Point of No Return : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
We all want to go back to being “normal”. For most of us, it seems as though our lives have been turned upside down or put on hold. A pandemic continues to rage. We wash our hands, lather on sanitizer, wear masks, keep our distance from one another and, walking down the aisles in stores begin to view others wearing masks as people we should fear. Meanwhile, politics has become the new blood sport. No quarter is given on either side of the divide. The merciless destruction of opponents, now taken for granted by candidates, has been embraced by their supporters and is daily exercised on social media and, perhaps worse, between former friends and estranged family members. Meanwhile, deciding that issues of faith are in fact issues of partisan politics, it appears that a majority of evangelicals have embraced Christian nationalism in theory, if not yet in form. Protests, both peaceful and violent, have arisen in cities across the nation as we struggle with issues of equity and racial injustice. Gun sales are at an all time high and ominous predictions have been made concerning the elections in November.
I fear that there is no going back to “normal”… or even the oft-cited “new normal”. I think we’ve reached a point of no return.
History has brought us to this point, but if history teaches us anything it is that we cannot go back. The current of the river is not reversible. This is perhaps the fallacy of the present moment. We cannot go back to February and fix the mistakes as to how the pandemic was handled any more than we can turn back the clock on American society and return to the 1950s, before the marches in Selma and Montgomery. We cannot go back to normal. As Christians, however, I believe that we are to have another view of history, a view that allows us to transcend history and thereby transform the current moment. You see, as Christians we are already at the end of the world. As Karl Barth said, “In the resurrection of Christ we have reached the end, the eschaton, the final, the ultimate act of God”. Yes, just as everyone else, we are shaped by history, but by Christ’s resurrection we may also transcend that history. For as we are engaged in the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection we recognize the last, the ultimate, the final fulfillment of all human history.
Yet, what does this mean in practical terms?
Firstly, it means that we view the present moment differently. If, as I believe, the Church is the extension of the incarnation, the identification of the Church with a political or national agenda is not merely wrong, it is heretical. Our task is to transform and transcend. It is to transform the pain of this pandemic with works of mercy. It is to transcend political differences by the exercise of Christian love and forgiveness. It is not to assert our “rights”, but rather to, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant…” This point of no return at which we find ourselves is an opportunity to truly be the Church, not only in word, but in action.
Secondly, this point of no return is an invitation. We are invited to meditate on our past in the light of our present experience. Church history is filled with examples of how faithful Christians have risen to the challenges of their times and transformed the moment. In times of famine, plague, war, oppression, injustice and persecution, the Church has brought light in the midst of darkness, the promise of resurrection in the midst of death. Is it too much to believe that we are called to do the same in our own time? As in the past, I believe, we are called at this moment to innovate and create, to be available for the unpredictable, to be Christians in situations that are often paradoxical, unexpected and certainly different from what we might have imagined ten or twenty years ago. We have to exercise and engage in a Church life of incarnation and resurrection, for that is the truth of who and what we are called to be, not in a distant history, but today.
Yes, I think we are at a point of no return… but we have been at that point since the first Easter. We know the end of all things, because it has already happened. What we need now is not the normal, or even the new normal. What we need now is to live the life of incarnation and resurrection.