The Future Is Right Here in Front of Us
In a sinful world, holistic eschatology demands holistic salvation. All that has been tarnished by sin needs to be recreated and purified. In his ongoing march through the canon of Old Testament showing how holistic eschatology relates to all parts, J. Richard Middleton now picks up the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets. Throughout them all he shows how God’s vision is for this-worldly flourishing, not other-worldly reward.
Consider Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28: both reference the full gamut of life’s eventualities offering blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. These blessings and curses will come in this world. Rather than separating the earthly and cosmic, the Torah connects the two. Cosmic devotion leads to earthly rewards. Likewise Proverbs offers the same advice. Wisdom brings life and folly leads to earth-bound disaster (3:13-18).
This should not come as a surprise. Proverbs 8:22-31 claims this world was created with wisdom knit into its very DNA. When we live according the innate moral and creational order of this planet, we are living in accordance with Law and with Wisdom. Middleton says: “These texts suggest that wisdom is embedded into the very structure of reality; the logic of this claim yields the conclusion that living according to wisdom means going with the grain of the universe, while going against this grain is utmost folly – its destroys life and prevents flourishing” (99).
Ultimately for the prophets devotion to God is shown through justice and compassion to one’s neighbor. We show our love for God by loving humanity. Consider the prophets many chastisements that sows of religiosity that are not accompanied by right and just living with others are tantamount to faithlessness (Isaiah 1; Jeremiah 7; Amos 5; Micah 6). Of course this same message is found in the New Testament. Jesus utters woe on the Pharisees for neglecting the “weightier matters of the law” by their fixation with ritual and tradition (Matthew 23:23). He declares that Christians who fail to care for those in need are goats (Matthew 25:31-46). James says faith is dead that is not evidenced by care for the needy (James 2:14-26). Earlier he made it clear that real religion weds social justice with pious living (1:27).
When the prophets give visions of a better, blessed future, these visions are always earth-bound. Salvation is always holistic. Restoration and future blessing always involves a return to the land: “The Old Testament simply cannot conceive of full salvation or flourishing without earthly, landed existence” (105). Social life will be marked by flourishing and blessing again. The environment and animals will live in peace. Zion/Jerusalem will become a mecca for all nations and Israel will enjoy favored status. The very hearts of God’s people will be circumcised, enabling God’s people to keep Torah. Godly leaders will arise and lead God’s people with righteousness. Finally God’s presence will return to Israel as well. Simply said, “In the end, the Old Testament anticipates that salvation will be as wide as creation” (107).
The important point that we need to realize at this point, as it relates to holistic eschatology, is that the earth is far from a discardable theatre for a salvific drama disconnected from everyday life. The earth is as much God’s revelation to the world as His word, Middleton argues. The wisdom of the Kingdom is found in our earth. And the earth is the arena in which flourishing is intended to occur. Thus salvation must move beyond the soul to the body and earth as well.
Once again, this is where the dispensationalism of my upbringing (we never called it that!) causes me to twitch against Middleton’s assertions a bit and makes me wish he addressed my reservations directly. That God was working in an earthly, here-and-now way in the Old Testament is almost beyond question. The real question is whether we can accurately extrapolate that God is still working in this way now in the Church. Have the earthly blessings been traded for spiritual ones? Of course, Middleton’s response would be that I am simplistically making a distinction between physical and spiritual that was not there originally. I’ll keep reading.