Richard Hall Online

A Methodist Minister Blogging like it’s 2006

Advent ambiguity

It’s all a bit vague. Advent I mean. All this hanging around, waiting … and waiting … and waiting. We know the who-we’re-waiting-for, but notwithstanding the asinine prognostications and genre-illiterate apocalyptic readings of the sick and witless, we don’t know the when, where, or how of the Coming.

The same uncertainty goes for the four traditional themes of Advent: death, judgement, heaven and hell. No one knows the when, where, or how of the arrival of the Grim Reaper –though we do know that he will be infinitely more attractive than those who, in their ishoo-laden cosmetic attempts to delay the date, are only ensuring that they look more like a gargoyle than he does when he comes to collect them.

And judgement? Only someone who goes “Ee ore” would presume to know whether he will be going “Baaa” or “Meh heh” when the barnyard is finally sorted. We do know the criterion of judgement, namely, whether you’ve been a decent (i.e., kind and compassionate) bipedal beast, but we know too that it will be a time of surprises. Someone whose self-image is ovine might find himself a lamb chop.

Which brings me to heaven and hell. All we know about heaven is that the Cubs will be winning the World Series there, so if you’re from the South Side of Chicago you’ll know at once that you’re actually in the Other Place. Or not. Hell, after all, is a disputed doctrine. Were it not for the Yankees, I myself would be a universalist. Still, you never know. Or maybe you do. More’s the pity.

Yes, it’s all rather vague. Which, I suspect, is the point. The point of Advent I mean. Faith isn’t certainty. Faith doesn’t have all the answers. Faith requires what Keats called “negative capability”, “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Faith can say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” Faith can even say “I was wrong” or “I’ve changed my mind.” Faith can welcome complexity and embrace pluralism. “Clear” and “distinct” ideas and epistemological closure – that’s Cartesianism, not Christianity. In fact, I submit that the apodictic is quite destructive, only the vague is healing.

So here’s to Advent ambiguity! Yaki dah!





2 responses to “Advent ambiguity”

  1. Carl Squire Avatar
    Carl Squire

    “Were it not for the Yankees, I myself would be a universalist”
    May I recommend “The Evangelical Universalist” by Rev. Dr. Robin Parry writing as Gregory MacDonald. – He explains why the pseudonym in the preface, but in brief he was working for someone who wouldn’t approve.

    1. Richard Hall Avatar

      Very happy for you to recommend that book, Carl. It’s a very good read

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