“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

From "Surprised by Hope" by N.T. Wright

I have been reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright with some friends. I have found it a fascinating book. As the subtitle states, it deals with "Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church." Here is a quote that grabbed me.

..."To hope for a better future in this world - for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world - is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God's ultimate future into God's urgent present, is not distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it. Mostly, Jesus himself got a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing. They saw him saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation, the message for which they had longed, that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future. But the two were not unrelated, the present one a mere visual aid of the future one or a trick to gain people's attention. The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future...

The point of the resurrection, as Paul has been arguing throught the letter (1 Corinthians), is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die. God will raise it to new life. What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. And if this applies to ethics, as in 1 Corinthians 6, it certainly also applies to the various vocations to which God's people are called. What you do in the present - by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself - will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether...They are part of what we may call builting for God's kingdom. (pp. 192-193)



I want to pull a few sections out of this passage and touch on them a bit. Wright says, "Jesus himself got a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing." This is so important in the life of a church in relation to disability issues. You can criticize me all day long about being closed minded or intolerant, however, if I am working to love, encourage and befriend people with various disabilities, well, it might just cause you to be silent. Unless completely foolish, people are still impressed by what others do over what they say they will do. Wright says that a significant reason that Jesus himself got a hearing was because of what he was doing. Why should people listen to you or your church? Is there any reason that a family member or friend of a person with a disability or a person with a disability herself should listen to you on the basis of what you are doing?

"The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future." How does what you or your church doing point to what you are promising long-term in the future for persons with disabilities both on Earth and in Heaven? Are you promising them a future where they will be a full member of the Body of Christ or are you promising that there is no place for them in the Body of Christ, in the Kingdom of God? We have the ability to provide a glimpse of the future even if we are not seeing a person physically healed. We bring glory to God by providing a glimpse of a future where disability is largely irrelevant. I say largely irrelevant because it appears that there will be vestiges of our Earthly life in Heaven (eg. Jesus' stigmata). My love, my acceptance, my caring, independent of your personal characteristics are a glimpse of the future. It is no wonder if people with various disabilities are not drawn to church. We give them a picture of a future without them through their experience of a present without them.

Wright also states that, "These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether...They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom." He makes the point that our physical bodies are redeemed. Our existence is not merely a spiritual existence because this cannot be supported by scripture. So he claims there is some kind of a link between our physical bodies now, and the new bodies we will receive in the New Heaven and New Earth. I am confident that I don't understand what this means. However, there is a long term aspect of the things we do as people if we will only be aware of it (see April 10, 2005 blog entry). I think the effects are multifaceted for our own lives and the lives of others. They build God's kingdom in myriad ways.

McNair

3 comments:

Krystal Nunez said...

I found this post really profound. It stressed earning credibility and trust from others by walking the walk. I liked the relationship of our earthly bodies and our heavenly bodies and our earthly and heavenly work.

It was so convicting to hear that the way we as the church treat the disabled will be the same filter through which they perceive the afterlife. We should take the examples we set seriously, just as we should take all of our business here seriously. I mean, Jesus took his business on earth very seriously, and perhaps, if we want to be more like him, we should do the same.

Julana said...

Interesting connection.

ac said...

Dr. McNair, I always enjoy N.T. Wright! I read surprised by Hope a few months ago and was, well surprised by how often the believer is encouraged to be apart of the present work of the Kingdom. This flies in the face of the modern "left behind" ideology that says its all going to burn and we shall soon leave our pajama's here for all the non-believers to sort through! Jesus work is one of redemption and restoration. The old creation is not done away with completely, but restored! One of your thought particularly stuck out to me. When you wrote:
"My love, my acceptance, my caring, independent of your personal characteristics are a glimpse of the future. It is no wonder if people with various disabilities are not drawn to church. We give them a picture of a future without them through their experience of a present without them.

I thought, yes, yes this is right. And profoundly wrong. Then I am sad, for while 30% of the population have disabilities, I can name the churches on a hand that have anything to do with reaching them.