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Hope and Apocalypse

Hope is that act whereby a person becomes aware of the distance of the Kingdom, and it clings to apocalyptic thinking. If the Kingdom is there, within easy reach, if the Kingdom is quite naturally within us, there is no need for hope. The latter is the measure of our distance from the Kingdom. Certainly the saying which attests that the Kingdom is in our midst is truthful, but it is truthful as a saying of hope. It is not the report of an observable, measurable reality, complete with tangible consequences. It is an affirmation of a counter-reality. Humanly speaking, it is not true that the Kingdom of God is present. . . . Hope allows us to catch a glimpse of the invisible signs of the Kingdom actually at work, but which are visible only to hope. Only for hope   are they signs and carriers of the future. . . .

Like it or not, if we have the idea that the world develops through the wonderful works of man, that it goes from progress to progress in that way toward the Kingdom of God (and, at best, only by political and social revolutions!), that there is an unbroken continuity between this world and the Kingdom, that the way is prepared for the latter through political, technological, and scientific action, then one is dealing with a motionless object-God, a god who is no longer a stopgap, but a porcelain vase set aside in a corner: ‘Wait for us. We’ll take care of it.’

The Apocalypse is tied to the thought of a God who intervenes in history, who makes his own decisions and acts as sovereign, creating the world he wants through his almighty Word, whose fiery approach melts mountains and causes man and his works to collapse. It is to take the living God seriously. Now hope is that work which incites this God to come and reveal himself, no longer in his discreetness, weakness, and humiliation, but also in his glory. If one doesn’t hope in the glory of God, of which the Apocalypse is a translation, there is no hope. There is only human progress and the hatred of those who obstruct it.

Jacques Ellul, Hope in Time of Abandonment, trans. C. Edward Hopkin (New York: Seabury Press: 1973) 207-209.

 

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