Sam Wells describes the social vision of Isaiah 65:

When the prophets of the Old Testament talked about regeneration and social hope they tended to do it in one of two ways. One way, favoured by the book of Zechariah, was to long for political restoration, to put King David back on the throne and to have Israel king among the nations once again. The other way, portrayed by the book of Daniel, was to imagine a dramatic apocalyptic intervention of God that brought history to an end. You could call the first way earth and the second way heaven.

Zechariah’s way appealed to an activist spirit; the main drawback was that it was so much about Israel taking its destiny into its own hands that it didn’t leave much room for faith in God’s action. Daniel’s way was all about God’s action, but so much so that it encouraged a passive resignation amongst the people.

Those who talk about salvation today tend to be either those who assume it comes from us so get off your backside or those who assume it all comes from God so you might as well stay on your backside. And that’s the context that explains why the vision of Isaiah chapter 65 is so significant and so compelling. It’s about God’s action. It talks about “new heavens and a new earth” – so it’s obviously about the dramatic and decisive intervention of God. But its details are about children’s wellbeing, people building houses and growing crops – things as practical and mundane as a local county commissioner’s electoral platform.

What’s breathtaking about the picture offered in Isaiah 65 is that it’s poised between heaven and earth – poised between God’s action and human action, poised between hope and pragmatism, poised between astonished wonder and hard-won realism, poised between the unknown future and the very ordinary present tense.”

I love this idea: “the dramatic and decisive intervention of God” that leaves one “poised,” if not suspended in a Lubacian fashion, “between heaven and earth.”

It’s noteworthy, I think, that Wells’ apocalyptic vision – being poised – is at odds with recent Barthian strains of apocalyptic, such as Doug Harink’s Paul among the Postliberals. According to Harink, “first and foremost,” apocalyptic means “a strong emphasis on God’s action in the history of Jesus Christ, rather than on human action or response” (68). In this vision, Heaven and earth are radically separated, so much so that God can only intervene upon creation.

Wells presents another image, an image where God’s action does not compete on a zero-sum (or univocal!) playing field. Something of human agency, cultural production and politics remain (to use Agamben’s term). Rather than dialectic, Isaiah presents a picture of recapitulation.

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