Something I read recently inspired me to comment a bit on the much neglected subject of a realized eschatology in the teaching of Jesus. As I’ve commented much earlier:
(http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/kingdom_god) For every statement Jesus makes that COULD be interpreted as pointing us toward hoping for a future kingdom and a future coming – there are as many, if not more, that point to the kingdom of God being right here, right now, in the innermost heart of every person.
From many clear parables and clear teachings – from the entire Sermon on the Mount – it is completely clear that Jesus expects his teaching to utterly transform a person in the here and now. He even tells his disciples to “take no thought for the morrow” – a teaching that seems incompatible with scanning the headlines for the latest news of the Antichrist and analyzing the Bible for letter sequences that will warn us of the coming disasters.
The future is, in general, the province of the ego. It is in the non-existent future (for only the NOW really exists) that we will finally be fulfilled, finally find happiness, finally have “enough” etc. And, in the Christianized version of this game, it is only in the future that we will experience God’s grace, live in God’s presence, and be rescued from the future fires of hell. Earth life becomes simply a prelude. Choose Jesus and, some day, in the future world, he’ll save you from hell and reward you.
But the fact it, “hell” is right here and now. Humans live in prisons of their own making, suffering punishments of their own devising. Happiness eludes them. As the Buddha’s first noble truth teaches – life is suffering. There is sickness, injustice, greed, violence and death. There are also milder forms of suffering connected with feeling unfulfilled, unloved, unappreciated. This is not to say that all of us live in unremitting misery. There are, after all, levels in hell, and glimpses of joy. But taken as a whole, our species must obviously be diagnosed as profoundly unhappy and rather psychotic. In the last century alone, we endured two world wars, countless local conflicts, numerous episodes of genocide and atrocity involving nearly 100 million people. Global poverty increased and millions starved to death while millions in wealthier countries turned to drugs, alcohol, gambling or the mindless pursuit of consumer goods to dull their suffering. It is estimated that about 34% of the U.S. population will suffer clinical depression at some point in their lives.
Leaving aside the question of a future hell – a transformational understanding of Jesus’ teaching offers to save us from the hell we’re already in. It’s not a matter of Jesus punishing us for not accepting him. We’re already doing a fine job of punishing ourselves. But the Kingdom of Heaven can indeed be within us. Suffering can end. Joy can be our continual state. This is not something to be paid for with years of privation and mortification. It is right in front of our eyes. Or rather, right behind them.