Hope but “No Open Highway”

Finding and SeekingBeyond the Bible, my most faithful summer traveling companion was the writings of Anglican theological Oliver O’Donovan.  I made relatively quick work of his Self, World, and Time back in June.  When I left the island, I took the second volume of O’Donovan’s “Ethics as Theology” series, Finding and Seeking.  While it’s basically twice as kong as SWT, it’s taken me a lot longer to get through.  That’s not a bad thing, though.  It’s quite the encouraging read.  His style is a little odd to me.  There’s something truly down-to-earth about his approach  . . . and yet it feels totally abstracted.  And while it’s clear that O’Donovan knows what he’s doing and where he’s going, he moves forward page-to-page without recapitulating much, which would be nice even if it isn’t his style.

I recently got to the chapter on hope and anticipation (O’Donovan sees “Christian” ethics as tied closely to faith, love, and hope . . . in that order . . . which is both predictable and not).  I quite liked this passage:

Hope may, and often must, look through a different window.  It has its independent ground, not formed from anticipations, not even from the most probable or universally proven ones, let alone the most far-reaching and ambitious.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead authorizes hope, validates promise, points to the future of God’s kingdom. That does not mean it sets a trend which history will always thereafter follow.  Since the resurrection, we are told, “your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).  The path that leads from the empty tomb to the parousia is no open highway.  There are signs to be seen and wonders to strengthen hope: in the church, the Eucharist, faith in the Gospel, in a multitude of good works, some confessionally, some unconfessionally accomplished.  We may catch sight of the hand of the God whose kingdom is promised on earth as it is in heaven.  But future history is not a joined-up narrative, and the revelation of the kingdom is not the culmination of a process we can hustle along its way.

One thing I like about the quote, the last part in particular, is that it reminds us that the contours of this part of the narrative of God’s story are in no way as predictable as we might like or assume.  The arc of history is long, but it bends this way and that as we await the culmination of the kingdom.

I also like the image of “no open highway,” not because it’s kind of sad but because it’s very true.  And its something that Jamie Smith mentioned to great effect at Laity Lodge in July (and that I will debrief here sometime soon).  It is much like the road from Sinai to the Jordan, truly the way of salvation and to rest while also being difficult and, for some, defeating.

(image from livingchurch.org)

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