Holy Love: Consummation

​When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The previous facets  of the hermeneutic of love have helped us see love “on earth.” When we turn to consummation, we see love “as it is in heaven.”  Theologically, we call this eschatology.  But we simply mean, “Where things are headed.”

Unfortunately, we have lived most of our lives under an eschatology that says we are headed for Armageddon.  I was a teenager when Hal Lindsey wrote ‘The Late Great Planet Earth,’ and was joined by a host of radio and television preachers who spoke more about the “lake of fire” (i.e. damnation) than about the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e. deliverance).  The tone was one of fear and anxiety.  A bit later, the ‘Left Behind’ series took the trepidation trajectory to a new level of intensity.  Not going to hell became the prism through which many folks defined (and many still do) the ultimate purpose of the Gospel.  For many, this “turn or burn” narrative was the biblical message. Jesus was seen as the one offering spiritual “fire insurance” more than abundant living. [1]

To the extent this was the focus, the love of God was eclipsed by a view of God who is essentially mad at us and  is looking for ways to punish us—unless we can convince God to do otherwise.  With love in eclipse, grace soon left the (church) building, replaced by a performance-orientation (i.e. works righteousness) by which we hoped to end up in heaven because the plusses of our lives outnumbered the minuses.  This kind of consummation told us we are saved by the skin of our teeth rather than by grace.  It put the emphasis on us more than God.  God was “up there” passively waiting to see if we could do more good things than bad before we die, not actively at work to “forgive us our trespasses and deliver us from evil.” 

 This self-focus fed the ego, creating a self-righteousness that frequently espoused certainty regarding who would end up in heaven and who would not.  And for the purposes of this series suffice it to say that the left-behind list included LGBTQ+ people.

So…how do we get out of this faux gospel and into the Gospel itself?  How do we make consummation a love-defined reality?  We do so in two key ways, both related to Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega—the one who reveals where things came from and where they are heading. [2]

First, through the person of the universal Christ.  The second person of the Holy Trinity is the eternal and pervasive presence of the Godhead. [3]  As the means of creation (e.g. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16), everyone and everything is a product and reflection of Christ (Colossians 3:11).  This is an ontological oneness that links us in love in ways that nothing can separate (Romans 8:38).  The eternal Christ is the Path on whom we all walk toward the consummation.

Second, through the work of the universal Christ.  Christ establishes the trajectory toward which the consummation moves.  Paul described it generally when he wrote that the eternal plan of God is “to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10)—a  plan through which  God “accomplishes everything according to his design” (Ephesians 1:11).  Jesus’ whole ministry (preaching, teaching, and healing) and his entire countenance (inclusive love) were means toward this, and we must see his entire incarnation as advancing the trajectory.  But Paul also notes that the climax/apex of this was Jesus’ atonement in which God  “reconciled all things to himself through him, whether things on earth or in the heavens” (Colossians 1:20).

Taken together, the person and work of the universal Christ enable us to live with confidence and with hope.  We live with confidence that we are participating (in our lives and by our witness) in the cosmic purpose of God.  We are heirs of the promise and co-creators in helping to bring it to pass.  We are confident that we are God’s beloved.

From this confidence, we live with hope.  It is the kind of hope the writer of Hebrews described as “not seen” (2:8-9; 11:1).  This is not a hope rooted in circumstance, but in outcome.  That’s why we call it consummation.  Even though we often see the lack of love in the world, we believe that love will prevail.  We have this hope, and we give ourselves to being instruments of love in the meantime.  Love will be the final word spoken for eternity, for all.  All means all.

So….

(1) How does this cosmic perspective affect your view of things here and now?

(2) How can you be an instrument of this perspective in your life and work?


[1] While many assume this is what the Bible teaches, it is actually what a person named John Nelson Darby taught, and was fashioned by others into what is today called Dispensationalism—a theology that interprets where things are going through the lens of double predestination (hyper Calvinism) that enjoins a strict and unchangeable who’s “in” and who’s “out” view with respect to heaven.

[2] I have been greatly helped in my understanding of consummation by Richard Rohr in his book, ‘The Universal Christ’ (Convergent Books, 2019), particularly in chapter seven, “Going Somewhere Good.”

[3] Language fails to describe this.  It is Mystery, but that does not mean we cannot write ir speak about it, it only means we will never fathom it.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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