The problem of the ascension

December 30, 2007 at 6:25 pm 8 comments

One of my professors quotes Philip Yancey (from The Jesus I Never Knew) in one of the early chapters of his own book, which I read this semester. I was intrigued by the quote, and its suggestion that the ascension might pose a difficulty for faith:

So many times in the course of writing this book I have felt like one of those disciples, peering intently at a blank blue sky. I look for some sign of Jesus, some visual clue… Like the disciples’ eyes, mine ache for a pure glimpse of the One who ascended. Why, I ask again, did he have to leave?… I have concluded, in fact, that the Ascension represents my greatest struggle of faith—not whether it happened, but why. It challenges me more than the problem of pain, more than the difficulty of harmonizing science and the Bible, more than belief in the Resurrection and other miracles.1

Until I read this quote, I admit it had never occurred to me that the ascension might pose a problem. But now I recognize that it is indeed puzzling, in a way. Why did Christ leave? And why the delay until the end of the world?

I know the answers my own denomination poses in response to this question, but I’m curious about the perspectives of my readers. How big of an issue (for you) is this puzzling delay? And how good of an answer does Christianity in general have to the problem?

1Yancey, qtd. in Roy Gane, Altar Call (Diadem: Berrien Springs, 1999), 15-16, emphasis mine.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. eucharista  |  January 1, 2008 at 3:08 am

    Well, Jesus should have the first say in the matter: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 16:7). As obscure as Christ’s rationale appears, the answer may lie in v. 8, where Christ says that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of “righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer.” I have not read much commentary on this passage, so I would prefer not to issue an opinion on it at this time.

    Still, I will say I always seemed to associate the Ascension with the “hiddeness of God.”

    Reply
  • 2. David Ketter  |  January 1, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I’ll stick with eucharista’s verses from John. Unless Christ ascended, how then could the Paraclete come? What use is the Spirit, you say? Paul tells us that He guarantees our inheritance. Also, the Gospel must be preached and spread to the ends of the earth. Recall that Jesus blessed Thomas for his belief, but declared that those who have not seen are more blessed.

    Secondly, Hebrews tells us that Christ is our great High Priest. Unless He stands before the throne of the Father, He cannot intercede for His saints. Also, recall the prophecy of David who saying, “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” (Mark 12:36). Christ came to fulfill all the Torah and Prophets and this includes the words of the prophet David…thus, the enemies of God must first be brought out by preaching the Gospel in every place, to every Creature…and then, as Jesus says “the end will come.”

    Reply
  • 3. Stephen  |  January 1, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Christ’s absence isn’t a struggle for me. If he was on earth, where would he live? Jerusalem? I probably wouldn’t ever meet him face to face, anymore than I expect ever to meet — let’s say, Penelope Cruz. Yes, I would like to meet her some day … not for the same reasons I’d like to meet Christ.
    😉

    Hence the importance of the Paraclete, who can be simultaneously present to every believer anywhere on earth. Not quite the same thing as somebody with skin on, but I’ll take whatever part of God I can get!

    The delay of the parousia is more of a theological problem. But it’s indistinguishable from the problem of evil in general, for me. Why does God allow it in the first place? Why does God allow it to persist for so long?

    No denomination has a satisfactory solution to that problem.

    Reply
  • 4. Matthew  |  January 2, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Perhaps there is even a more simpler question we have missed: Why didn’t Christ inaugerate the end of the world at his resurrection? I mean, He won. Why does He have to go and “prepare” a place for us?

    I can’t say I ever considered this before…but it’s an intriguing question.

    We know Christ wanted the Gospel to go to the Gentiles, but surely he could have done it better than we. Maybe then the issue isn’t evangelistic efficiency but something dealing with our own salvation. He wanted to make us partners in His work and the only way we would really do it was if He wasn’t physically present?

    I don’t know…it’s a good question.

    Reply
  • 5. David Ketter  |  January 3, 2008 at 2:22 am

    Well, perhaps that is part of why Paul calls the Gentile inclusion the “mystery” of the Gospel. 🙂

    Reply
  • 6. Betty  |  January 9, 2008 at 12:48 am

    I am assuming that Paraclete is Greek, but does it? And what does it have to do with Christ’s Acts 1 ascension?

    Reply
  • 7. Betty  |  January 9, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Note: I am re-posting comment, because left a word out and i want my questions to be under stood.

    I am assuming that Paraclete is Greek, but does mean it? And what does it have to do with Christ’s Acts 1 ascension?

    Reply
  • 8. David Ketter  |  January 9, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Betty:

    The Paraclete is the term that is used in John to describe the Holy Spirit. It’s sometimes translated “Counselor” or “Comforter” in English translations.

    Reply

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Profile

profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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