Monday, February 7, 2011

"the line of battle passes directly through the hearts of the believers"

From Werner Elert "Last Things", which I discovered among our books. (CPH 1974).  It must have belonged to my father-in-law.

I've been pondering this section, see below,  from p. 44 and 45, chapter 7 "The Last Judgment".

But the parousia of Jesus has a deeper and more decisive meaning for the last Judgment.  "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ"  (2 Cor. 5:10).  Why before the judgment seat of Christ?  Why not before the judgment seat of God?  First of all, we are here expressly reminded of the fact that the expectation of the last Judgment is an expectation of faith.  As all else that we preceive in faith finds its basis in "God in Christ,"  so does also the expectation of the last Judgment.  God without Christ is only the God of wrath whose judgment would be nothing but death and final destruction for us.  On the other hand, "God in Christ" confronts us with the call of the Gospel, with the Spirit's exhortation (paraclesis):  "Be ye reconciled to God."  It is this "God in Christ"  whose final judgment we are expecting, the God who established the Word of reconciliation in our midst, the God who offers us reconciliation through the Paraclete.  The expectation of our appearance before the judgment seat of Christ is but the eschatological conclusion of the judgmental mission which Christ fulfills for the entire cosmos since His incarnation.  The Gospel of John speaks of this Christ-effected judgment as both present and as in the future (12:31; 5:21ff).  Wherever we encounter the judgment of God in the sense of this Christ-induced crisis, it is preceded by the coming of Christ.  It was so during His earthly mission;  and it is so also during the entire course of history after Christ.  And so is also His last coming the presupposition of the last Judgment.

It is its finality which distinguishes the last Judgment from the permanent, ongoing judgment of post-Christian history.  After the final Judgment there is no more chance.  That is why unbelief is pursued by the Gospel invitation (paraclesis) to the very last moment in the hope that unbelief might recognize that the twelfth hour is approaching.  And on the other hand, faith is threatened by apostasy to the very last moment.  The last Judgment marks the end of every possibility to make pro and con decisions.  Judgment Day takes for granted that there is a Last Day, a day which terminates history as the conflict between belief and unbelief.  But since it is also preceded by Christ's parousia, it not only ends the possibility of decisions but it is also a separation of believers from unbelievers, and that separation is final.  The final appearance of the Son of Man silences the last doubt as to His person and His mission.  Now the Judge over all reveals Himself.  Up to that time mankind is urged to make a decision.  In the last Judgment He commands silence.  How it is He who now makes His decision.

The decision of the last Judgment involves, first of all, a final separation .  The historical struggle between belief and unbelief is not a conflict between clearly defined groups of men, or even between two tangible worldly societies.  Most generally, he line of battle passes directly through the hearts of the believers.  Therefore a well-known theologian is correct when he states that "the christian faith never leaves the fear of judgment totally behind it, but it can certainly rise above it."  That is not only a psychological fact;  that is something inherent in the essence of faith and hope.  Appearances run counter to both;  and death is the most obvious factor to oppose them.  This very faith, which learn to understand death from God's perspective, therefore always faces the haunting question of whether physical death (since it is also a condemnation) is not after all only the beginning of the final condemnation.  That is, of course, a temptation which faith fends off.  But it can fend it off only as it adheres to the promise which is contradicted by appearances.  Viewed in that light, the last Judgment is the fulfillment of God's promise, because it removes the contradiciton between faith and appearances.  In that way the final Judgment becomes a separation also for a Christian.  Now faith and temptation (Anfechtung), doubt and hope no longer exist side by side in the same person.  Only faith and hope--not their opposites--remain.

What is more, while the historical conflict between belief and unbelief is waged within an individual person, the final Judgment is a separation of persons.  In this respect it is an actual judgment and an actual last judgment.  It cannot be anticipated or analyzed in any way.  We do not know which predominates in us, the hours of faith or the years of doubt, for both often dwell side by side in the same heart.  We know that still less with regard to our future life here on earth, and least of all do we know if of others, no matter whether these are--as judged by appearances--fellow believers or advocates of unbelief.  To achieve final clarity in this matter requires a judicial verdict pronounced by Him to whom not only the totality of our earthly life is known but who also alone can judge what has become of everyone of us with regard to belief and unbelief. 

So much for today.  It strikes me the most that "the line of battle passes directly through the hearts of the believers".  I pause at the "decision" statements, but I read them as whatever the response is to that call of "be reconciled to God" (who offers you his pardon).

As someone has as her tagline:  "Lord I believe; help my unbelief!"

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