December 2 2017
Part 1: Setting the stage.
This week I start a three – perhaps a four – part series with the ambitious topic of IMAGINING ETERNITY.
It is true that nobody has come back from eternity, so I cannot rely on eye-witness accounts or can consult ancient sources to bolster my ideas. You may say that Lazarus, who had been dead four days before Jesus resuscitated him, could give an account, but no luck there either. As a kid I asked my mother why Jesus called him back from ‘heaven’, believing all the stories I heard about it being so wonderful up there. Kids ask the craziest things.
The first part will touch upon the early chapters of Genesis, relating what happened when two brothers, with different outlooks, Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve, then already had totally opposite views on how life should develop. Today, after many millennia, this very question is coming to a head.
The second and perhaps a third essay will trace how early human development still has significance for today, with particular emphasis on agriculture and its consequences.
In the last part I visualize eternity, the NEW CREATION. To illustrate that episode I have selected a chapter from my book DAY WITHOUT END, a 66,000 word fantasy, playing entirely in the New Creation. The book itself is available from LULU.com-Bert Hielema.
By the way: my visualizing eternity is not all that unique. The church has done this for many centuries: it has described heaven, especially by means of hymns. Almost all church songs somewhere have a hint or sentence referring to heaven, in spite of Jesus’ very own words, recorded in John 3: 13, “No one has ever gone to heaven, except the one who came from heaven, Jesus himself, the son of man”. This has not prevented the church to teach that heaven is our final destination. Invariably almost every Sunday I sing hymn extolling the merits of heaven. Funerals especially feature them, “By the Sea of Crystal saints in glory stand… robed in white apparel…. myriads in number?”
Questions abound: Everybody dressed the same way? Yet every snowflake, every leaf is different! Reigning in heaven, ignoring creation? Myriads in number? How to square that with Jesus’ words, “many are called, few are chosen”, see Matthew 22:14.
So why do I venture into the unknown?
Call it my gut reaction. I feel that Christ’ return is imminent, something the Bible keeps on repeating: it’s got to happen someday, so why not soon!
I sincerely believe that the time for ‘conversion’ is over. The church no longer has the courage and conviction to radically change people. Revelation 22: 11, “Let those who do wrong keep doing that”, suggests to me that people no longer can be convinced, because, by and large, churches have lost the Message of the Kingdom. The words of Jeremiah come to mind (51:9), “We would have healed Babylon but she cannot be healed; let us leave her and each go to his own land, for her judgement reaches to the skies, and rises as high as the clouds.”
I also believe that the world has gone too far on the road to ruin to change course, so now we must consider the next step and prepare for our ultimate future. That Babylon – the present world – is beyond healing is evident from the essence of our Capitalistic system which can only function by destroying creation. America and our entire Western world have been built on creational domination and exploitation of the most vulnerable.
In THE TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY Jacques Ellul, the eminent French philosopher and astute Christian, accurately describes the present state of affairs. He writes that “technique has become indifferent to all the traditional human ends and values by becoming an end-in-itself…..which has nothing human in it to which we must accommodate ourselves as best we may…… In the technological society we humans are but a single tightly integrated and articulate component.”
Now in 2017 we are indeed so tightly enmeshed into The Technological Society, especially with Television, its Internet offspring and mobile devices that escape is nigh impossible.
Neil Postman in his classic AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH has phrased it correctly. In our Brave New World, Postman writes, “we are moving toward some preordained paradise, and technology is the force behind that movement.”
Technology’s march is indeed relentless, but the “paradise” paradigm is no longer possible because there is no leisure without work: there simply is no solution to the unemployment situation as robots rob jobs from workers while brains have been dulled by the BOOB TUBE and by the incessant silly chatter on the many media tools.
Revolt was possible earlier.
It happened in the early 19th century. That’s when the first generation of workers had the experience of being suddenly thrown out of their jobs by automation. But rather than accept it, they fought back—calling themselves the “Luddites” – and staging an audacious attack against the machines.
In the first decade of the 1800s, the textile economy in Great Britain went into a tailspin. A decade of war with Napoleon had halted trade and driven up the cost of food and everyday goods. Fashions changed, too: Men began wearing “trousers,” so the demand for stockings plummeted. The merchant class—the overlords who paid hosiers and croppers and weavers for the work—began looking for ways to shrink their costs.
That meant reducing wages—and bringing in more technology to improve efficiency. Huge factories were built where coal-burning engines would propel dozens of automated cotton-weaving machines. And the owners grew rich. The Luddites were not so much against progress: they revolted because the owners made millions while the workers starved.
Today is no different: the rich have grown richer while the poor now have TRUMP, the ultimate conman. Today the redundancy of labor, supplanted by efficient machines, is already creating an enormous “useless class”, without economic or military purpose. So what will happen to this human surplus? Cannon fodder as was the case in the 1930’s?
The real culprits are Robots and computers which are taking over the work place where once humans toiled. So will Corporate Capitalism outlaw robots and computers?
We simply cannot set back the clock to the 17th Century when wind and water fueled economic life. Yet eliminating fossil fuels has become necessary as continuing and increasing its use – as the current USA regime wants to do – will hasten the Day of Reckoning.
Let’s not fool ourselves: we are in for the most terrible of times. The rumblings are all too evident, in the weather, in the economy, in the deteriorating state of the global health, in the TRUMP tragedy, in the irreparable Middle East drama: it’s time for the people of God to extract ourselves from political, economic, self-destructing circumstances that inevitably will lead to total disaster.
Yes, let me be honest: my Calvinistic tentacles, my Bible-based opinions tell me that we will self-destruct. I now suspect that Climate Change is the deciding factor with the Arctic holding the key, the place where untold trillions of tons of methane are about to emerge. Before the final denouement, before our entire world will go up in flames, we will experience wars, famines, mass migration and state failure. These are the Horsemen of the coming Collapse of Industrial Civilization.
The Titanic to come.
Just as in the case of RMS Titanic, when today’s ship called Industrial Civilization sinks there will not be enough life boats, and those that there are will not be fully utilized. That is the reason why we must prepare for eternity now.
All the way back to ABEL and CAIN
You may recall how the two first sons of Adam and Eve were quite religious and made an offering to Yahweh. God accepted Abel’s gesture of devotion, but rejected Cain’s, because he was not sincere in his approach to God. This infuriated Cain so much that he killed his brother.
Pursuing eternity – as Abel did – is a dangerous business: it cost him his life. Jesus embodied eternity which got him killed. The same with Bonhoeffer who wrote that, “The Church of Christ witnesses to the end of all things.” The Nazis hanged him: his grave was never found. Churches that proclaim true eternity will lose most of their members.
Cain, after killing his brother, fled and we read that he built a city, signifying that the human desire to exclude God from creation is the prime motive behind the founding of the city.
Cain, who murdered his brother Abel, is the first city builder. He called it Enoch, which means a New Beginning.
Jacques Ellul in his book THE MEANING OF THE CITY mentioned that it was Cain’s intention to re-make the world over again, with not the Garden of Eden but the City as the new paradise.
Ellul wrote: “Cain has built a city. For God’s Eden he substitutes his own, for the goal given to his life by God, he substitutes a goal chosen by himself. The city is the direct consequence of Cain’s murderous act and of his own refusal to accept God’s protection. ….The city is opposed to Eden….God’s creation is seen as nothing. Cain made a new start, a start no longer seen as God’s beginning, but of human making.
“And thus Cain, with everything he does digs a little deeper the abyss between himself and God….. With Cain we have a sure starting place for all of civilization. Paradise becomes a legend and creation a myth……..Cain takes possession of the world and uses it as he wishes…….It is man’s highhanded piracy of creation that makes creation incapable of giving glory to God. Cain bends all of creation to his will.”
Today we see this clearly in the aims of Trump: no consideration of nature whatsoever.
In his book Ellul does not glorify the country over the city, because, today, by and large, the countryside simply has become an extension of the city.
Ellul mentions that, “Babylon is not A city, it is THE city……..When the wrath of God is loosed, she is struck first…. She is the very home of civilization and when the great city vanishes, there is no more civilization, a world disappears…..The very fact of living in the city directs a person down an inhuman road. They are taken into the service and worship of a somber goddess.”
Is that the end? Does Ellul in his THE MEANING OF THE CITY offer no hope?
He does. No hope for the present system, but, as a sincere Christian, he points to the NEW CITY to come, a city the exact opposite of the city Cain founded, and in which we now live, which has to be destroyed, as it was and still is the representation of human security and human thinking and human intentions.
In the new city, the City of God, the Lord’s presence will be constant, his spirit all pervasive. And, promises Revelation 14: 13, “Our good deeds will follow us there.” Writes Ellul: “The new city is founded in humility, constructed in the acceptance of God’s decisions. ……….Just as the new city is the accomplishment of what we humans were never able to realize, she is also the exact opposite of the earthly city….and the exact counterpart of what we humans had wanted to do.”
Properly speaking the new world to come will totally reflect God’s will, will be a world where communion with God is perfect and for all who live there.
I believe that it is later than we think. The Bible also says that the collapse will be sudden and unexpected. ARCTIC NEWS keeps on raising the alarm. Here is what this blog says, “The outlook is terrifying. As I calculated last year, surface temperatures of the atmosphere could rise by some 10°C or 18°F within a decade, i.e. by 2026,” making true 2 Peter 3: 10-13, I might add.
We have to reorient our goals, away from the City of Man to the City of God where SHALOM reigns, where full harmony within all spheres of life and within all humans, animals and plants will be universal.
Next week Part 2 of IMAGINING ETERNITY