Science in Christian Perspective

The Future of Our World: Chances of Biblical Eschatology in a Secular Age
Lutheran Theological Seminary 
Capital University Columbus, Ohio 43209


From: JASA 26 (March 1974): 22-28.

There is an immense interest in the immediate future. At the same time, interest in the ultimate future, in the sense of a life beyond our present earthly existence, is constantly diminishing. But the secular progressiveness of man through which man is so intensely preoccupied with the immediate future is inseparable from the Judaeo-Christian faith. Being essentially monotheistic and oriented toward the future, this faith opened for man the possibility of conquering the world. If man, however, denies this faith, he will lose sight of his ultimate future and his pursuit of the immediate future will become meaningless too. The laws of thermodynamics and other scientific findings suggest that our world is bound to transitoriness and decay. Similarly the continuous struggle for existence and the fact that time is constantly elapsing remind us of our transitory state. Yet the New Testament tells us of the resur-rection of Christ. It shows us that with his new beginning the possibility of a new life beyond transitoriness and decay has been opened for us. Thus the resurrection of Christ can give new meaning to our future at hand, since it connects our immediate future to our ultimate future which it foreshadows.

In this paper we investigate whether our secular age leaves any possibility or even necessity for a Biblical view of the future of our world and of ourselves. In so doing we inquire first about the future as seen from various perspectives of human thinking and then ask what possibility there is for a Biblical view of the future.


It is rather bewildering to discover that everybody is interested in the future, but that almost nobody cares about a future "life beyond" our world. Futurology is becoming an academic subject while there is hardly a course, even in conservative theological seminaries, in Christian eschatology. Man is no longer interested in a "life beyond".

Diminishing Interest in a "Life Beyond"

What is the reason for this ever-diminishing interest in a "life beyond"? The first reason is our materialistic attitude. We are mainly concerned with what is at hand and what we can manipulate. "Life beyond", however, as we are taught in almost every Christian church, is up to the mercy of God and presupposes our physical death. But we neither want to be dependent on the mercy of God nor do we desire to give up our life in order to gain some other "life beyond". We want to live right here and now and as long as possible. Thus we are not concerned about preparing ourselves spiritually for sudden and early death, but we try our best to manipulate and delay death. For us, death is not the turning point, where the new world of God will be opened for us, but rather, we see it only as the termination of our interesting present life. Because the end of our life is awful for us and is incongruent with our materialistic attitude, we try to negate it. Some sympathy cards express this negation. For example:

I cannot say, and will not say
That he is dead, - he is just away!
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand,
He has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very far
It needs must be, since he lingers there,
And you, 0 you, who the wildest yearn
For the old-time step and the glad return, -
Think of him faring on, as dear
In the love of there as the love of here;
Think of him still as the same, I say:
He is not dead - he is just away!1

Our secular funeral practices have similar tendencies. A special mourning color has disappeared, because we do not want to admit that death really is the irrevocable end of this life.

Another factor for the diminishing interest in a "life beyond" is our high living standard. Though we still work hard to make our living, our earth is no longer a vale of toil and tears. The literary category of the ars morendi (the art of dying) of the Middle Ages, which influenced many generations in their attitude toward life and death, would he impossible today. Our lives are filled with many interests and excitement and we are much too busy to he concerned about the last things. The cry for redemption from within the vale of anguish and anxiety can still be found in Negro spirituals, but black leaders now connect these songs unmistakably with this-worldly demands. "Life beyond" does not provide an incentive for hope, because we seem to be able to "hope" only for things that are within our own reach.

The reason for diminishing interest in the "life beyond" is also partly caused by the fact that a "life beyond" no longer appeals to us. The Biblical picture of heaven with its golden streets, pearly gates, celestial choirs, and eternal comfort is for its rather boring. Such a picture is unrealistic and closer to the land of fairy tales than to our reality. It would be difficult to translate this imagery into modern terminology and thus make it more attractive. Our present life is so different from the Biblical expressions about the future "life beyond" that we seem to notice only dissimilarities. In the future life we shall devote ourselves to eternal worship and service to God, while here on earth we encounter busy streets and an on-the-go life that makes it almost impossible for us to set some time aside for devotion or meditation. In the future life there will he no distinction between male and female, while our life here on earth is so centered around sex that someone seems to he odd if he is not informed about the latest "techniques" of sexplay. The future "life beyond" will consist mainly of singing hymns and praying to God, while here on earth church attendance is declining and one of the most discouraging jobs is to find good and willing members for a church choir. We could continue with our list and state the usually contrasting features of our present life and the Biblical images of future life. We can only conclude that our life is neither a preparation for a future "life beyond" nor a sign that points toward it. There is but one alternative: either any future "life beyond" is a pure imagination of weird minds, or it is a reality. However,

Futurology is becoming an academic subject while there is hardly a course, even in conservative theological seminaries, in Christian eschatology. Man is no longer interested in a 'life beyond."

if it is conceded to be a reality, then it can hardly be a projection of our present state or of our manifest desires. It must be its complete negation and rejection. There is no direct man-made way from here to the "beyond".

This conclusion is confirmed by the obvious independence of our present life from any life beyond. Our present life seems to be based on itself and not on anything beyond itself. While the future life is determined and granted by God's grace, our present life is based on our own success or failure. While the future life can be reached only through God's forgiving our sins, our present life is determined by our own efficiency. Thus, our very behavior demonstrates how little we care about any future life beyond. We are neither concerned about it nor do we expect anything from it. Strangely, however, life beyond and life here' on earth are not as unrelated as they seem at first glance. The hope for a future life is essential to the Christian faith and is not a curiosity left over from an age long past like the bones of a dinosaur. Similarly, modern materialism with its inborn strife of a philosophy of progress and advancement is deeply rooted in the belief in a life beyond. Only by realizing this connection, can we understand the dynamic power of secular progress.

Secular Progress is Founded in Christian Faith

The concept of progress is of clearly Western origin and is founded in the Christian understanding of history.2 Many nations developed a culture, but only those in the Western sphere of influence bad a progressive idea of history. The reason for this lies in the desaeralization of nature and in the linear concept of time. As long as there is a plurality of gods which are identified with parts of nature it is a sacrilege for man to gain power over nature and to subdue it. If people are afraid to wound the virgin earth with a plowshare it is unlikely that high agricultural methods will develop, or if people believe in sacred cows not to be touched, no dairy industry can develop. Only a desaeralization of nature and the concentration of everything divine in one God who is not part of nature can change the situation. Exactly this happened in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The Judaeo-Christian belief in one God enabled man to subdue nature and to gain power over it.

Of course, we cannot overlook that there were other highly developed cultures before and outside the Judaeo-Christian sphere of influence. Thus, the Greeks succeeded in developing a high culture in spite of their polytheism. But as noted by the German philosopher Friedrieh Nietzsche in his investigation on Philosophy during the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), their view of history is a concept of the eternal recurrence. History is determined by innate laws of the becoming and by the play of necessities.3 This plurality of possibilities does not leave room for something new under the sun. Small wonder that the Greek outlook on history and on future is basically pessimistic. The English historian Arnold Toynbee tried to understand human history with this cyclic concept too. He explained the emergence of all civilizations as an infinite process of challenge and response.4 A human civilization is always developed as a response to a challenge, it originates, thrives and flourishes at its heights and then withers away and dies. The Teutonic religion proposed a different recurrence, which was not any less pessimistic in outlook. At the Ragnarok, the big world fire, even the gods were bound to die and nobody survived. But the winter of the universe is followed by a new spring; the earth is purified and returns to its primal state. Even the old gods return. Again the Teutonic myth of a universal doom betrays a weary, depressed mood.5 Other religions have applied the system of seasonal changes to the understanding of history in a more drastic way. In the immediate neighborhood of Israel, the Canaanite religion conceived the seasonal changes as the expression of the fight between two gods, Baal and Mot.6 In their religious liturgies the Canaanites celebrated the victory of Baal, the god of winter rain and fertility, over Mot, the god of death and of the dry summer, and they lamented half a year later about the death of Baal and the victory of Mot, when the dry season commenced and everything perished under the merciless rays of the glowing sun.

A cyclic concept of history or of nature could not lead to a progressive endeavor of man, because man felt himself subjected to a nature and history without any final goal. At this point, the Judaeo-Christian belief in God brought tremendous change. Because of its strict monotheism it found it impossible to separate the God of creation from the God of salvation.7 The whole universe is created by God; therefore, it has a definite beginning. The same God who created the world will redeem it; therefore, the world has a definite goal. The Creator of the universe is at the same time its Redeemer. This is the source of hope and of energy for man, However, we must emphasize that the source of hope is solely founded on the faith in an acting God, who has the beginning and the end of the world in his hand. This hope is not founded on the belief in progress. It was precisely at this point that the modern perversion of the enlightenment era began, when it attempted to replace the faith in God by the belief in progress. Origin and result were thus exchanged.
While faith in God as the giver of the future requires confidence that God can inaugurate the future, faith in progress assumes that man alone is sufficient to guarantee the future. Self-confidence instead of God-confidence is the leading motif in the human pursuit of progress. This change became evident for the first time in the thinking of the French philosopher René Descartes when he introduced radical doubt as a means to distinguish between false and true. Though this doubt served only a methodical purpose, God-confidence was abandoned.8 Similarly, we must understand his basic premise that we can doubt everything except the fact that we think. The subject, the thinking ego, is made the solid ground for all knowledge.

It is conceded that Descartes regarded God as the granter of all reality outside the thinking subject and even tried to prove God, but, nevertheless, self-confidence already prevails over God-confidence at decisive points.
In his famous treatise Answer to the Question:

What is Enlightenment (1784), Immanuel Kant went a step further. For him enlightenment is the emancipation of man from his self-inflicted immaturity.

Immaturity is the inability to use your intellect without the guidance of someone else. This immaturity is selfinflicted, if the cause of this is not found in a defect of the intellect, rather in a defect of decision and courage to use your intellect without the guidance of someone else.9

Because of its strict monotheism, the Judaeo-Christian belief found it impossible to separate the God of creation from the God of salvation.

Man should rely on himself. The autonomous man with self-confidence replaces the theonomous man with God-confidence. Man wants to take the future in his own hands. In his book The Education of the Human Race (1780) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing understands the religions of mankind only as representing different levels in the development of human understanding.10 Lessing makes clear that we could have gained the knowledge which was given to us through divine revelation, through our own reason. It would have taken only a little more time. This means that divine revelation actually becomes unnecessary, that the whole world is on the way to further development, to a better future, and man plays a decisive role in it. God-confidence was no longer necessary and could he discarded.
At the same time the concept of the kingdom of God also became secularized. The reason for this development was primarily the idea that man is predestined either to be received into the kingdom after his life here on earth or to be condemned to eternal damnation. This popular understanding of the Calvinistic theory of election led people to investigate to which category they belonged. They assumed that if they were the elect, the fact of their election was to become evident in earthly success. Thus Calvinistically inspired people worked tirelessly in an ascetic manner to prove to themselves and to others that they were on the right side. The results of this work were not to be enjoyed but to be added to the constant reproduction of the capital employed. The German sociologist Max Weher and the German theologian Ernst Troeltsch thus called Calvinism the forerunner of modem capitalisin.11

Surprisingly, pietism played a similar role with its radical orientation towards the other world. This otherworldliness, by necessity, led pietists to a responsible use of their time here on earth. Time was not to be spent in worldly joy and amusement but in self-crucifying work. The father who presided over hours of devotions is at the same time the ancestor of many industrial endeavors. In the 19th century the centers of the pietistic movement in Germany, in Rhineland,
Westphalia and Wurttemherg, became the centers of industrial development. The religious convictions of the ancestors led to a splendid industrial success of the grandchildren, most of whom have long ago discarded the religions premises of their forefathers. In America the development was similar, partly in direct connection with the immigration of German pietists. One of the largest American steel companies, the Bethlehem Steel Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, began as a small smithy of a blacksmith in the Brethren Community who had immigrated from Herrnhut-Germany at the beginning of the 18th century.12 He settled in Bethlehem, a Herrnhut missionary settlement in the forests of Pennsylvania. Quality and industriousness helped to develop his workshop into a large company. Though the name Bethlehem still points to the pietistic and pacifistic origin of the company, it has turned into a huge armament enterprise without regard to its religious premise. In his book The Kingdom of God in America (1937) H. Richard Niebuhr pointed to an important factor that caused this loss of the religious premise. He claimed that the spiritualistic and Calvinistic groups finally favored a man-made heaven. Their belief in man as a good creature, virtuous enough to acquire heaven, and their radical transformation of life on earth undermined in the long run the expectation of heavenly bliss.13 Life on earth became attractive enough to cause them to forget life in heaven, especially when they felt man was able to bring about a kingdom on earth. Two world wars, a depression and a period of confusion and social unrest have caused many people to doubt whether man can change the world for the better. Although it is still prevalent in America, in most countries this optimistic belief in progress has vanished.

Hope is as necessary for human life as oxygen. When man has no hope, he has no incentive to live but instead wants to die. The rate of mental illness is higher in periods of economic and social depression than in periods of economic growth. However, hope apart from Christian faith is futile and deceptive, because man must then be turned into a cog-wheel of progress in order to keep progress progressing. Mechanization and automation in modern traffic or in space flights give us some taste how inhuman and demanding progress can he. Progress can become quite totalitarian and need not necessarily he an earthly blessing, because it is the new God whom man must

By itself our universe implies no eternal concept of life.

worship and who demands his life. Emil Brunner is right when he calls the belief in progress and the hope for a better future an "illegitimate child of Christianity." 14 Some other theologians, however, are more willing to adapt themselves to the concept of progress. Here we have to name especially Teilhard de Chardin who was courageous enough to accept evolution as the leading motif of his theological thinking.

Evolution as the Future of the World?

For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin man is a transitory being who is on his way from Alpha to Omega. These, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signify the extension of the evolutionary process. There is an upward-slanting movement that embraces the whole universe and which goes from the cosmosphere via zoosphere and noosphere to the Christosphere.15 Through hominization man emerged into the noosphere and through Christification the evolutionary process will come to its fulfilment when everything will be received into Christ. The universe, and within it man, has a definite destiny and a definite future. Life is ,,either an absurdity as held by Jean-Paul Sartre16 nor is mails existence a "Being-towards-death" as projected by Martin Heidegger.17 Even totalitarianism, such as seen in modern technology or in the bureaucratic government is not the final word in evolution, as it is only a temporary aberration of the movement toward unity.18 There will be further and consistent complexification of the noosphere. The knowledge about the universe at large will increase and so will the psychosocial pressure on the surface of the planet.'19 The condensation of human mass which we already face in the modern technopolis will take place on an earth wide scale. Man cannot withdraw from man without stumbling over another man while going backward. Teilhard sees no need for us here to give up in despair because our planet is becoming too small for an ever growing mankind. This psycho-social pressure will unify man, his society and culture, and will, finally, lead toward personalization, increased differentiation and to richer fulfilment of the individual. Evolution is always an ascent toward increased consciousness.

But what is the end of evolution? Even Teilhard does not conceive of it as an infinite process, but as having a definite goal in the paroxysm of man under the intense psycho-social pressure which will lead towards a Christification. Everything will be received and end in Christ. This excludes any final catastrophe as the end of our present world, since such a sidereal disaster could only lead to an extinction of a part of our universe rather than to the fulfilling of the universe at large.20 We must admit that Teilhard's view gives meaning to human life and to its future without neglecting the scientific aspect of human origin and destiny. That he is a wellrespected paleontologist speaks for itself. However, the whole evolutionary process from inanimate matter to the Christification seems to be patterned according to the transubstantiation of the elements into body and blood of Christ as it is celebrated in the Roman Mass .21 Because all developmental lines converge in the point Omega, the conclusion follows (and Teilhard never rejects it) that everything and everybody will be saved, that the church becomes identical with mankind and that the last judgment is replaced by the process of natural selection. At this point the official Roman Catholic church objected saying that Teilhard does not do justice to the problem of evil. When he understands evil as evil of disorder and failure, of decomposition, of solitude and anxiety and of growth,22 he misses the essential point that the New Testament writers never tired of emphasizing: Evil is caused by anti-Godly powers that threaten and denounce God's supreme position. What Teilhard observes is certainly true, but these are only the effects. He has forgotten to mention the cause of evil. Furthermore, in concentrating all attention to the future point Omega, he tends to neglect the present moment, since it seems to be only a minute speck in the large eons of our world. This leads also to a neglect of the individual. In spite of a concern for a personal future Teilhard's basic concern is for mankind and not for man, for the cosmos and not for our earth. The individual does not matter in the evolutionary process. Here the emphasis of the New Testament runs contrary; Christ did not open the future to the world in general, but to individuals, to you and me. Our reservations are not intended to reject Teilhard's evolutionary eschatology. They only want to point to his limitations, limitations which we all share in some way or other. Now we must turn to the vital question whether a Biblical view of the future is possible.


Before we develop the Biblical view of the future, we must ask whether science has any basic objections against a future life beyond our present state, or whether it holds that our present state will continue forever.

Is a Future "Life Beyond" Possible?

Time is constantly elapsing and thus the future is constantly approaching and becoming present to us. The future becoming present and present becoming past seems to he a never ending process. Time as an eternal flow seems to he endowed with scientific sanctification. In 1842 J. Robert Mayer suggested the law of the conservation of energy in an essay Remarks on the Forces of Inorganic Nature. This law asserts that in an energetically closed system the quantity of energy remains constant, while just the form of energy is changeable. Energy can only disappear to re-enter the scene in a different guise. The energy of electricity, for instance, can be transformed into energy of light and of heat. Or the kinetic energy of flowing water is transformed into electric energy. Energy can also be gained by burning materials that disintegrate in burnt substance and energy of light and of heat. The decisive question is whether our universe is such a closed system that it neither loses energy nor gains it from outside. As far as scientific investigation has revealed to us, it is unlikely that our universe will be subjected to energetic forces from outside. Of course, we could reckon with the intervention of an almighty God, but then we must abandon a strictly scientific line of argumentation. This would mean that our universe will always remain the same, it has no beginning and no end, and the future is only a modification of the past. Such an eternal universe is somewhat attractive, since it provides steadiness within all changes. On the other hand, it is rather devastating to realize that the quantity of energy remains basically the same in our universe, no matter how hard we try to change things. We cannot add one calorie to it.

Furthermore, the law of conservation of energy was soon supplemented by the law of entropy. Rudolph Julius Emmanuel Clausius in 1850 and William Thomson in 1851 discovered that though the quantity of energy in a closed system remains always the same, this cannot lead to perpetual motion. Entropy or the nonconvertibility of energy never decreases, it either remains constant or increases.23 When we place a hot pot in a cold room, the energy of this pot disperses into the room and heats up the room a little, while the pot cools down. Though it is theoretically feasible that the room could cool down again and the pot be heated lip by the energy released from the room, the law of entropy tells us that this is unlikely. Although not lost, the energy is in a sense "used up" and is no longer convertible. We can run a movie backwards and get the effect of water running hack into a pipe or of a diver leaping back from the pool onto a platform, but in reality we know that this is impossible. Thus, some scholars talk of the "time arrow" that bars events from being repeated.24 When we think of our universe and the obvious eternal recurrence of the same, it is difficult for us to realize that all the movements of the stellar bodies are singular and not repetitive. The interstellar gas dispersed throughout the universe is slowing them down, not noticeably, but enough eventually to use up their kinetic energy.

The New Testament is no textbook about what we will find in heaven, but a guide to heaven.

All processes will slow down and come to a standstill. The theory of a pulsating universe is not exempt from this phenomenon because the pulsations too will slow down and come to a stop. Of course, we can tell ourselves that this will not happen to us or our children, since the state of ice death in which everything levels to the state of an energetic equilibrium is still millions of years away. But from Einstein we have learned that time is only a relative measure, and it elapses more slowly or more quickly depending on how we look at it. Furthermore, scientists have discovered that another fate is threatening us in the more immediate future. Within the next ten million years the surface temperature of our sun will increase by one hundredfold.25 Through nuclear reaction hydrogen is constantly transformed into helium in the interior of the sun. Helium, however, is less permeable by heat arid encloses the sun like an insulating envelope. Thus the more helium is produced, the more the sun heats up, until the heat pressure is high enough to counterbalance the helium pressure on the surface and to establish a new equilibrium 0f pressure. The resultant heat increase will cause all water on our earth to evaporate and to make the surface of our planet similar to that of the planet Venus. Needless to say, this heat wave, finally followed by the final heat death when all energy levels will have attained an equilibrium, will make life on our planet impossible.

However, one could argue that entropy is probably a sufficient conception for inanimate nature, but that it does not pertain to life.26 Life shows at every moment that it is progressing towards a greater complexity and diversity; by its success it clearly seems to counteract all physical entropy. Thus, there cannot be a total death of the animate world, because the stream of life is irreversible, despite all adversity. This seems to he a strong argument against a final and total equilibrium at all energy levels. However, when we remember the source of the building blocks of life, we notice that life is sustained only through exploitation of the inanimate world. What happens if all possible energy sources are used up? What happens when the natural resources are exhausted and the sun stops giving its life-nourishing light? We cannot exempt life from its context with the rest of nature. It may be uncomfortable or even offensive for us to face, but there is no eternal force within our world. Our world is doomed to death.

We have seen that by itself our universe implies no eternal concept of life. The only possibility left is that of a future life beyond our universe on a different stage. However, it is questionable whether such a life is at all desirable. What does it mean for us that we continue some kind of existence beyond our present universe? Would we merely continue what we face here, i.e. only prolong our transitory and confined existence?

Is a Future "Life Beyond" Necessary?

As we look around us we notice a universal and continuous struggle for existence in all phases and places of life. Men compete with each other to survive in our competitive economic system. Animals mercilessly kill each other or devour plants merely in order to exist, and every neglected patch of soil shows us that even plants struggle with each other for the most favorable place. The atomic realm is not much different; one molecular combination strives with the other to maintain its own existence. Life can be preserved and developed only by destroying other life. Is this the essential state of our existence, or does not this almost demand a basic change? Will there never be an end to this universal struggle, of everybody against everybody, or will there sometime be a place where we can rest and simply enjoy nature around us? I do not mean a shallow romantic attitude that does not penetrate beyond the surface of existence, but a depth comprehension of nature that is not obstructed by this cruel struggle of which we are a part.

Connected with the struggle for existence is the transitoriness of life. The essence of time is its completion and replacement. Future is constantly replaced by new future and the present by a new present. But man wants more than this constant transitoriness. Even a continuously striving scholar like Faust cannot escape from roan's most inborn yearning: "Stay with me moment, you are so beautiful. "27 However, Faust has to realize that this yearning overcomes him irresistibly and drives him almost to insanity. Life goes on incessantly and there is no rest for us until we perish.

The Biblical eschatological imagery must be totally reinterpreted in concepts which are available and familiar to us now. Otherwise Biblical eschatology will remain an archaic remnant of an ancient faith.

Life is only an episode and then it goes back to whence it came. The verse in Genesis "You are dust and unto dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19) is one of the most profound and devastating remarks in the whole Bible. Man came out of nothingness and will go hack into nothingness. As we confront this destiny there are only two possibilities for us. 
(1) There is really no steady moment in the world. We are going into the nothingness from whence we came, and the
world at large will face the same fate when the equilibrium of all energy levels will bring the life processes to a final stop. Knowing about this fate our reaction can only be despair or resignation, and nihilism is the adequate philosophic position.28 
(2) The world as we now see it really calls for redemption from this vicious circle and there is a power from beyond this world that leads to a fulfilment and to a redemption beyond the limits of this world. If this possibility is true, in thankfulness we see our present situation in an entirely different way. Our view then is that life here on earth is only a preparation for the life beyond granted to us through the power of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But what is the meaning of this life beyond? Is it just a projection of our earthly desires as Feuerbaeh claimed,29 or a means to calm down the material endeavors of the underprivileged here on earth as Karl Marx suggested? Neither of them is right, because it is the gift of God and contradicts all our materialistic endeavors. If it is a projection, it must be God's projection and not ours.

The Future "Life Beyond"

The New Testament is no textbook about what we will find in heaven, but a guide to heaven. It makes as little sense to take the New Testament imagery literally as it would to take a sermon illustration literally. When we want to make any assertions at all about a future life beyond, we must start with the central events of the New Testament, Christ's death and resurrection.

Christ's resurrection is the indication of a life beyond. While Christ's death was a complete death with all symptoms of death, his resurrection was not merely the elimination of death at one specific point for a specific time. After his resurrection Christ has never died again; consequently, his resurrection must be different from a resuscitation.30 The Easter event is the presupposition of Christ's authority. He who can defeat his own death and replace it with a new possibility of life can also grant us a new perspective of the future. This is exactly what the New Testament writers felt. Christ's resurrection is the indication and the beginning of a total transformation of the world. Paul shows this with the example of the grain (I Cor. 15). Mao sows the grain and subsequently the kernel is transformed into new wheat, although anyone looking only at the surface of the earth would think that the grain had died. Christ did not come hack to our world and live as one of us in our environment. Though he had been here after Easter for a short while, he was actually beyond our confinements.

This leads us to another point: Christ's resurrection is also the indication arid the beginning of the "how" of the beyond.31 It opens an entirely new dimension with inconceivable possibilities. It is the end of finitude, the end of transitoriness and the end of faith. In his resurrected state Christ was no longer confined to our earthly limitations. He overcame space and time. As the disciples experienced it, he penetrated walls and disappeared in their midst. He was no longer a transitory being that was part of and subject to the history of our universe. He was exempt and beyond our perishable stage. Christ's resurrection was for him also the end of faith and indicates that the future life beyond will he our fulfilment of faith. When he was resurrected into a new reality he needed no longer to believe in it, he experienced it. For us the future life is still a matter of faith, e.g., as indicated hy the rejection of Thomas who had wanted to grasp this new life with his hands immediately (John 20:24-29). When we will be received into this new life, all the ambiguities of this world will be left behind. We need no longer ponder about a "yes" or a "no" or about good and evil. The immediate confrontation with God in the future life will release us from these anxieties, because His immediate presence will suffice to let us find the answer.

Knowing about the reality of a future life beyond leads us also to a new understanding of our present world. We realize that the course of this world is only a prelude to the future world. This prevents us from a neglect as well as from an overemphasis of this world. Neglecting this world would mean that we spoil the future world also, because a prelude is a necessary introduction to the main part. Thus we must take our present world seriously as a preparatory state for the new world to come. Seclusion from worldly affairs was never the proper attitude of Christians. Overemphasis of this world, however, would not be appropriate either, because this world is only a prelude while the main part is still to come. An apocryphal word of Jesus states this very properly: "The world is a bridge. Pass over it. But build not your dwelling there."32 Who feels himself too much at home here on earth, has difficulty finding the beyond. It may well be that he waits too long to make the decision for the beyond.

The future life beyond is determined by and accessible only through God. It may be a comfort for us to know that we cannot interfere with our own preparations for this life. Thus we can trust in this life beyond because all human uncertainties and distortions are eliminated.


We have come to the end of our investigation of the future of our world. Many more aspects could have been shown, but we chose to confine ourselves to these few. As a result we can conclude that in the light of secular concepts of the future there seems to be a need for a rebirth of Christian eschatology. Unless secular progress regains its Judaeo-Christian foundations, it is bound to miss man more and more. It becomes dehumanizing instead of a humanizing force. Natural science illuminating Biblical eschatology and contrasting with secular notions of progress indicates an end of the universe. However, we cannot build a Christian eschatology on the findings of natural science unless we want to arrive at a natural theology. Yet it is important to know that science does not overrule Christian eschatology except through its own presuppositions or by making unscientific metaphysical assertions. On the other hand we have seen that the Biblical eschatological imagery must be totally reinterpreted in concepts which are available and familiar to us now. Otherwise Biblical eschatology will remain an archaic remnant of an ancient faith.33


1Gibsoss Sympathy Card 25G 1562-6 with verses by James Whitcomb Riley.
2Cf. Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope: Man's Concept of the Future from the Early Fathers to Teilhard de Chardin, trans. by Heinz C. Frank (Garden City, N.J.:
Doubleday, 1966), 121.
3Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy during the Tragic Age of the Greeks, trans. by Maximilian A. Mngge, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. by Oscar Levy, II (New York: Russell & Russell, 1964), 100ff.
4Arnnld J. Tnynbee, A Study of History, I (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), esp. 271299.
5Cf. Hans-Joachim Schoeps, An Intelligent Person's Guide to the Religions of Mankind, 107f.
6Cf. Hans-Joachins Krans, Worship in Israel: A Cultic History of the Old Testament, trans. by C. Bnswell (Richmond Va.: John Knox Press, 1966), 38ff.
7Cf. Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian hope, 126.
8Rene Decartes, The Meditations, in The Meditations and Selections from the Principles of Rene Descartes, trans. by John Veitch (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court Publisbings Co., 1948), esp. 30ff.
9Immanuel Kant, Beantwortang der Frage: Was ist Anfklii rang?, in Immannel Kant, Werke in sechs Banden, ed. by Wilhelm Weischedel, VI (Frankfurt: Insel-Verlag, 1964), 53.
10Cf. Henry E. Allenson, Lessing and the Enlightenment, His Philosophy of Religion and Its Relation to EighteenthCentury Thought (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 150-161.
11Ernst Trneltsch, Protestantism and Progress; A Historical Study of the Relation of Protestantism to the Modern World, trans. by W. Montgomery (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1958), 134ff.
12According to Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope, 130.
13H. Richard Niebnhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, Harper Torchbooks, 1959), 164-198, summarized this change under the headline: "Institutionalization and Secularization of the Kingdom."
14See Emil Brnnncr, Eternal Hope, trans. by Harold Knight (London: Lutterworth Press, 1954), 25.
15Cf. Teilbard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 257-263, where lie expresses his understanding of evolution especially clearly.
16Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness; An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, trans. and with an introd. by Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), 476-481.
17Martin Fleidegger, Being and Time, trans. by John Macqnarrie and Edward Robinson (London: SCM Press, 1962), 274-311.
18Cf. Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, 243f.
19Cf. Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, 228ff.
20Cf. Teithard de Chardin, The Future of Man, 306f.
2lCf. Ernst Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope, 224ff.
22See Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 310f.
23Cf. the translated excerpt from Clausius' paper on entropy ("fiber verschiendene fOr die Anwendnng bcqneme Formen der Hauptkleichnngen der mechanischen W'armethcnrie") in William F. Magic, ed., A Source Book in Physics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1965), 234ff; see also Adolph CrOnhanm, "Time and Entropy," American Scientist, XLIII (1955), 550-572.
24To my knowledge Sir A. S. Eddingtnn, The Nature of the Physical World (New York: Macmillan. 1929), 68ff. was the first to introduce the term "time arrow".
25Cf. George Camow, The Birth and Death of the Sun; Stellar Evolution and Subatomic Energy (New York: Viking Press, 1946), 116-120.
26Cf. Teilbard de Chardin, The Vision of the Past, 168ff.
27Cf. Goethe's Faust, a new American translation together with the German text, by Carlyle F. Maclntyre, with illustr. by Rockwell Kent, I (Norfolk, Conn.; New Directions, 1941), 116f.
28Knowing that the understanding of a life beyond this life was a rare exception for the Old Testament, it is not surprising that the outlook of the people of the Old Testiment was melancholic (cf. Walter Kohiler, Old Testament Theology, 150f).
29Cf. Ludwig Fenerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. by George Eliot, Introd. by Karl Barth, and foreword by H. Richard Niebohr (New York: Harper & Brothers, Harper Torchbooks, 1957), 170-184.
30Waltcr Kunneth, The Theology of the Resurrection, trans. by James W. Leitch (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1965), 72-80, therefore, calls the resurrection very appropriately the "primal miracle".
31Cf. Karl Heim, The World: It's Creation and Consummation, 137.
32Cf, Joachim Jeremias, Unknown Sayings of Jesus, trans. by Reginald H. Fuller (London: SPCK, 1957), 99f.
33For a more extensive treatment of this topic and related areas, see Hans Schwarz, On the Way to the Future. A Christian View of Eschatology in the Light of Current Trends in Religion, Philosophy and Science (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1973).