Saturday, February 14, 2015

The anchor of hope

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (Jn 13:1).
One question is what John means by the "end"? Is he using that word in a quantitative sense or qualitative sense? By quantitative, does he mean in a temporal sense? Jesus loved them right up to the final moment of death. He loved them to his last dying breath.
That makes sense in context. After all, his death is imminent. 
By qualitative, does he mean he loved them to the utmost? To the limit? 
That makes sense in context. After all, he's dying for their sake. There is no greater love (cf. 15:13).
Given John's fondness for double entendres, and the fact that both meanings suit the context, both are probably intended. Indeed, they are inextricably linked: he loves them to the point of death. True love follows through to the bitter end. 
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain (Heb 6:19).
As one commentator explains:
The image, then, is that the anchor (we must picture a rope attached) is entering within the inner place of the temple (the holy of holies), as if it were a grappling hook to which the souls of believers were connected. Once it has secured a place, they can follow after. L. T. Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (WJK 2006), 173.
Here, the inner sanctum is a metaphor for heaven.  The Christian afterlife. 
Imagine you and your brother paddle upriver one summer afternoon. As dusk approaches, you turn the boat around. But your brother falls overboard. You throw him a lifeline. But the current is too strong for you to reel him in. 
As darkness falls, you lose sight of your brother, although the rope is still taut. You can't see him, but you can feel him–at the end of the line. 
Your muscles become unbearably sore holding onto the rope. Your hands go numb in the chilly air. 
He no longer responds when you call to him. Perhaps he lost consciousness. Perhaps he succumbed to hypothermia. Perhaps he drowned. Only the swift current keeps him afloat. Maybe you're hanging onto a lifeless body. 
But maybe he's still alive. If you let go now, you will lose him forever. He will be swept downstream. Swallowed up in darkness. Receding into the night. 
If you let go now, all hope is lost. You must redouble your aching grip. Wait until dawning light to see if he survived. To see if it was worth it. Hoping against hope. Will he be restored to you? 
Letting go is an inevitable part of life. But let go of what? What should we hang onto? And what should we relinquish?  
Which end of the rope should we release? The end that's tied to this life–or the end that's tied to the afterlife? 
Wisdom is not only, or mainly, a matter of knowing when to let go but what to let go. An unbeliever will relinquish everything to save his own life. A believer will relinquish everything to save his own soul. 
What do we have to look forward to? Does it begin and end in this life? Or does it begin where this life ends? 

1 comment:

  1. That's right. Telos should usually be understood in what you call the qualitative sense, although it can refer primarily temporally as in Matthew 24:6 which seems to be synonymous in that case with synteleia aionos. I get the idea however, that the two senses, while different from a human perspective, are not all that different from God's perspective. The end of a period of time is, in the A-theory, the culminating result of all of time. Each moment, in a purely B-theory outlook, is the temporal end of God's creation. Both views must qualitatively follow from an omniscient Creator after his nature although it may appear simply quantitative to us. Understanding that the marked end of a period of time is sovereignly determined by God according to his plan for revealing his nature, not that we should sit back and fatalistically accept whatever happens, but rather allows us to participate in it with all fulfilled hope.