Apocalyptic optimism? Huh? What the heck am I talking about?
No. I’m not weighing in on the whole ‘rapture ready’ debate that predictions about a May 22 end of the world — or was it the beginning of the end? — sparked last week (I doubt I could top this beauty from Michael Bird anyway).
I’m talking about drinking deeply of what Paul says in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians about the impact of the cross on what we value.
So deeply, in fact, that we can see and acknowledge that the Christians message and life and community is foolish and unimpressive and odd-ball by most people’s standards.
Reflect on the Christian communities you’ve been part of. Isn’t that true?
They’re not usually How To Win Friends And Influence People type material, are they? Even when they’re full of gifted and godly individuals.
What’s your response when you recognise this? When this reality presses itself on you so you can’t deny it?
To be honest, it tends to drop me into a bit of a pessimism spiral (either that or it lets me feel like I’m off the hook for my failures and inadequacies).
But I think I react to our apparent weakness with pessimism because I don’t actually believe what Paul says — that God has chosen the weak and foolish to display his glory and strength.
That’s how it was with Jesus. And that’s how it will be with his disciples.
So, as far as Paul’s concerned, a frank admission of the unimpressive-looking reality of Christian preaching and community shouldn’t lead to pessimism or despair. Nor should it lead to patting ourselves on the back while we scale back our expectations.
Instead, it should lead to a tremendous hope and confidence in God.
We should be expecting big things. Apocalyptically big things. The kind of things the prophets promised would happen when God acted to fulfil his promises, invading his arrant world and wrenching it back into shape.
That’s apocalyptic optimism.
And the secret to it is to believe — to look to Jesus, and to take up your cross and follow him…