The Carrot and the Stick
Visiting the new IKEA emporium in Canberra recently, and I was reminded of the 1999 film Fight Club, which begins with an intense sequence of IKEA product placement, Tyler’s alter ego bemoaning the programmed lives led by the hoi polloi who frequent said emporium.
The film ends with the collapse of the world economy, a homage to that lengthy polemic in John’s Apocalypse (itself borrowed from the Prophets) describing the destruction of Babylon (representing commerce) in ‘just one hour’. This for example:
‘How terrible! How terrible it is for you, great city!
All who had ships on the sea
became rich because of her wealth!
In just one hour she has been destroyed!’
Most people would laugh off the idea of the world’s economy collapsing in just one hour, a bit like the folk who laughed at Noah prior to the Deluge. “The Bible is just a fairy tale about a God who doesn’t exist anymore”, they skite. But there it is, in black and white, and believe it or not, it’s coming, and anyone who has been reading this series will now have a glimpse of how it’s all going to happen. Basically, Jesus will accept, on God’s behalf, the return of all wealth to its rightful owner — some of you may have heard Jesus describing, in his Sermon on the Mount, how “the meek shall inherit the world”.
Indeed, the rich man has become a bit shrill of late. Throughout the 20th century of Jesus’ reign, the wealthy have instigated global tension and conflict resulting in untold suffering and misery, claiming that greed is good, for the wealth generated at the top will permeate down to a burgeoning middle class. It’s true that many an entrepreneur has done great service to humanity in developing our world, and Jesus has promised that these servants will be rewarded on his return. Even Ingvar Kamprad will likely be forgiven for the exploitation of his workers, his unpaid tax liability, and other matters from his past. But in scientific circles, we look at the evidence, and adjust our theories accordingly. The clear evidence is that the ideology of laissez faire has in fact squeezed out the middle class, leaving us with the greatest (national and global) polarization of wealth in history.
There are none more shrill than trumped up billionaires who claim they are going to make the middle class great again by changing nothing. The wealthy are frankly terrified, for they realize they can no longer control the population through centralized media, and that, especially in a democracy, it would take just a single plebiscite for the constitution to be written anew, and the entire economy nationalized. Yet another protestation by the wealthy, recently employed by the Prime Minister of Australia, is the suggestion that people who dare to question obscene material wealth (which is rarely conspicuous except where it is new), from the perspective of moral wealth, are in fact merely envious.
When Jesus returns, his government will not only take ownership and control of the industry of just one nation, but the economy of the entire globe. The global economy will be as it were ‘globalized’. The wealthy believe however that they have an ‘ace’ up their sleeves, another one of John’s prophesies, that a man will rise up and “force everyone, both rich man and slave, to worship the image of the first animal, who was, and was not, and is again…forcing them to wear a mark on their foreheads so that no one can buy or sell unless they carry the mark”. The wealthy are entirely confident that the Christian right’s sheer terror of this big bad boogeyman renders it unthinkable that their applecart could ever be upset. Indeed this passage has generated a pathological hatred of government, as if government were an evil that exists to prevent good wholesome folk from realizing the freedom, granted to them by God, to do whatever they want.
Normal people however understand that government is necessary, for we are a community whose respect is for the rights of others first. The wealthy also recognize that their capital only has currency in the context of a community. If they were to be excluded from that community, so they could not buy from or sell to that community, then their property would become worthless (in John’s prophesy, instantly so).
The delicious irony is that the man the Christian right are so afraid of is in fact none other than their precious lord and saviour Jesus himself. The ‘mark’ in question is the sign of the cross placed on the foreheads of those newly baptized across the world every day. The ‘number’ assigned to Jesus when he was first conducting his ministry here a couple of thousand years ago was three hundred and thirty-three, a 'trinity of trinities', and John invited anyone with “half a brain” to calculate the number assigned to Jesus when he returns on his second visit. When the first general purpose credit card was introduced to Australia in the early 1970s, the country was not yet the broadly secular state it has become today, and there was outrage from the conspiracy theorists who saw the number of the ‘animal’ in the bankcard ‘b is for beast’ branding.
Jesus does indeed “live, die, and live again”, with the familiar imagery of a resurrection taking place over an Easter weekend some two thousand years ago, being projected forward to the resurrection that will take place after two or three of God’s days (where for God “a thousand years is as a day”).
The Jesus we meet in the gospels is meek and mild. His desire is that the people will come to him of their own volition, and actually follow him, not just on Twitter. Jesus, when he was first here on earth, was the son, come to call the people to repentance. As we of course know, the people nailed him to a tree for his efforts. When Jesus returns a second time, for good, he will no longer do so as the son sent by his father, but will have become the father himself.
Anyone who has raised children will know of the delicate balance we must strike between allowing our children free rein, and placing boundaries around them. Jesus declares that “with God, all things are possible”. As it happens, a concept known as ‘actual infinity’ is in fact beyond realization even by God. But what is certain is that God can, if He chooses, manipulate every last atom of reality, like a computing nerd can manipulate every last voxel of a virtual reality.
In the Gospels we have reports of many miracles, and most of you will have heard of some, if not all of them. What is not so widely appreciated is that the miracles afforded by God to Jesus’ command were merely sufficient unto God’s purpose at that time. “If He can, why didn’t God just make the world perfect in the first place?” has ever since been the cry of the afflicted. As we shall see later in this series, He will indeed make it all better, but not until He is quite satisfied that we have made the grade. God’s position on this is one that most parents will appreciate in relation to their own children.
God’s ‘carrot’, of course, is eternal life. This is the great promise in which Christians put their hope (even though many of them think eternal life is something they get when they die, when in fact it happens when we ‘die to ourselves’). God wants everyone to see how absolutely fabulous the new order will be, and to enter into it; for it is that everyone, even the most evil person in history, is in a very real sense a part of the Godhead, and He wants us all to change our hearts and do what we know to be right. Jesus, on his return, does not desire retribution for the wounding he received for our transgressions, Jesus desires only forgiveness and mercy.
However, it is possible there will be people in the resurrection whose hearts are too hardened to change, and it is simply untenable for objectionable people, who think they know it all (like myself), to be allowed into His world — you know, those people who say, “Just let me tell you something”. That one lost sheep might remain beyond redemption after all. And so God also carries a big stick in His arsenal.
Many will be familiar with the pastiche of God’s vengeance put together by Quentin Tarantino (nominally identified as ‘Ezekiel 25:17’) for the 1994 film Pulp Fiction. It illustrates the God favoured by Richard Dawkins (because it seems to be the only God that Richard knows of), the God who rules with a ‘rod of iron’ (perhaps tricky Dicky had a difficult childhood). Quentin thinks this monologue is just some callous shit he can get some gangsters to say before they whack someone, but it is in fact a presage of justice in the new order. Here is the scene if you are not familiar with it, or need to be reminded of it, a truly extraordinary piece of cinema (but don’t watch this if you are young, it is only suitable for grown-ups).
While ever we live in an age of ‘grace’, gangsters can indeed eliminate people, but in the resurrection, God merely ‘switches off’ anyone who even threatens to harm one of His children. Many people appreciate that they only live by the ‘grace of God’, but the example made of Ananias and Sapphira serves to illustrate just how clinical God can be when it comes to preventing harm befalling any of us in the resurrection. As Crocodile Dundee might say, “That’s what I call a big stick!”
There are of course no guns in the resurrection, because there is no place or requirement for them. In the resurrection, the man in the CCTV footage below, who struck down his neighbour in Canberra on NYE, would drop to the ground before he even got to raise his arm. And the message would spread through the community like wildfire, just as it did in the early Church under Peter’s guidance. Again, this footage is not for children…
Fortunately, most parents have brought up their children to be equipped for life in the resurrection, for they have been taught to consider the thoughts and feelings of others.
But clearly, many people have lost sight of the fact (or never even known) that their lives are being monitored. The 1993 movie Sliver explores (through allegory) the notion that our lives are being monitored by God. Some of us are quite disturbed by the idea of being monitored, but even more disturbed that God might deliberately stand by and allow evil to flourish. We need to understand how this can be. In the Sliver allegory, Carly severs the connection, and calls on the omniscient to “get a life”. Stay tuned…