Eschatological Despair, Part 2

(Read part 1 by clicking here.)

by John Ellis

For the longest time, Derrida famously refused to allow a photo of himself to be included on his books’ dust jackets. Besides his desire to undercut the fetishization of the author, he also rejected author photos on the basis of what philosopher John McDowell has called the sense of dislocation.

Eventually, quite quickly, and minus one ontically altering caveat, pictures can only speak to endings, to death, ultimately. In a certain framework, to nothingness. There is no way, in this world, to view photos without the viewer being painfully struck by his dislocation to a moment that ceased to exist as soon as the next moment, the next beat of time, pushed that moment off the stage. And we can never relive moments. We can never even recall moments because the moment of recollection is its own moment. Life is a torrent of moments cascading down the river of time faster than we can grab hold. The same river can never be stepped in twice.

Abandoned houses sadden me. I don’t grieve for the empty house, so much, because the house no longer has meaning, and that’s the point. I grieve for the now lost moments that occupied the house. The celebrations and sufferings that are no more. Gone. There are no echoes of laughter, no echoes of weeping, no echoes of hope, and no echoes of despair in empty houses. Only a vacuum. As observer, I don’t have access to the memories. Even if I did, those memories are no more. No resonance. No meaning.

But movement is.

We’re urged to live in the moment. Warding off movement, as if we could. It’s an existential need to ward off movement because it’s imperative to deny that everything is headed somewhere. And there are only three possible end points: nothingness, wrath, or blessing. Nothingness and wrath demand despair. Blessing demands dying to self. No good options for us since we believe ourselves to be in control. So, we’re urged to drink life deeply. Whatever that means. But, BUT, movement is. IS. There are no moments, only endings.

That road, though, the one that leads somewhere, no matter how truthful, is paved with despair. “My dried corsage from prom must means something!” “The frozen piece of wedding cake thawed out for our first anniversary of married life must mean something!” “The ash filled urn collecting the dust from the ever-changing epidermis of the grieving loved one left behind must mean something!” “Moments means something,” we demand, because otherwise all that’s left is despair.

Yes. Live in that. Despair is the only honest response to living in the moment. Because moments are not, endings are.

But do not despair. Paradoxically.

The only way moments have meaning is if life is lived backwards. And that requires faith. Or, rather, faith in something, Someone. Total faith. Gasping faith. Daily faith. The kind of faith that is at odds with our consumer, anthropocentric mindset. The kind of faith that shatters our sense of control. The kind of faith that demands that we place our hope outside of ourselves and our privileged existence. The kind of faith that calls us to surrender all of our rights – ALL – for the glory of our Hope and as a means to point others, a testament, to the only true Hope.

You see, living in the moment is the antithesis of faith. Living in the movement is finding hope in the here and now. It’s a denial that moments are made up of fleeting rebellion. And rebellion’s end is wrath. Rebellion only serves one purpose, and it’s not your desired purpose. It’s not my desired purpose, that I know. Rather, it’s not what we believe our purpose is. Our first parents believed in rebellion’s false purpose. They had the wrong kind of faith. And their wrong kind of faith resulted in despair.

Faith of that kind, the consumer kind, finds purpose that serves us. “This is meant for me, so I’m going to take it. Praise, God.” “This should be catered towards me, so I’m going to find a new this. I have options. Praise, God.” “My storehouses are full so that I can dole out bits and pieces to others. Praise, God.” “This moment, and this one, too, are about me and for me. Praise, God.”

And, like the other faith, true faith, it’s an all-consuming faith. Except it lies, dazzling with moments, hiding that its ultimate consumption is us. It hides that nothing is about you. Nothing is about me. It hides the eternally important truth that our ends are all that truly matters.

We can’t glory in the moment if we truly see the lie. Don’t accept the lie. Accepting the lie, though, whether we believe it or not, means that glorying in the moment ensures that the moment will be consumed by fire. So, we like our faith’s lie. Accepting it allows us to wallow in our moments. To find comfort. Safety. Salvation. And in the West, our moments are often luxurious. Sumptuous. Affirming. Salvific.

Wealth blinds us to our wretchedness. Grace is easily purchased by the privileged.

In Christ, our sins are covered. And forgotten. True. Gloriously true. Grace is. But grace moves us forward. To the End. Moments are not the End. The End is eternal. Moments are temporal. And the cheap grace of Western privilege lies about the end of moments. Their end and their End.

This world will be burned up. Our righteousness – OUR righteousness – is as filthy rags. The Second Person of the Trinity’s righteousness? Pure. Eternal. Life giving. His righteousness is the only reason why any of us will have an Ending devoid of wrath. That’s grace. Our righteousness? Putrid. Non-existent. Death. Our moments, all moments, apart from His grace only have meaning in being consumed by God’s wrath.

Apart from Christ, the ontically altering caveat, despair is all there is. Living in the moment is a vainglorious attempt to stave off the End. Living life backwards, the only real way to live, reveals either death or life. Therefore, it’s imperative to ward off the Serpent-Satan’s siren call of living in the moment. Failing to do so and heeding that siren call is nothing more than a swift, careening ride down a torrential river towards our true existence under God’s wrath. The moments along the way do not mean anything apart from God’s wrath in the end. Nor in the now.

Live backwards. Be overcome by the shadow that God’s wrath casts over your moments. Cower at God’s wrath. At God’s just and righteous wrath. Despair at the meaningless of your temporal existence. Meaningless for you, that is. God will be glorified. The question remains, though, what part will you play in that glory.

Despair is the only legitimate response to the moments we call life. Because despair is the only response that doesn’t lie to us about our end. Our contemporary American means of warding off despair are lies with the objective of keeping us from seeing our end. From seeing God’s just, righteous wrath. From seeing our eternal despair. Ephemeral moments of perceived yet unreal happiness are the pots of porridge we gulp down to ward off the gnawing hunger for something more. Something real.

Movement is. We’re all moving towards something. Towards God’s eternal blessing or towards God’s eternal wrath. Both require faith. One, true faith, placed outside of ourselves. The other, deceitful faith, situated in ourselves. One, true faith, a daily dying to self, taking up our cross, and following our King, who is leading us to our eternal rest. The other, deceitful faith, a daily living in the moment, which leads to our eternal destruction.

See where your moments are leading, acknowledge the movement, and then despair. In despair, there is hope. Eternal hope that changes the meanings of all moments. In turn, living life backwards changes our ethics, our priorities. Like a kid who does the maze backwards, we’ll no longer care for the attractive paths, the comforting paths, the self-serving paths. The idolatry of anthropocentrism will be revealed. Living life backwards is the way to meaning, to life, and to the saving mercies of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

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