I really love this. It marks the difference between real confidence in God and a neurotic non-faith that thinks, in the end, we are on our own and must, by blood, iron, force, and fear, maintain a phony simulacrum of the Kingdom of God that is really just a culture war fantasy.
It really struck me the other day that the promise of Emmanuel–God with us–does not have an expiration date and that so much Traditionalism is really just antiquarianism. It’s the belief that some human system called “Christianity” reached its zenith in the 13th century and everything since then has been a struggle to recapture that, with the inevitable conviction that the future is nothing but increasing blackness with no hope. God has checked out and we are on our own, trying to recreate some utopia that never was by sheer dint of will.
I see simply no foundation for this conviction in the Tradition itself. Christ promises to be with his Church to the very end, not to cut and run half way through our history. (Assuming it was halfway. For all we know, the Church may last another 50,000 years before Christ comes again. This, right now, may still be the early Church.)
Yes, times will be dark before the End, consisting, ironically, of human beings attempting precisely the project of creating the kingdom of God on earth apart from grace and via blood, iron, force, and fear. They will say exactly the sorts of things that Liars for Jesus say, “Let us do evil that good may come of it”, etc. as well as placing their faith in sundry political messiahs:
675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.574 The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth575 will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.576
676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism,577 especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.578
677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.579 The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.580 God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.581
One need not look very far to find these political messiahs. And so every time a new one comes along, certain stripes of Christians despair. “Has there ever been a time in our history when leaders so easily claimed or had thrust upon them the messianic mantle?”
The answer is “Yes! All through our history?” Times have always been dark–and the light shines in the darkness and has not overcome it. Dress rehearsals for antichrist are not a phenomenon of modernity or post-modernity, but of human history. The fastest growing cult in the Roman Empire as Jesus hung gasping out his last breath on the Cross was the Cult of Augustus Caesar, the Son of God. On the day Jesus died, there was not a reason in the world for anybody outside his immediate circle of friends to think that everything he mean to them had not died with him. Crucifixion was the single most shameful and abhorrent form of death in the world of that time. It showed a man definitively rejected not only by the state in all its overwhelming power, but by God as well (since “cursed is he who hangs upon a tree”).
And yet, three day later, it was all transformed to the degree that the cross became a taunt against Caesar, because Jesus’ disciples really were convinced that nor merely human powers of evil had been broken, but cosmic powers as well. They lost their power to overwhelm and intimidate to such a degree that one early Christian could write in joy and freedom:
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 8:31–39).
These are the words of somebody who does not think his best days are behind him, but who is looking forward with excitement and expectation of better still to come, not only in this life, but in the life to come.
It’s still there, waiting for us, because the exactly same Christ who met Paul on the Damascus road is still there, and is still walking further down that Road. The Faith is a journey, not a standing still. He is not finished yet.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. ¶ Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, ¶ and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Ro 5:1–5).
By the way, if you have not read Buechner, I highly recommend him.