Are things getting better?

Dear Reader,

A number of years ago, I rubbed a wise, older Christian woman I respect the wrong way by saying something disparaging about post-millenialists. It turns out our church a strong tradition of post-millenialism though from what I can gather it is less prominent these days. I would call myself an amillenialist. Before I begin this discussion, a few definitions are probably in order. The millennium is a thousand year (literally or figuratively, that’s another discussion) period of time in which Jesus will reign and things  will go well on earth. Amillenialists like me believe there is no literal millennium and that the period referred to is just the church age which we are in now and have been since Jesus’ resurrection. Pre-millenialists, which covers a lot of today’s evangelicals, believe that Jesus will come again before the millennium and that his coming will establish it. So we are not in the millennium now; we are awaiting it. Post-millenialists believe Jesus will come after the millennium. In this view, we are to expect a better period and an improving in circumstances before Christ comes. The 1000 years may not be literal and I suppose we may already be in them. I don’t know if all this would satisfy a theologian but it is my understanding of the three positions.

All this may sound pretty esoteric, and I would agree a lot of the debate Christians have on such points is pretty useless. But I do think there are practical applications of our theology that affect how we live. I am afraid I tend to be of a pessimistic turn of mind. I think this probably preceded my amillenial view and is why amillenialism appeals to me. Post-millenialists tend to be more optimistic. In their view things will get better. They are expecting a period of time in which Christ’s rule is more evident. They expect human circumstances to improve. And so it is natural for them also to work towards this end. I doubt people like the woman I had this discussion with would say we could bring about the millenium. But maybe she would at least say that God can use our actions to bring about His kingly rule and to improve things here in earth.

Now the original discussion I had with this woman was many years ago and though I respect her in most things, she did not convice me of her position. But I was reminded of the discussion by this article by Dr. Carroll Smith. Her point, or part of her point, if I am understanding it, is that the kingdom of God is among us now and therefore we should focus less on our fallen state and instead look for and expect a thawing in this world’s spiritual ice age. That is, that we should expect improvement.

There are a few things here I agree with. I think Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of God is among us now. There is a sense in which it has come. It is in the hearts of His people. But, on the other hand, the kingdom is not fully realized. It is in Christian-ese “now and not yet.” It has begun in our hearts, but we still live in a fallen world. We are told that there will be a time when the whole creation, fallen with us through our sin, will be renewed. Creation itself yearns for this. And yet it has clearly not happened. I guess the question for me, in both the positions of my friend the post-millenialist and Dr. Smith, is do we see signs of the restoration of creation now or is this something that will only appear when Christ comes again and His kingdom is fully realized? Another way to put it is, yes, the kingdom of God is in the hearts of His followers now, but is it anywhere else?

My answer to this is a tentative no. I do not see that Scripture tells us that the creation is at all improving now. Creation is groaning waiting for that day. I do not see that it has begun yet. If you can think of verses to the contrary I would love to hear them.

And when I look around me, I do not see evidence that things are improving. The hearts of individuals are changed, but I do not see the humanity as whole is any better than it has ever been. The tone of Christian media would often make us think that if anything we are more sinful and ungodly than previous generations. I am not sure this is true either, but I see no signs that we are better. Certainly, there are evils like slavery and discrimination which we have eliminated or diminished. Does this show improvement? On the one hand, such things may be improving in our particular society but they don’t seem to be world-wide. On the other, I am not sure that even in our society where we boast of no slavery that the hearts of people have improved at all. The same tendencies to diminish or control others I think still exist among us. We just find other ways to get them out.

There are ways in which the human condition physically has improved. I would not want to have lived a hundred years ago. I like indoor plumbing. I like my many modern conveniences. I love modern medicine. A hundred years ago my daughter would have died at age one for lack of insulin. Now she can live a full life. And I like that life spans are up and infant mortality is down. These are good things. But do they show that out human condition has improved? It often seems that for every disease we eliminate or control, another new one pops up. Polio doesn’t worry me. Cancer does. Scarlet fever is not a threat. AIDS is. Still, life spans and quality of life are up overall. Surely this is an improvement? But then I often think that as our health and circumstances get better, our spiritual state gets worse. The more comfortable we are the less we turn to God. When death is a daily reality, we need to fall at His feet a lot more often. So perhaps these blessings, things like new medicines and sanitation and dishwashers which make our lives easier and better and longer, are actually curses in that they allow us to rely less on our Creator.

If this all sounds like a confusing jumble, that’s because it is. My whole point I guess is that I do not see a clear progression in this world towards something better. Individuals are saved, yes. But I do not see that creation or humanity as a whole are getting anywhere. I do think at the end of time God’s people will be made perfect and creation itself will be restored. But I don’t see that happening yet. So I remain a somewhat pessimistic amillenialist.



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