“At first glance the kingdom of heaven looked a lot like a golf course. I’m not interested in golf, so this was a complete surprise to me. Another odd thing is that when people talk about heaven they usually refer to it as being “up,” but I had no feeling of upness. The place felt right around sea level to me. The temperature was cool, maybe 55, 60 degrees. The sky was partially cloudy, but the air was so fresh I felt we must be near an ocean, and the kingdom stretched on and on in such a rolling, barren way that the land itself seemed like a sea.”
-David James Duncan (via Kincaid), The Brothers K, 80.
“I can imagine as an apocalyptic: let it go down. I have no spiritual investment in the world as it is.”
-Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul, 56, 103.
In a recent blog post at AUFS, Dan Barber reflects on our habits of thinking apocalyptic transcendently, as something completely other-worldly, “as the arrival of something positive from beyond.” In contrast, he wants to put forward an immanent understanding of apocalyptic, and also “apocalyptic immanence.” What does this mean? And what is the impetus for bringing-apocalyptic-back-down.
In addition to thinking apocalyptic as transcendence, we also tend to think of revelation this way, as the disclosure of something more than the world from beyond the world. Apocalyptic and revelation certainly do both entail this “more” than the world, but why do we concede that this “more” must come from beyond? The desire for transcendent revelation comes about as a response to the affliction of the world. When we are faced with the proliferation of violence, injustice, suffering, oppression, we desire another world, an-other, radically different world; it is as though we do not believe in the redemption of creation, the resurrection of the flesh, and so we feel we must rise up and away from this sinful world to a better place, as it crumbles beneath us. But Christ is raised in the flesh, and ascends bearing the wounds of the crucifixion. And St. Paul proclaims the resurrection of the dead, in spiritual bodies. Why should we think of the kingdom-come as anything but a radical transformation of this world, from within, amidst creation? We have not learned to think the immanent “more,” or what Barber elsewhere calls the “immanent surplus” of creation.
But some will say that this is not radical enough. To think that immanent revelation, transformation, apocalyptic would not be radical enough comes about because we do not perceive the way the world itself exceeds us. We think we know the world, that the world is all that we can imagine, and that apocalyptic transformation must therefore exceed the world. But we do not know the world, and apocalyptic shows us this by immanently exceeding the way the world is. Phenomenology teaches us, away from the metaphysics of presence, that the world is not only an interplay of presence and absence, but also as immanent surplus oblique to the presences/absences we perceive. The world is not comprised of things, objects, exhaustibly describable material that we can then put into relations. Rather, the world is itself relational. Creation is ontologically relational. The immanent surplus of the world is its relational excess, its excessive relationality. And it is this immanent-relational-surplus, which is the potential (potentiality) site of apocalyptic and of revelation.
To imagine as an apocalyptic is to let the world as it is go down; Christian apocalyptic has “no feeling of upness.”