Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 74, “The Lord’s Return”

Dear friend,

St. Paul was wrong. Jesus did not return during Paul’s lifetime, and Paul was sure he would. In his final chapter on Paul’s Epistles, before moving on to Revelation, Romano Guardini explains this about Paul and what the whole idea of the Second Coming means.

This idea has become embedded in our culture. Every year or so, it seems, there’s some nut job in the desert predicting that it will happen in forty-two days. So that we have come to disbelieve in the Second Coming on liberal principle—though some might call that phrase an oxymoron.

Back in school, we studied a poem that took a more nuanced view, though not a Christian one. W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” derives from his personal, eccentric view of cosmic history moving in two-thousand-year cycles, or “gyres.” The first lines suggest a world, ours, spinning out of control: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, / The falcon cannot hear the falconer. / Things fall apart.  The center cannot hold. / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. . . . ”

Yeats envisioned the coming not of Jesus but of “a rough beast, its hour come round at last,” one that “is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.” Which only goes to show that the Irish are nut jobs too. But that’s OK. I’m married to one.

Ah, but Guardini and Jesus and Paul—who believed that the Lord was coming again, and soon. “Then everything will be different!” But two thousand years have passed, or nearly, and He hasn’t come. What are we to make of this? Was Paul only another nut job?

If we adopt Paul’s attitude, call it Paul’s fiction if you must, we adopt a proper attitude, even if it is founded on a false base. We become watchful. And we join Paul in a “sweeping devaluation of all that is transitory.” Living as if Christ was coming again in our lifetimes might really change us and the way we behave.

But still there is the question, Will the Lord really come and if so when?

Guardini reminds us that Paul said certain events would occur before Christ came again: a predestined number of heathen would have to be converted, as would the “Hebrew nation”; and the Antichrist would make his appearance, the apostate, the man of sin.

Further, Guardini admits that in our modern, scientific world, few Christians even give credence to the idea that the world will end with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t seem to trouble him. “Different elements of Christian truth have different seasons,” he writes. Before the Second Coming comes back into season, he predicts that perhaps, “Christianity must lose some of its complacency. . . . Perhaps a new period of persecution and outlawry must come to shake Christiants back to a living consciousness of the values for which they stand.”

The day after the Presidential election a conservative friend of mine talked as if the era of “persecution and outlawry” was already in high season. I smiled and reminded him that God’s time horizon is longer than ours. And different. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us that no one but the Father knows the day or the hour.

Watchfully yours,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 75.

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