Can This Really Be the End? – Musing about the Eschaton

This is one of the earliest articles I wrote. In view of our current crises (plural) it seemed worth reprinting.

O, Mama, can this really be the end?

To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again.

Bob Dylan

Ok. I’ll confess it right up front – I’m a Dylan fan. It shows my age and generation. My children have had to learn to put up with his voice, but more than that, to put up with a parent who seems to find lines from Dylan songs that fit almost anything – at least anything significant. It must be ok. One of my daughters took me to my first Dylan concert as a gift. And I took my youngest to her first Dylan concert as a gift to her. There’s nothing liked shared pleasures with your children!

I read a review recently of Dylan: The Essential Interviews. In it, the reviewer says of Dylan: “…he started off singing about the end of the world, and he ended up adopting the theological beliefs that made sense of his musical prophesying.” The comment made me realize much of what I enjoyed about Dylan. His sense of the “end of things” (it is indeed a frequent theme in his lyrics) inevitably gives meaning to the songs themselves. Because, in the end – it is only in the end that anything has meaning.

Back at the fall of the Soviet Union, the historian, Francis Fukuyama, spoke about “the End of History.” Such would have been possible (one supposes) if the end of the Soviet Union had meant an end that carried meaning. But, as it is, the end has not been much of anything.

I used to ponder (in my college years) what the end of the Soviet Union might mean. I was reading a lot of Solzhenitsyn at the time – not to mention a heavy diet of 19th century Russian writers. I was able to imagine an end that would mean the beginning of a new spiritual rebirth for the whole of the West. But I probably had higher hopes in the spiritual resources of Russia, and seriously underestimated the power of our own vapid commercialism.

The great battle in the West today is not about democracy (though we are told democracy is what it’s all about), but about the end of history. For democracy, and the freedom it presumes, has no meaning unless it has an end in mind. Freedom is useless if it is not freedom for something.

I went shopping this afternoon (or, more accurately, I accompanied my wife and daughter as they went shopping). I had a lot of extra time on my hands – time to stand outside and think. I don’t smoke anymore so thinking is about all that’s left to me. Looking at the newly constructed vast commercial enterprise that has recently been driving our shopping malls out of business (it is a massive commercial development on the West end of Knoxville – I suppose it has clones all over the country but it is a wonder to behold), I could not help but ask, “Why?” What are we shopping for? For what end? And Dylan came echoing into my head, “Can this really be the end?”

For us to survive as a culture for any serious length of time it will be necessary for us to be able to answer the question: For what end? Militant Islam has an answer to the question and not the answer we would choose. But no answer is not the answer.

Christianity is inherently eschatological – it is precisely about the end of things and about a very specific end. The meaning of Orthodox worship is found in the fact that we believe ourselves to be standing in the very end of all things as we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Even the Second Coming is referred to in the past tense. The End has come and Christ is victorious and as His people, Baptized into His death and resurrection, that End is our hope and our own victory.

But democracy and freedom for the sake of commercial enterprise are not the same thing and they will consistently prove insufficient for us as a nation and as a people. One of the stores we visited this afternoon was inexplicably decorated with crosses. Jewelry – crosses with clocks in them – crosses that were just pieces of wall art. One splatter of crosses had words scattered among them. One of the words, “Indulge,” stood out. If the cross has become one more bit of art to indulge, then the End will never come. We’ll be stuck inside of Mobile for ever so long, with only the Memphis blues. We will be stuck in one place wishing we were somewhere else while the End of history never comes to redeem the time in which we live. Can this really be the end? 

21 Responses to “Can This Really Be the End? – Musing about the Eschaton”

  1. David Says:

    Makes sense. Even in our language we say “to what end” to ask “what’s the point” or purpose of a thing.

    Christ is the point, and the end–speaking from our frame of reference–already happened.

    Maybe to go along with your Universe mistakenly divided into two stories you can wrestle with our mistaken divisions of time into past, present and future.

  2. logismon Says:

    I have been pondering this much, lately Father. May I share ?

    Forgetful of physical death ?
    https://diakrisislogismon.wordpress.com/2008/09/25/remember-our-repose/

    Whose Reign and Rule shall have no end …
    https://diakrisislogismon.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/whose-reign-and-rule-shall-have-no-end/

    Lord have mercy !
    _

  3. Shevaberakhot Says:

    Dylan starts off with The Times They Are a-Changin’ (1964). He is part of change but later opts out (Things Have Changed, 2000). We cannot stand still, if the Incarnation and the Resurrection (John 20:29) is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

    ————————————————————————————-

    Muslim militancy and Christian militancy are two sides of the same coin. Both actively reject the grace of God but the latter will be judged more severely for the holy word is being trampled underfoot.

    ————————————————————————————–

    Lord have mercy!

  4. shevaberakhot Says:

    Logismon,

    Spiritual death is the first thing swallowed up by the Cross of Christ. Physical death is the second and the last.

    Keep it simple.

  5. logismon Says:

    Shevaberakhot … simplicity ALSO knows humility before teachings others + Be patient with us Orthodox folk, we have been ‘at this’ for over TWO Millennia …
    _

  6. coldfire Says:

    I think that this is such an important idea. There is a lot Russia can teach America. I just wish America was more inclined to listen.

  7. shevaberakhot Says:

    Logismon,

    I have absolutely no problems there – it is the HOLY SPIRIT giving His teaching here, not me as you might have supposed. Heaven forbid that I might be so vain so as to imagine I know anything.

    We also have an exceedingly reliable guide in Holy Scripture should the question of authority or supercedence ever come to the fore.

  8. logismon Says:

    Shevaberakot,

    “Quotations are only as good as the presuppositions which provide a context for meaning.”

    When one tells another that ‘it IS the Holy Spirit’, THEY are saying THEY are (or could be) infallibly speaking the words of God. Now, this applies when it has been believed, “everywhere, always, and by all. This is TRUE catholicity [http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/general/frjames_stvincent.aspx], & one has attained to theoria/theosis ‘within’ this catholicity stated above

    I suggest reading:

    […] The Bible and Tradition by Fr. John Romanides

    The Fathers did not understand theology as a theoretical or speculative science, but as a positive science in all respects. This is why the patristic understanding of Biblical inspiration is similar to the inspiration of writings in the field of the positive sciences.[ 2 ]

    Scientific manuals are inspired by the observations of specialists. For example, the astronomer records what he observes by means of the instruments at his disposal. Because of his training in the use of his instruments, he is inspired by the heavenly bodies, and sees things invisible to the naked eye. The same is true of all the positive sciences. However, books about science can never replace scientific observations. These writings are not the observations themselves, but about these observations.

    This holds true even when photographic and acoustical equipment is used. This equipment does not replace observations, but simply aids in the observations and their recordings. Scientists cannot be replaced by the books they write, nor by the instruments they invent and use.

    The same is true of the Orthodox understanding of the Bible and the writings of the Fathers. Neither the Bible nor the writings of the Fathers are revelation or the word of God. They are about the revelation and about the word of God.

    Revelation is the appearance of God to the prophets, apostles, and saints. The Bible and the writings of the Fathers are about these appearances, but not the appearances themselves. This is why it is the prophet, apostle, and saint who sees God, and not those who simply read about their experiences of glorification. It is obvious that neither a book about glorification nor one who reads such a book can never replace the prophet, apostle, or saint who has the experience of glorification.
    source: http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.03.en.franks_romans_feudalism_and_doctrine.02.htm#s9

    I fear (clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Mother), Wthat we may (are) coming to an “end”, as we know it, in the US — very soon. May we all confess our sins, ‘one to another’, and prepare daily for our departure from this ‘age’.

    Beyond ‘this’, I strive–for it is a matter of LIFE OR DEATH–to cling to my Saviour.

    God bless us all, and may we strive to be purified, illumined, and if God so desires, attain to theosis.

    Diakrisis Logismōn

  9. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Thursday Highlights Says:

    […] Considering the end of days. […]

  10. The Scylding Says:

    I often wrestle with this same thing – and muse on it on my blog. I don’t know what to say though. I feel like the Gaulish tribesmen watching the Roman legions pour over the land, and wondering what now?

  11. David Says:

    I find that I’m lacking the necessary tools to understand this conversation.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Everybody’s talking.

  13. Dianne Says:

    Yes, everybody’s talking. But Dylan? Last we heard from him, he “Ain’t Talking” (Modern Times, track 10).

    There’s usually wisdom in silence. (BTW, that’s not a comment on the present conversation.)

    And there’s surely wisdom in Dylan. So happy to learn that my favorite Orthodox blogging priest is a Dylan fan!

  14. fatherstephen Says:

    Dianne,

    I was listening to bootleg albums in the early 70’s. Been a fan for years. My joy is that at least 2 of my 4 children are fans (and have taken me to concerts – the only 2 Dylan concerts I’ve ever attended). “Ah, but I was older then, I’m younger than that now.”

  15. Fr. James Early Says:

    I still hear the song “Man gave names to all the animals” in my head every now and then.

  16. Jonathan Says:

    Oh momma, West End Knoxville is pretty soul-less… Funny- sad- though when the shopping malls are being driven under by yet bigger shopping entities.

    Deep inside my heart, I know I can’t escape…

  17. Ashley Says:

    Father,
    What did you mean about the Second Coming being past tense?

  18. Raphael Says:

    Clothes were dirty but his hands were clean (Dylan in Rotterdam, 2005)

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    Ashley,

    In St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy, the Second Coming is mentioned in a list of things we “remember” as though we were already accomplished. In time it has not been, but the Liturgy stands outside of time.

  20. shevaberakhot Says:

    …and we were His from the beginning.

  21. Fr Hopko & “When is Armageddon?” « Journeying Home Says:

    […] is very eschatologically-aware. The Divine Liturgy is eschatological. Here’s a quote from a recent blog post by Fr Stephen Freeman: “Christianity is inherently eschatological – it is precisely about the end of things and […]

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