Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

The Future God -- Dagfinn Aslid

We do not drift through history with our backs to the future and our gaze returning ever and again to the origin, but we stride confidently towards the promised future. It is not the primeval ancients who are near the truth and dwell nearer the gods, but it is to future generations that the promises are given in order that they may see the fulfillment.1

This quote from Moltmann's Theology of Hope is a good illustration of the Unification attitude towards the future; one might say that the future, rather than being an object of speculation and foretelling, is "that toward which we confidently stride." But neither can it be said that the past is totally ignored, for without it we should be unable to act as hosts for the future and such is our eschatological task.

The following account of the Unification reading of the future falls in three main parts. The first concerns the more general issue of futurology, emphasizing the problems of epistemology and verification criteria. The second focuses more on the eschatological vision and the hermeneutics of hope, whereas the third deals with the nature of the kingdom of God in terms of its projected modes of knowing.

Unification Futurology as Eschatology

Should we have only futurum and seek a transformed humanity in the basis of only present realities, then our hope would risk dissolving into despair. But Christian eschatology offers something more than what secular or humanistic futurology is able to do alone: namely the gospel, the good news that we are not left alone in our failings but that we can rely upon divine power to finally bring world history to its consummate fulfillment.2

The gist of Peters' argument for the relevance of theology for future consciousness is that the future, because it is open-ended, cannot be extrapolated from the present or from history. It is here that the theologian can point out "a certain ontological basis"3 for our living and deciding in behalf of the future. But even here we do not escape the problem of freedom and determinism that haunts any attempt to speak of the future.

Unification theology has been criticized for making God subservient to the Principle,4 and questions have been raised whether the "God of the Principle can survive the refining fire which the God-beyond-the-Principle seems to send to test every new incarnation."5 This is not the place to make a detailed response to Sontag's incisive critique of the Unification view of God, however, the following remarks may be helpful in clarifying some of the issues at stake.

What distinguishes Christian eschatology from secular futurology is that it does not proceed from the present to the future, but "begins with what has been prophesied about God's final future and then approaches the present."6 Similarly, it is true that Unification eschatology is indissolubly joined to the doctrine of creation, thus seeing the consummation of human history in terms of the fulfillment of God's purpose of creation. It must furthermore be granted that God is portrayed as never violating the integrity of the Principle which is equally indispensable for the realization of God's purpose. However, the Principle cannot be taken to mean a "new Legalism," or a "rigid code of behavior" to which both God and humans are bound.7 Neither is it true that the Principle, in its present literary expression, is a closed canon in the sense of being "fully revealed,"8 or that it may be conceived as a script or an agenda that God is bound to follow.9 I would suggest that it might be helpful here to distinguish between God's original image, heart, and purpose, which are conceived of as eternal, unchanging, and absolute, and the realization of these in human history, which are subject to contingency and relativity. In the latter, God is indeed seen to always keep an "escape clause" (and wisely so). Consequently, we can find trust and confidence in God's unswerving commitment to fulfill the providence of restoration, while our "attitude in the last days"10 must remain open to God's ever changing ways of working. Those who are "tenaciously attached to the environment of the old age and comfortably entrenched in it will be judged along with the old age."11 Sontag's critique is well taken in that the Unification people do need to be careful not to exempt themselves from the open attitude so warmly recommended to "others," absolutizing a provisional understanding of God's ways. In other words, if the heuristic tools for understanding providence -- analogies, typologies, numerology, etc. -- come to be used as "categorical imperatives," they are likely to backfire. Let me also mention here, for what it is worth, that the most characteristic trait of Rev. Moon's ways is that he never seems to run out of surprises. In this he seems more of a pragmatist than a formalist.

While it must be granted that any eschatology that is as intimately linked to the doctrine of creation as it is in Unification theology, runs a certain danger of determinism, this is less so if God is thought of as a future God, rather than as the Creator. As such, God's revelations necessarily take on proleptic nature, anticipations "whose final truth remains a theme of eschatology."12 Thus, both for Pannenbergians and Unificationists God may be conceived of as the "Power of the Future," and the present only acquires meaning in light of the end, the time of the "eschatological inauguration of the new aeon."13 Consequently, both the meaning of human life and of reality as a whole are verified in light of the eschaton. We might say that history here is seen in light of the future, each event acquiring its final significance in light of the totality of history. This emphasis on the primacy of the end of history is peculiarly eschatological and entails, among other things, the openness of the past and the fluidity of the present. The present moment may indeed be experienced as productive and disclosive, but it is one, like all others, that will be overcome and fused with future horizons.14 Undoubtedly, then, the Unification movement, and Unification theology, as we see it today will come to look quaint and dated in the eyes of future generations -- but hopefully our efforts will have come to have a positive significance. Irrelevance is the saddest thing.

Hermeneutics of Hope

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13

When we study the modern scholarship on the canonization of the Torah during the Babylonian exile15 we see that the "Torah-story" is left open-ended: it ends with Moses' admonitions as the people of God are about to enter the promised land; a simple observation, but a telling one. During the centuries this People has continued to survive on the way, nourished by a canon that is amazing in its richness of meaning and adaptability for life. Christianity inherited and transformed this tough hope, says Pannenberg, from post-exilic Judaism:

It is in the context of this latter, and in a certain sense as its culmination, that the message must be understood, with its demands that the whole world in which man lives must be understood and lived solely on the basis of the future of the kingdom of God.16

It is in the same vein that Moltmann substitutes eschatology of history for a philosophy of history where "the place of dispassionate observation and contemplation... is taken by passionate expectation and by participation in forward-moving mission."17 Christianity is here seen as that which turns people into incurable hopers.18

It is well known that "hope" is a favorite topic of Rev. Moon. The Unification movement is both admired and sneered at for its "optimism" -- admired for its vitality and dedication, sneered at for its simplistic utopianism. Even from a friendly critic we hear words of caution against "the inexorable march to goodness."19 Yet I would argue that Unification hope is a well-tempered hope, quite unlike the "sloppy agape" which we, in our turn, frown upon in certain Christian sisters and brothers. I agree that the words of Divine Principle must sound saucy to twentieth century ears. Critical scholars comment that our epistemology might need a cold Kantian shower, and somehow "the steady rise of goodness and decline of evil" sounds hollow to a jaundiced age of environmental devastation and haunting holocausts.

The hope I see in Unification eschatology is more like the trembling trust of Jeremiah before the Lord:

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for thou art my praise. Behold, they say to me, "Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!" Jeremiah 17:14-15

God is the master surgeon, not a greedy banker, or a sneering maniac. But we tremble before the heart-transplant, yet trusting that God plans for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

Furthermore, the last days are expected to arrive, not as a blue-eyed Camp David, but more in the ways of Ragnarok; terrible, confusing, ambivalent. The image is that of myriads of spirit people of sundry kinds descending for a resurrecting indemnity bath as the totality of history, of cultures, lands, and religions tremble in birth pangs. And yet the Unification hermeneutics of hope is not apocalyptic. True, there are strains reminiscent of shamanism, but the task of the Messiah in the midst of a confused world is also that of a historical midwife:

The great man of the age is the one who can put into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is, and accomplish it. What he does is the Heart and essence of his age; he actualizes his age.20

In Unification terminology, one might say that the Messiah's task is to understand, establish, and fulfill the right indemnity condition in order to further Providence. It is only possible, furthermore, to act as a host for the kingdom of God when the particulars and content of the providence of restoration are fully grasped and salvaged in the present. Herein lies the reason for the diligent study of history in Unification theology.21

Lest we make of the Messiah a Minerva's owl that flies at the dusk of history, let it be understood that Unification hermeneutics' sister is the pedagogy of suffering. The one who has not shed tears does not know God, for the God of Principle is also the crucified God, a vulnerable God. A quick survey of Unification hymnology reveals that almost all Holy Songs center around the theme of suffering and hope. It seems that the tone and ethos of the pages of Divine Principle tend too far towards the rational and discursive side to accurately reflect the mode of knowing of the Unification movement as a whole, and those who only know us "by the book" inevitably get an image of fervent ideologists. But that is only the second half of the picture.

Pedagogy for the Perfect

But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord, 'for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; Jeremiah 31:33-34

'Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people... And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:3, 22

"Do not speak of the Unification Church! The Unification Church is nothing: it must die! Speak only of God and of one world under God!"22

People in the kingdom of Heaven on earth will not spend a great deal of their time studying Divine Principle. They will have more enjoyable things to do. There is general consensus in the Unification movement that the Principle, as we know it now will eventually be superseded by a more direct and experiential way of knowing and living with God. Often this new way is spoken of in terms of a New Tradition, centered, in its turn, on the notion of the True Family. Frankly, I find the Confucian orientation quite prominent here. Truth is conceived more as "true personhood" than correspondence of idea and reality. As with Wang Yang-Ming, truth is done, not thought. Indeed, the whole business of separating knowing and doing becomes absurd. Humankind has come into its own at last. Goodness and truth pass from generation to generation, from parents to children by osmosis, as it were. Naturally, institutional religion has become a thing of the past.

It is also true that the family here has become the sine qua non of knowing God. The intra-familial relationships are the heuristic means by which people mature towards the status of divine spirits. Loyalty, filial piety, and fidelity are the cardinal virtues that serve to maintain the healthy dynamic function of families and society.

The universality and secularity of humankind come into their own like the eschatology of the Great Awakening, not an apocalyptic vision.23 It may be seen as the final passage of Heilsgeschichte into universal history -- the God of Israel becoming the God of all.24 It is a "Christification of the world, and, simultaneously, a worldification of Christ."25

After the fall, so teaches the Principle, goodness came to be found in religion over and against a world under the dominion of evil. The very notion of "spirituality" has acquired connotations of alienation from the natural world, the polarity of spirit and matter tending to appear as a threatening antinomy. Unification eschatology moves from this world-rejecting spirituality to a world-affirming sensuality, since the future of God is also the future of the world.26 In regard to the natural world we thus advocate the attitudes of sensitivity, of relationality, of interconnectedness. Consequently, our relationship to the non-human is no longer a threat, but a fulfillment. Mother earth is allowed to take humankind in her warm embrace. Ecology also soars from the status of a moralistic appendix to a way of life. The "oughts" and the "musts" that bedraggle the ethics with regard to the conservation of the environment are expected to be replaced by a spiritual empathy that turns any exploitation of the natural into a crime against ourselves. There is a real ontological basis for "relationships between God, Man, and All Things."27 On this foundation the notion of a "just and sustainable world" is no longer gratuitous, it is, so to say, in our guts.28

Finally, I should like to say a few words about ethics. Ultimately, I find that the Unification views here are best expressed in terms of "richness and intensity of experience."29 The ideal world is one where the human potential finds maximum opportunities for creativity, for realizing the uniquely divine in our day-to-day living. The challenges of innovation and self-transcendence are integral to maximizing experience. There is always the precarious tension between the intensity and the integrity of life. Thus the notion of unambiguous goodness does not apply in an unqualified sense. Even in the kingdom of heaven there may be failure as well as success -- and if I may say so, if you can't lose, what is the point of victory?


1 Jurgen Moltmann, The Theology of Hope (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 298.

2 Ted Peters, "Futures -- Human and Divine," Lutheran Quarterly, 21 (1975), 123-24.

3 Ted Peters, "Future Consciousness and the Need for Theology," Dialog, 13 (1974), 257.

4 Frederick Sontag, "The God of Principle: A Critical Evaluation," in Ten Theologians Respond to the Unification Church, ed. Herbert Richardson (Barrytown, NY.: Unification Theological Seminary, distributed by The Rose of Sharon Press, Inc., 1981), p. 123.

5 Sontag, p. 137.

6 Peters, "Futures," p. 119.

7 Sontag, p. 137.

8 Sontag, p. 116.

9 Sontag, p. 115.

10 Divine Principle (Washington: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1973), pp. 133-36.

11 Divine Principle, p. 135.

12 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology (London: SCM, 1970), I, 169

13 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Revelation as History (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. 132.

14 David E. Linge, "Dilthey and Gadamer: Two Theories of Historical Understanding, the American Academy of Religion, 41 (1973), 550.

15 The significance and impact of the canonization process as a dynamic and open-ended process on the maintenance of the identity and integrity of the Jewish people is discussed in various works by James A. Sanders. The most popular currently is Torah and Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972).

16 Wolfhart Pannenberg, The Idea of God and Human Freedom (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 209

17 Moltmann, p. 260.

18 Peters, "Future Consciousness," p. 253.

19 Sontag, p. 35. Cf. Divine Principle, p. 253.

20 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M. Knox (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1942), p. 295.

21 "Fallen men can never find the way of life without knowing the particulars and content of the providence of restoration. Herein lies the reason that we must know the principle of restoration in detail." Divine Principle, p. 238.

22 Warren H. Lewis quotes Rev. Moon from an informal faculty dinner in "Is the Rev. Sun Myung Moon a Heretic? Locating Unification Theology on the Map of Church History," in A Time for Consideration, ed. M. Darrol Bryant and Herbert W. Richardson (Toronto: Mellen, 1978), p. 203.

23 M. Darrol Bryant, 'Unification Eschatology and American Millennial Traditions," in A Time for Consideration, p. 268.

24 Pannenberg, Revelation as History, p. 133.

25 Peters, "Future Consciousness," p. 254.

26 Cf. Pannenberg, The Idea of God and Human Freedom, p. 195.

27 Young Whi Kim, The Divine Principle Study Guide, Part I (Tarrytown. New York: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1973), pp. 24-25.

28 It is encouraging to see that efforts to develop the ontological underpinnings of a specifically Christian ethic of nature are evidenced today. For details, see Burning Issues, 25 (January 1979), esp. pp. 52-57.

29 For this notion I am indebted to John Cobb and Charles Birch who argue from a biological and ecological vantage point to an ethical and religious stance in a forthcoming book. The Liberation of Life. 

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