A seemingly inescapable part of human life is its history (and the baggage it brings with it). So much that shapes our identity: language, culture, economics, health, personality (and the list goes on), are largely products of history. As such, all of these things are outside of our control, not a part of our choosing. I am white, Anglo-American, lower middle class, with high blood pressure and attention deficit disorder. None of these things were chosen by me – and sometimes I would like to have chosen otherwise. But history would seem to be destiny.
However, history as destiny is heresy, or at least a marriage to the devil. History is the stuff of which we are made, but it is not the stuff of God’s making. History is the collection of dead things, events and people who have passed into dust. We remember almost nothing. Of the trillions and trillions of things that take place in any one moment, we generally mark but one as significant. Yet it was itself but a small sample of things that happened in that moment.
We experience history as tyranny. Many of the struggles of nations and peoples are a constant reliving of history’s fortunes: the land for which my fathers died; the land for which my fathers killed your fathers; the land for which you are prepared to kill me; and so the history we have lived becomes the present we are living, and too often the future we shall live.
True Existence Is From the Future
But this is not the Christian faith. The Church is called, “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.” And although some will describe it as the “historical” Church (for it has existed since the beginning), it is actually nothing of the sort.
St. John Chrysostom offers the correct Christian understanding of human existence:
It was You Who brought us from non-existence into being, and when we had fallen away You raised us up again, and did not cease to do all things until You had brought us up to heaven, and had endowed us with Your kingdom which is to come.
The verb tense in this statement is extremely important. Though it was God who brought us into existence, it is we ourselves who fell away from the existence for which we were created. We became, if you will, “historical” creatures. But St. John notes that God “raised us up again” (past tense), and did not cease to do all things (past tense), until He had brought us up to heaven (past tense!), and had endowed us with His kingdom (past tense) which is to come (future).
It is a strange mix of tenses. We have been brought up to heaven! He has endowed us with His kingdom! We have been endowed with something that is to come!
This strange mix makes sense only when we realize that our existence in Christ is not historical, per se. We live in “history.” But we are creatures of the kingdom which is to come. Theologically we say that our existence is eschatological. The life that I am living day by day, is being created from the future.
The Scriptures say the same thing:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20 NKJ)
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1Jo 3:2 NKJ)
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col 3:1-4 NKJ)
The true self, the man who I am becoming, is the free gift of God. History meets it and history is overcome (for you died). The true self is created and refashioned in the image of Christ (we shall be like Him). In that Kingdom, it is possible to say:
There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. (Col 3:11 NKJ)
Indeed, it is only in this eschatological form of existence that it makes sense to say there is neither Greek nor Jew…slave nor free…. My past is not the Lord of the present nor that which shapes the future.
The Eschatological Connection
We are all connected. We share a common history and we suffer for it. I stand by my father’s grave and note beside him his father’s grave. There are two empty plots beside my parents (one for me and one for a brother). My future was planned and paid for long ago. A small 3×6 plot of land in Pelzer, SC, is the world’s final word on my history. And I am right to stand by that plot of earth and rail at its tyranny. Death is an enemy.
But there is a greater connection and a true hope. The connection with the past is death. My life is my connection with the future, as the future is defined and created in the Risen Christ. Christ as the End of all things the proclamation of the gospel and the cornerstone of theology.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8 NKJ)
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. (Rev 21:6 NKJ)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” (Rev 22:13 NKJ)
The word-play with verb tenses is similar to that of St. John’s.