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Hope and Apocalyptic

“Hope is not confidence in the virtues of history, any more than it is confidence in the virtue of the noble savage or of man’s nature. To the extent it reduces itself to that, it means nothing. Whoever nurtures that kind of belief is merely an idealist, and hope is, in that case, a vague, pleasent feeling.

“Hope is the act whereby a person becomes aware of the distance of the Kingdom, and it clings to apocalyptic thinking. If the Kingdom is there, within easy reach, if the Kingdom is quite naturally within us, there is no need for hope. The latter is the measure of our distance from the Kingdom. Certainly the saying which attests that the Kingdom is at hand, that the Kingdom is in our midst, is truthful, but it is truthful as a saying of hope. It is not the report of an observable, measurable reality, complete with tangible consequences. It is an affirmation of a counter-reality. Humanly speaking, it is not true that the Kingdom of God is present. . . .

“The Apocalypse is tied to the thought of a God who intervenes in history, who makes his own decisions and acts as sovereign, creating the world he wants through his almighty Word, whose fiery approach melts mountains and causes man and his works to collapse. It is to take the living God seriously. Now hope is that work which incites this God to come and reveal himself, no ling in his discreetness, weakness, and humiliation, but also in his glory. If one doesn’t hope in the glory of God, of which the Apocalypse is a translation, there is no hope. There is only human progress and the hatred of those who obstruct it.”

~ Jacques Ellul, Hope in a Time of Abandonment, 206-7, 209.


  1. dan wrote:

    ‘Hope in Time of Abandonment’ shaped me more than most other books I have read. At the time, I had never heard of Ellul but the title caught my eye in a used bookstore. What a find! I’ve been meaning to read it again by the end of the year (I first read it about nine years ago).

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    I thought of you when I came across it, actually.

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  3. roger flyer wrote:

    What might this ‘glory’ look like?

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  4. Thom Stark wrote:

    Fine words, but I don’t see why “human progress and hatred of those who obstruct it” is the only alternative to the expectation that God will someday miraculously intervene in history. Why can’t we hope in the Spirit of God who is present with us as we struggle in God’s grace to change the world so that it reflects God’s kingdom, hating obstructions to such progress, while engaging in loving interventions toward those who obstruct it?

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink
  5. kim fabricius wrote:

    Hope that isn’t a practice becomes an ideology. What might this ‘glory’ look like?. Luke 4:16-21; Matthew 11:2-6; the Sermon on the Mount. Live tomorrow’s life today.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 2:48 am | Permalink
  6. Brad A. wrote:

    I think it’s simply inaccurate to say that the Kingdom isn’t here in our midst in tangible ways (though “measurable” it isn’t, in any conventional sense). It is accurate to say that it’s not fully present or consummated yet.

    I prefer Yoder and Hauerwas to this. We can’t speak truthfully of the Incarnation and then say we’re at a distance from the kingdom entire. We have hope amidst the tension between the world that is (old age) and the kingdom fully present (new age) which has broken into the former. It’s hope that the kingdom will, in fact, come to fulfillment, despite what we may see around us, and through no efforts of our own to control history to that end.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink
  7. Robby wrote:

    “Hope that isn’t a practice becomes an ideology.”

    I really like this.

    I could not help but think of Luther’s theology of the cross which seeks to understand God’s glory through the lens of the cross. Standing on its own, the language of glory is loaded with implicit undertones of domination and rule that is ultimately sustained by the politics of death. It is the cross that redefines glory with the image of kenosis – emptying ourselves for the sake of the other and participating in God’s glory through the practice of self-giving love.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    I think the operative phrase here is “humanly speaking, it is not true that the Kingdom of God is present. . .”

    The point is not that it isn’t here at all, its rather that it is not latent within us. It isn’t naturally or statically here. Rather it is here in our acts of hopeful proclamation, imagination, and action, which are the work of the Spirit.

    Acknowledging the absence of God is just as vital, if not more so, than proclaiming his presence in and through ourselves. I think that is what this quote gets at helpfully.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  9. roger flyer wrote:

    But then he did the stuff. As John Wimber asked the church deacon: “When do we get to do the stuff?”
    “What stuff?” asked the deacon.
    “You know, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, setting the captives free?”
    “Oh we don’t do the stuff. We just read and talk about the stuff.”

    I want to see more of the glory and not just ‘discreetness, humiliation,’ etc

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  10. Brad A. wrote:

    Ah. I re-read it and caught that better. Thanks.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  11. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Ellul! I encourage you to read all his stuff Halden (I believe we met briefly several years ago at EP). If Wipf and Stock gets to publish his collective works, I would be extremely happy!

    The Meaning of the City and Politics of God, Politics of Man are my favorite of his biblical studies/theology works. But these should not be divorced from his sociological works dealing with technique. Indeed, the quotes above are in the context of his analysis of technique in this world that strangles human freedom. To understand them, you have to understand his sociological critique of the technological society. What I believe is a good place to start, or just delve into the Technological Society.

    He has a low ecclesiology, but that is due to his experience more than anything else I think.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    Andy, I remember seeing you at EP that year (that was a while ago!). You need to make it back out next year.

    As to Ellul, I agree completely about his importance. I’ve read only a handful of his books so far and you’re right. I need to read them all. Soon, soon. :)

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  13. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Or you could just watch a video interview of him!

    link to the entire video is at the side

    Very charismatic person.

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Permalink
  14. Wow, that first sentence destroys the last 400 years of Western thought, doesn’t it? (Thank goodness!)

    Thanks for posting this — I’ve been wrestling lately with the relation of hope and faith: if faith is the assurance of what we hope for, then what does hope look like? This Ellul passage helps me see that hope continues through faith (not as the lack of faith-assurance).

    I agree with Andy about Politics of God/Politics of Man (haven’t read Meaning of the City) — I also find Presence of the Kingdom and Subversion of Christianity to be extremely helpful in keeping my bearings in the world.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

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