to redirect Adventists from passive eschatology—clock-watching in anticipation of a time when God “cleans up Earth for us”—to what she calls “ethical eschatology.”
Ethical eschatology is the active waiting I wrote about during the pre-Christmas Advent season. The phrase doesn’t emphasize the eschaton event as much as it emphasizes ethics. The teachings of Jesus are chock-full of ethical demands. These teachings deny that we have anything to do with the divine timeline and rather insist that we’re responsible for how we regard the stranger: whether we recognize strangers as neighbors, neighbors as kin, and kin as the visible handiwork of God.
So the kingdom (or kindom) is less about location, where we are, and more about relation, how we interact wherever we are. As Hemmings explains, “The kingdom of God becomes an ethical reality defined by righteousness [mishpat and tzedakah, that is, justice]… Divine perfection resides in the heart and in the world where justice reigns.”
It’s fitting that reflections on the Second Coming dovetail with reflections on the First. In a companion web article, writer Warren Nelson explains that he is an agnostic who enjoys the atmosphere and rituals of Christmas in the United States, and it’s the Christmas’ story’s ethical implications that energize him most: “This is one time when I am willing [to] suspend my disbelief and actually accept the idea that changing our minds about each other can actually change how we treat each other… Can you imagine the number of people in the world who would respond to a message of no fear and tidings of great joy? Earthly peace and goodwill? And that’s what this baby brings? Who wouldn’t rejoice, believer or not?”
“We don’t have to wait for some future moment to ‘get to heaven,'” Nelson continues. “It’s here. We just need to get past the fear and find it among us by, of all things, loving one another.”
[The full fall issue of Adventist Today is only available to subscribers; sign up on the AToday website.]