Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Future is Ours by Redemption

“Ever since the beginning of the middle-class era, with its faith in progress, belief in progress has dominated the upbringing of children too. Childhood now came to be understood only as the preliminary stage on the way to the full personhood of the adult… Every lived moment has an eternal significance and already constitutes a fulfilled life. For fulfilled life is not measured by the number of years that have been lived through, or spent in one way or another. It is measured according to the depth of lived experience.” -Jürgen Moltmann (In The End--The Beginning, 6-7).
I've been doing a lot of thinking about childhood lately. Not in some nostalgic sense, so much, but as a "stage" of development. Understanding how society looks at childhood is a key to understanding how society looks at adolescence (for some people, the difference is insignificant). While there are distinct and important differences between childhood and adolescence, what the two have in common is that, according to society's commitment to development and progress, they both receive their definition from the normative standards of adulthood. They are both measured against the standard of maturity and thus are judged as inherently immature. They are what they are not. And this is so because we have allowed the future, in some sense, to determine the value of the present.

I want to critique this progressivist/developmental commitment on the basis of the true humanity and dignity of childhood and adolescence in their own right. Rather than measuring them against the standards of adulthood, I want to affirm their dignity according to their own terms. This seems reasonable to me, given the theological reality of the incarnation (the cross). But I have a dilemma. In theological terms, the future does, in some sense, determine the truth about the present. The future of God (the resurrection) interprets the present. There may be better places from which to quote Moltmann on this, but one quote comes to mind: "Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present" (Moltmann, Theology of Hope). If the future of God, in some sense, gives us a lens through which to interpret the present, then how can we give the present the dignity it deserves?

I think that what allows Moltmann to write both Theology of Hope and The Crucified God (a book about the hope of the future and a book about God's solidarity with the present), what allows him to say, "Every lived moment has an eternal significance and already constitutes a fulfilled life," is that he separates eschatology from development and progress. Eschatology is not progress or development. The coming of God, promised in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus, is not something we achieve or construct from the potentiality of the present. That future in which God will be "All in All"--a future which is for every crucified person and which in some sense interprets the present on which the cross of Jesus stands--comes to us by redemption, not development. We are free to live according to the promised future precisely because its fruition does not depend on our action. The meaning of our present, every present, even the ones that don't have the potential to develop, comes from God's future. And so, "...fulfilled life is not measured by the number of years that have been lived through..." or by the degree to which that life is able to progress in its correspondence with goals for the future.  "It is measured according to the depth of lived experience."

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