Christian Relaunch

Human Fulfillment

We are limited but our aspiration is boundless. Thus we live in tension, which some see as a problem.

"L'Homme est une passion inutile." ("Man is a futile self-sacrifice.")

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943), at the end of 4.2.3. Sarte has been comparing man's perennial quest for transcendence with Christ's voluntary suffering, "the passion" as older English writers (and Mel Gibson's film) called it. Sarte claims that this quest must be regarded as futile because we must reject the idea of God. I agree with the inference (which is irresistible, and should be more widely known) but not with the premiss.

I think the tension expresses our capacity for union with God, and points to our destiny in that union.

Union with God is not an amorphous melting into the divine being, detached from our present cultural task; it fulfills that task, not by finishing it and "putting it away" but by taking it to a new level. The life to come is the next stage for humanity, "more but not less" (see Appendices) than life as we know it, involving further development beyond current possibilities. In the present life, performing our task involves aspiration and effort, and in relation to this the future life is a rest, but this does not imply inaction or stagnation. (Maybe we should think of a retirement that frees us for better things.)

The end of the world is not only a termination but also a goal, an "end" in the sense of a final cause. The fulfillment beyond that termination is also a continuation.

What will it be like? All the good that has ever been experienced, by humans or any other selves, is only a foretaste. The Hebrew prophets anticipated a future golden age, and the New Testament writers insist that the body is a permanent feature of human life, that fulfillment is not escape from the body but enhancement of the body (1st Corinthians 15:35-44). But we can form no adequate picture of that life; Christ's resurrection appearances give us a glimpse, but little can be deduced since the witnesses were as limited by present conditions as we are.

"Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest,

beneath thy contemplation sink heart and voice, oppressed.

I know not, oh! I know not what joys await us there,

what radiancy of glory, what bliss beyhond compare."

John Mason Neale, The world is very evil (1851).

When will it be? The end will come when the world is ripe, the possibilities of cosmic development exhausted or at least diminished. I will not venture to speculate further.

Back to Our Proper Goal.