Monday, December 21, 2015

Master’s Monday: “The Eminent in the Immanent”

Dear all,

I apologize for the hiatus over the last couple of weeks. What with term coming to a close, the need for last-minute souvenir shopping, eleven hours in the air to make it back home, and a six-hour change in time zones, it’s taken me a little while to re-establish any real sense of routine. I’m now back home for about three-and-a-half more weeks, and I’m looking forward to lots of time with family and friends, celebrating the first coming of God to this earth, and looking forward to His ever-imminent return.

As I look back over this first term at Oxford, it seems that I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about how we as Christians are to view the future and its impact on our daily decisions in the present. Towards the end of term time, I was privileged to attend a series of talks by the amazingly thoughtful and thought-provoking Ed Brooks, who presented a bit of his doctoral research on the Christian understanding of hope—the hope of life that we have in Jesus, and the consequent life of hope that we are to cultivate as we pattern our lives after His example.

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I also had the chance to explore in one of my own papers the pagan conception of hope—one which is almost entirely negative, a false, delusional emotion that is nearly always sure to disappoint. I had never really thought before about how the Christian message completely transformed the idea of hope as it had existed for previous centuries. Perhaps even more amazing to me is just how ingrained in our culture the Christian understanding of hope has become. Even Classical scholars who reject the message of Christianity struggle to let go of the assumption that hope must be something pleasant, useful, and energizing. It turns out to be unbelievably difficult to read pagan literature without imposing upon it an anachronistic, positive version of hope—something which really only became possible after the advent of Christ, and the faithful “substance” to hope that He brings.

To me, this fact brings immense encouragement, for it speaks to the enduring power Christ and His message can have on a culture, even when the individual members of that culture strive to reject his influence on their own lives. As a Christian myself, I take this as a challenge, first of all to remain fearless in the act of engaging the culture from a Christian perspective, because, as Paul says, “this hope will not lead to disappointment.”

Secondly, however, I want to continue thinking about how this hope we have “as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure,” can and should reach back into the present and lend an eternal color to my daily actions and decisions. One of my favorite professors from Hillsdale told us in freshman English class that you can never separate the “eminent” from the “immanent,” you can never see the eternally significant as a separate entity from the present moment. I’m still working to wrap my brain around this concept, but I think it offers a great point of entrance into what might be called an “Advent mindset,” which I hope to continue cultivating long after the Christmas season has passed.