(Painting: "The Triumph of the Name of Jesus," by Giovanni Batista Gaulli (Il Baciccio), 1676-79, preparatory oil sketch for the ceiling fresco of the Gesu church in Rome)
94.) The Eschatological Answer to the Problem of Evil - The experience of the eschatological reality will be such as to explain and fill up the entire question of pain and evil in creation. We’ve seen a few persuasive answers as to why our world is so full of evil (see Theses 7-9, 10-11), but even these struggle to measure up to the sheer volume and passion of unexplained pain. For the child torn apart by dogs because of the cruelty of another man, there is no redemptive aspect to that pain on this side of eternity—it is enough, as Ivan Karamazov would tell us, to return our ticket to God. But the mystical tradition has often held (usually as a result of distinct impressions and revelations from God) that there is more of the story yet to tell. Julian of Norwich speaks of God’s message to her that he still has in store “one great act” at the end of history, an act that will make all things well. In her words (and, one must remember, she lived in the age of the Black Plague and the Hundred Years’ War), “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” The life of the eschatological reality, the experience of the full love of God for all humans, the “glory to be revealed in us,” will so outweigh the sufferings of this world that they will seem like nothing in comparison. That is the testimony of Christian Scripture and tradition from the very beginning, and even though a “wait and see” theodicy is not all that convincing to those in the midst of terrible pain, it is the best and most faithful answer we have to give.
95.) The Eschatological Fulfillment of All Created Things - As part of the restoration of all things, I think we will see a transfiguration of the whole created order. As Paul tells us, the natural world too will be “liberated from its bondage to decay.” Once again, as in that hint in Romans 8, it seems that this will somehow be effected through the redemption of humanity. As such, part of our Kingdom-work here and now must entail the liberation of the natural world—that is to say, its preservation, care, and honor by us, its human stewards. Further, along with some current thinkers, I hold that the problem of pain in the natural world is so insurmountable that one of the only ways out is to posit an eschatological fulfillment for all forms of life according to their nature. If they have shared in the suffering of this vale of soul-making, then they will share in its joy. If they are a part of the story of pain that Christ has taken on himself in the cross, then they will be part of his story of wonder and light. Scripture itself seems to hint at the continued existence of animal life in the world to come, and since human beings in Scripture and theology must always be seen within their kinship with all of God’s developmental creation, we should assume that we will not be cut off from that kinship in the life to come. If God knows every sparrow that falls from the sky, then we can trust that he will not forget the pain his creatures, the objects of his creative love, who suffer along the path of history while not being able to enter fully into the volitional love and spiritual life available at the climax of that path. To view them as merely grist for the mill of human-soul-making is a view unworthy of God as a loving creator. Thus, as I suggested above, I rather suspect we will see all of the marvelous, beautiful, God-glorifying diversity of animal and plant life on the other side, existing in a transfigured reality and in a restored relationship to the world around them, such that even their incipient level of free will is drawn into the chorus of all creation saying Yes to God. God will be all in all—the God of love, existing as love in all of his creatures, from all of history, for all eternity.