Bringing Heaven Down To Earth

blog for the book by Nathan Bierma • > Heaven > Blog

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Eschatology of a Preposition in "Now Thank We All Our God"

At Thanksgiving chapel last week, we sang, appropriately enough, "Now Thank We All Our God."

In verse 2, we sang, according to the words on the overhead:

"and free us from all ills, in this world and the next"

I thought the line was supposed to end with "IN the next." That's a weighty eschatological preposition; it clarifies that we do not seek immunity from all ills in this current, broken world, but expect perfect bliss only in the next world, on the new earth. (It also gets around the question of why ills would exist in the next life to be delivered from.)

The latest edition of The Psalter Hymnal does indeed read "IN the next." But when we sang the hymn in church yesterday, I listened hard and noticed that, even with this text in front of them, most of the congregation sang "AND the next." Meanwhile, has "and the next."

So I asked my colleague Emily Brink for her perspective on the eschatology of this preposition (or conjuction, in the case of "and"). Emily doesn't deal with this in the Psalter Hymnal Handbook she co-edited, but she does have the inside scoop on this:

Good question. The PsH version reflects some intense discussion on the committee that worked on the revision. We wondered what ills in the next world there could possibly be? So we changed the original translation by Catherine Winkworth, though many people who grew up with her original (in previous editions of the PsH as well) often sing the original by heart. You can find the original German at

The German line is "Und uns aus aller Not Erlösen hier und dort." My dad says that translates literally as "and us from all need/want/trouble/danger, redeem/free here and there" ("in this world and the next"). So the "and" is original to the German, but I'm not sure how figurative/eschatological the "there" of "dort" is.

Meanwhile, I'll keep singing "in" -- I know better than to expect "and."

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Scott Hoezee response

Scott Hoezee polished off the book on a plane trip out east and writes:

Scott Hoezee, Director of the Center for Excellence in PreachingMost of what you wrote resonated with how I think ... this approach is one that (I think) I had utilized all along at the two congregations where I served. Certainly it helps if we maintain (and where needed, reinstate) the vertical dimension to our worship. Contemporary services that are all horizontal where we think mostly about our own felt needs--and/or where God is treated like a chum on the other side of the table, sipping a latte along with the rest of us--tend to not have anything to shoot for/aim at. (Such services also tend not to challenge people much, which may be part of their appeal/charm!)

Worship is always a balancing act between "the already and the not yet." We don't want to focus so much on heaven as to blot out the things of earth--or as to foster contentment with even rotten circumstances seeing as we'll be done with this life by-and-by. Nor do we want to focus so much on earth alone that pastors become one-part therapist, one-part social worker, solving problems in purely human terms. We need what you present in your book: a living CONNECTION between the two realms. This connection both reveals where life on this earth has run off the rails AND gives us a better vision to shoot for.

Anyway, I think these are worthy topics for discussion. As John Wilson comments in his blurb, talk of heaven is not exactly a commonplace among people in your age group. Why is that (and what does it reveal about the attitudes many people carry with them into worship)?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ellen Charry on eschatology and happiness

Earlier this month, I heard Princeton's Ellen Charry deliver the Stob Lectures on the topic of "God and the Art of Happiness." She argued that Christianity needs to have a voice in academic discourse about happiness, since the present discourse proceeds with "a lack of appreciation for the spiritual dimension of happiness."

Charry also touched on eschatology; "Happiness," she said, "remains an eschatological hope." In modernity, Christian theologians came to believe that on this earth we could experience "moments of bliss, but they are unsustainable--only in the next life [will they be sustained].

Listen to Charry's lectures at the Stob Lectures page.

I tried to unwrap the eschatology of happiness in a weblog entry on an article in the journal Daedalus entitled "From the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness." As I read it now, my entry seems a little muddled, but you can see how the nature of happiness is a central question of theology:

From the Beatitudes ("happy are those who … ") to Augustine, McMahon says, happiness was prescribed as an eternal but future remedy for those who suffered currently. Live virtuously now, have happiness later as a result. Nonetheless, McMahon says the sensuousness of the Christian imagination of happiness—"feeling, intense feeling, was what flowed forth with Christ's blood, transformed in the miracle of the Eucharist from the fruit of intense pain to the sweet nectar of rapture"—stood in stark contrast to the "cool" and "rational" happiness of Aristotle. Although we remember Reformation-era thinkers as a grim lot, it was this visceral sense of happiness that defined the Christianity of their time, McMahon says. "The Renaissance imagination thus ranged freely forward to the joys that would come, and backward to those that had been, [reflecting] greater acceptance of pleasure in the here and now." Even Calvin, who emphasized the misery of the human condition, said: "When the favor of God breathes upon us, there is none of these [sufferings] which may not turn out to our happiness." full entry

Peterson on the Lord's Supper: The Missing Metaphor of the Feast at the End of Time

My entry at the CICW Worship Weblog on our staff discussion of Eugene Peterson's new book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places includes a wrapup of this point:

2. Martha Moore-Keish connects the Eucharist and eschatology in A More Profound Alleluia. She writes:

Many biblical writers present the picture of God’s ultimate reign as that of a great feast at the end of time, when ‘many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 8:11). So from earliest days the community has been necessary for celebration of the Eucharistic meal, and the Eucharist has provided a foretaste of the eschatological feast of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). (p. 116)

Are there any eschatological undertones in Peterson’s description of the Lord’s Supper? Any hints of how it foreshadows “a great feast at the end of time”? Or are these two accounts (M-K and EP) of the Lord’s Supper mostly distinct?

Mary said an eschatological undertone to Peterson’s section would have strengthened it. She said that after the passage on brokenness at the top of page 211, she wrote in the margin, “When does it get better?” She added that the sacrament “has to be pointing to wholeness.”

I added that since the feast image is a rare example of a simple and enticing picture that captures the otherwise daunting and metaphysically elusive concepts of eschatology, it would have been useful to pick up on in this chapter.