Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension—and Apocalypse?

I will send to you another Advocate (the Spirit of truth) who will convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. —John 16:8

Forgetfulness can be merely annoying, or deadly, depending on what keeps slipping our mind. So much in our culture seems aimed to entertain, amuse and help us forget the real challenges to human civilization that cross our news screens in between commercials. Our cultural brew is laced with forgetfulness, spiked with concealment.

Awakening out of slumber

In the light of this, Jesus’ mystifying pre-Ascension promise rings with hope. We will be sent a paracletus, (1) an advocate, someone who literally “cries out beside us” on our behalf. The reality this Spirit brings is truth, aletheia, which, in Greek, literally means awakening from forgetfulness, from lethe (2), from concealed things; awakening to what is present, real, now. As a verse from the Gospel of Thomas promises, we will be able to see “what is in front of us.” (3)

And that means not only all the love, joy, peace, justice and abundant life the Spirit of Jesus’ Way can bring to us, but convicting and exposing “sin, righteousness and judgment”—that is, makes clear all the things that make or break that abundant life.

We Americans tend to see sin as an individualized issue of personal moral purity, while ignoring the reality of the systemic, structural evil that undermines the well-being of the world. The paracletus works in the world to expose, the convict, to make right judgment clear, flowing through the souls who dare to bear witness to the potentially apocalyptic edge of what is happening in our midst daily.

The wages of sin

    + The Spirit of truth flows through the souls of those who seek to expose a food industry that tempts us with “bet you can’t eat only one," then loads its processed foods with the sugar, fat and salt that undermine rational restraint.
    + It cries out against major pesticide makers who produce poisons that threaten the world’s bee population and thus the world’s harvest.
    + It exposes the decades long battle big oil has waged against the harsh reality of global warming’s birth of increasingly lethal weather, sea rise and climate change.
    + It questions the medical and agribusiness over-use of antibiotics that tears holes in the antibiotic shield that protects us.
    + It bewails the poisoning of the waters and the seas, the destruction of habitat and species that uphold the web of life on which we depend.

Dismissing all this as the greed of a few at the top is a form of forgetful denial, for our very way of life is virtually inseparable from these supporting and lethally-laced social and commercial structures. No one is an island, pure and separate from surrounding conditions. We're in this together.

Becoming channels of the Advocate

Aletheia is our hope: waking up to our true situation, seeking the things that make for life, health, justice and the well-being of creation. But that only comes with the sober recognition of sin and our collusion with it. "Apocalypse" can portend doom and destruction, but the word itself speaks of the concealed coming to light.

We may be powerless to change much, but we can join the voices of all those brave souls who dare to speak truth to power and do our part to change the conversation from our culture’s self-amusing trivia and scandle-mongering to the stark truths we face. . .

 . . .and thus truly honor the meaning of Christ’s ascension to the heart of God, the source of all truth. 


1.  A paRAketos is “one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.”

2. Lethe: In Classical Greek, the word lethe literally means "oblivion", "forgetfulness", or "concealment".[1] It is related to the Greek word for "truth", aletheia (ἀλήθεια), which through the privative alpha literally means "un-forgetfulness" or "un-concealment".

3. Jesus said, "Come to know what is in front of you, and that which is hidden from you will become clear to you." Gospel of Thomas, Logion 5: Patterson, Robinson, and Bethge, The Fifth Gospel, Trinity Press International, 1998.