Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Albert Schweitzer’s ‘consistent eschatology’

Kwang Kyung Hoon


Geza Vermes classifies the various discussions regarding the reign of God:

Albert Schweitzer’s ‘consistent eschatology’ (konsequente Eschatologie) assigns it to the near future. C.H. Dodd places it in the present time in the form of a ‘realized eschatology.’ Joachim Jeremias compromises, and with his ’sich realisierende Eschatologie,’ eschatology in process of being realized. He allots it partly to the present and partly to the future" (Vermes 1983:37).

Vermes points out the weakness of these eschatologies. He says that the chief weakness of the Schweitzer-Dodd-Jeremias’ school of thought is that it applies ordinary time-concepts to Jesus’ eschatological outlook. He insists that Jesus himself holds out the fact that the hour of the reign of God is unknown, citing Lk 17:20, "The reign of God is not coming with signs to be observed." Even Jesus does not know it. In other words, Jesus interpreted it not as the harsh judgment of a terrifying God but as the intimate presence of a loving Father (59).

Sheehan stresses that by the reign of God, Jesus meant the immediate presence of God as a loving Father. He explains that the reign of God has nothing to do with the fanciful geopolitics of the apocalyptists and messianists or with the juridical, hierarchical church. Nor was it any form of religion. The reign of God, Sheehan asserts, was the Father himself given over to his people.6 Given that the reign of God is the Father himself and is entirely and purely God’s gift as invitation, what remains for humans to do is to respond to the invitation. Sheehan picks up forgiveness, justice and charity as ethical virtues with which people can and must respond to God’s gift. He says that this mutuality—eschatology as the ground of ethics, and ethics as the realization of eschatology—is what made Jesus’ moral demands so radical (Kasper, 63).7

While Sheehan stresses practicing the ethical virtues, James Dunn emphasizes Jesus’ total surrender to God in the kingdom. Dunn sees that abba became the expression of the complete surrender of Jesus as Son to the Father’s will. Jesus’ self-surrender to God’s will is based on the intimate relationship of Jesus to God. The complete surrender of Jesus which was geared to his mission should be found in the fact that Jesus’ sense of being God’s son was an existential conviction, not intellectual belief. In other words, as Dunn explains, Jesus’ consciousness of an intimate relationship with God is not an awareness of metaphysical sonship, nor of a ‘divine consciousness’ (second Person of the Trinity). Dunn stresses that the only words adequate to express the experience of the relationship of sonship were that of Father and Son. By the experienced relationship of sonship, Dunn means that Jesus felt intimacy with God (abba experience), he had the approval of God (from Jesus’ baptism onward), dependence on God (Jesus’ total surrender and mission) and responsibility to God (Dunn, 383).

Schillebeeckx also focuses on the relation of Jesus as son and God. He notes that in Jesus’ time what the abba signified for him was authority and instruction: the father is the authority and the teacher. In other words, being a son meant ‘belonging to’ and one demonstrated this sonship by carrying out the father’s instruction. Schillebeeckx stresses that Jesus uses the familial term abba in addressing God and that shows the quite natural expression of the very core of his religious life: ‘Not my will, but your will, Father’ (Lk 21:42, Mt 26:42). According to Jewish spirituality, that is ‘doing God’s will,’ the familial concept of father and son can be applicable to the relationship of Jesus towards God who is understood as abba (263). Schillebeeckx also stresses that the soul, the source and ground of Jesus’ message, praxis and ministry as a whole served to illuminate the exceptional and peculiar character of the abba experience (266). Therefore, we suggest that the event of God’s reign must be considered in the light of Jesus’ response to God’s pure gift as invitation.

Being the sons and daughters of God in this sense expects filial piety of us. In the Korean cultural religious tradition we call this filial piety mosim, or reverence. We show this piety and reverence by doing ‘hyo,’ filial piety and we show this piety towards our parents or elders. We would like to suggest that Jesus who addressed his Father as Abba and who’s life was spent in bringing about the reign of God is the model of doing mosim whose filial piety, passion, mission. His whole life clearly shows it more than anyone else.8 more

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