Opening the Word: The apocalyptic God

The prophet suffers the injustice inflicted by the world. In the just world the person who keeps the Law, who delights in the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob would prosper.

But as Jeremiah makes clear, this isn’t the just age. The prophet, the one who speaks the divine Word to Israel, is trapped. His own kinsmen seek to end his life.

Speaking God’s very word, Jeremiah cries out, “‘Reform your ways and your deeds so that I may dwell with you in this place’” (Jer 7:3). Israel, rather than heed God’s word, seeks to end Jeremiah’s life. To blot out the Lord’s voice from the world.

Yet in what looks like a hopeless situation, Jeremiah has hope. He dares to hope that God will avenge this injustice: “O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them” (Jer 20:12).

He does not long to see the suffering of the unjust as a sadist, but desires to see God’s justice win out, for the covenant to be fulfilled. He sees past what seems like the failure of his mission and makes the words of the psalmist his own, “For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not” (Ps 69:34).

A contrarian may be tempted to respond to Jeremiah’s hope with a bit of cynicism. Of course, God abandons the righteous.

You want to get ahead in the world? Defraud the poor. You want to climb the corporate ladder? Abandon your principles. Winners win and losers lose. Be a winner.

Our cynic (while perhaps not someone we’d want to have a beer with) shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. He’s right. In a fallen world, in an unjust world, success often means making your own way. It means ambition, success and power. It means a lust for domination, for destroying our opponent.

Yet, Jesus preaches in the Gospel a different account of success. He reminds us, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (Mt 10:26).

The “revealing” of what is hidden in the kingdom of God is known as apocalypticism. The apocalyptic isn’t necessarily a matter of catalysm, of destruction, a Will Smith movie released on the Fourth of July.

The apocalyptic is the radical hope that God will shed light, at the end of time, on the darkness and the light alike. The disciple of Jesus Christ should expect failure in the present. But discipleship means looking past what seems like failure to see the light even in the midst of the darkness.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe now in print or digital.

Jesus Christ comes to inaugurate the reign of the apocalyptic God. This is the God who will reveal the logic of sin and death employed by the world for what it is: a lie, or as Shakespeare put it in “Macbeth,” “a poor player / that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.”

For the light of Easter has forever transformed the created order. Love wins, even when it seems that it doesn’t. Justice conquers, even when we’re tempted to think otherwise.And it’s foolish to proclaim this in an age governed by power politics, by the violence of the powerful, by the reign of unjust.

Yet here we stand, in the presence of the dead and risen Lord, proclaiming to a world grown drunk on power, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion” (Jer 20:11).

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.