The Words of the Family Deurwarder
Messianism: Divine Mystery or Human Misunderstanding?
by William D. Deurwarder-Barrytown, NY
This is derived from a paper presented to the Comparative Messianism class of Dr. Robert Price at UTS,
There isn’t a concept or title that is more intriguing, captivating and enigmatic than the concept of The Messiah. Well, except for that of religion-the category and context that it generally falls under-which is a mystery in and of itself. This messianic figure is a being endowed with divine qualities, who is supposed to destroy God’s enemy and establishes a theocracy. The situation becomes more intricate and complex on the phenomenological level simply because no one knows for sure what the Messiah would look like. People have an idea as to what he is supposed to do, but no one knows exactly how he is to pursue his divine mandate. Devoted believers who eagerly await the appearance of the messiah are in a conundrum as they try to calculate when the messianic event will occur. However, despite all these seemingly unresolved puzzles, the hope of an imminent appearance by the messiah is very much alive.
The root of this phenomenon can be traced back to ancient Judaism. The term Messiah is Hebrew for anointed one, and denotes a king who whose reign was consecrated. (Helmer Ringgren, "Messianism: An Overview", Encyclopedia of Religion. p.469.)
But Israel wasn’t always a kingdom, it was a confederation of tribes that was constantly harassed and victimized by the surrounding kingdoms (who’s Kings were believed to be divine). So the people of Israel petitioned their prophet-judge Samuel, demanding a king like the other nations. But their experience with kings was not pleasant. There were great kings and there were terrible kings, there were times when they prosper and there were disastrous periods. Eventually, Israel was taken captives and exiled in Babylon. Here is where the saga begun.
An anointed king, the Messiah, would become the object of Israel’s most profound longing. After the exile, they looked to God to restore an idealized king like David. The source of this longing for a messiah-king for Israel was a legitimate one. They need someone to lead them out of the present impasse, and more importantly someone on whom they can fasten their hopes and ideals. (Walter Wink, "Messianic Complex" Christian Century, May 18-25 1924, p.523)
Early Christianity took many of the Jewish ideas about the Messiah and applied them to Jesus. Very creatively they interpret every coronation and baptismal passage from the Old Testament so that they all point to the inevitable advent of Jesus. The Messianic plot became really messy when the early Christians began theologizing about the nature of Jesus. That’s a topic (Christology) entirely by itself, so I wouldn’t discuss that here. However, some of the features that Christianity added to the messianic scrip were: The Greek word ‘Christos’ for messiah became the designated title; Jesus was regarded as the son of God, and was at the same time identified as the suffering servant. But the most innovative element has to be the fact that, even though Jesus "has already in person fulfilled the messianic expectations, he is to Return in order to bring the final Fulfillment" (Helmer Ringgen p. 471).
Ironically, despite its long period of messianic expectation the Israelites never received a messiah on the national level. There were many that came and proclaimed that they were the ‘One’, but their appeal and followers were limited. Subsequently they either faded away or were crushed by the very enemy that they were to destroy. The messianic ideal that was established was so high that mere mortals were unable to measure up. But this wasn’t the original Idea of Judaism; all they wanted was a righteous king to fight their battle. It seems to me that this mystifying of the messiah was an egregious misunderstanding.
While Judaism was unable to identify, adopt and embrace a messiah, Christianity was able to glorify theirs and is now awaiting his return. The messiah’s return, The Parousia, can now be considered as being the core or at least one of the core elements of Christian faith and veneration. To safeguard this mystery from human impostors the Christians then warned against the Anti-Christ that will appear, coincidentally, just around the same time the True Christ is to return. Now guess what? There have been a proliferation of so called anti-Christ over the years and still no sign of the True Christ. I think that this very safeguard can be dysfunctional to the Christian cause, since all this doctrine does is arouse skepticism and generate persecution. As a result, Christianity now seems to have monopolistic control on messianic orthodoxy, which might not be a healthy situation for religion and humanity as a whole. If the messiah is coming with the revelation of God in order to ‘save the world’, then it goes without saying that he should be free to choose the manner and place of his advent. As is written in the Book of Revelation, "You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and tongues and Kings." (Rev. 10:11)
However, this Christian model has become the standard for all messianic claimants in the Common Era. They were able to do this by reconstructing the image and at the same time fabricate an explanation that appeals to the mysterious ways of God.
The Unification Movement is a contemporary messianic movement that regards itself as being in line with the Judeo-Christian tradition. In other words, it believes that the God of the Old Testament and New Testament is the same, with Jesus being the link between the two traditions. Like the early Jesus movement unification Messianism was able to stay clear from popular imagery and all the concomitants that goes with prevailing messianic expectations. Therefore, what it did was to present a new Christology coupled with dynamic proselytizing.
According to the Unification perspective, the messiah comes to fulfill the purpose of God’s work of salvation, which became necessary as a result the fall. The Rev. Moon in a recent speech explained, that the basis for the coming of the Messiah is to reject the sinful lives of those with a fallen lineage and under the dominion of Satan. "The Messiah has his root in God, and comes as the second Adam, who wipes away all that was committed by the first Adam. This is the reason God cannot send a superman Messiah who will work only through miracles"("True Love and True Family", FFWPU 1997, p.10).
God’s original purpose of creation was the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Consequently, history is viewed as God’s restoration plan, which will culminate with the return of the messiah. ("Exposition of the Divine Principle" HAS-UWC 1996, p.111.) Thus this approach is eschatological like the other two traditions but it is not apocalyptic which is an element that later crept into Judaism and is very much apart of Christianity. The Divine Principle also contends that the historical Jesus will not be the person who will return at the Second Coming. So then, who will it be?
One of the most prevailing approaches to the study of Messianism is Max Weber’s treatment of charismatic leadership. The charismatic leader is characterized as having a special gift that attracts people to them. A list of such leaders always comprised the virtuous as well as the notorious; thus it isn’t uncommon to see Jesus positioned next to Hitler. From a social scientific point of view such a list does not pose a problem, but from the perspective of religion it’s blasphemy. What Weber posited is merely an "Ideal" typology, a mental construct that can serve as a tool to enable understanding of social phenomenon. The study of Messianism does fit nicely into Weber’s typology, but is it the appropriate paradigm for a religious/mythical phenomenon? This model along with the generalizations of Berger et-al illustrates that there is a growing effort to rationalize a mystery.
Contemporary Messianism has applied the term too loosely and thus includes too many groups. I am not being a typical bigot who is trying to shun other messianic groups. I am simply trying to argue that not every rebel who rode into Jerusalem shouting freedom should be considered as a messianic figure. Neither should a leader and his followers who fought against invading imperialist be labeled a messianic movement. Though the cause of such group is noble the vision is too narrow.
According to George John Hoynacki, "any expectation that the present order of the world will end and a new utopian life created is labeled milleniarist, and any appearance of a ‘savior’ figure within such movements designates them messianic." Hoynacki further explains that there are basically two type of messianic figures; "one type represent a social phenomenon in that human charismatic visionaries rise up from among the people and achieve some dimension of "divinity’ either by self proclamation or devotee acclamation… The other represents a spiritual phenomenon in that divine saviors will appear…"(George John Hoynacki, "Messianic Expectations in Non-Christian Religious Traditions" Asia Journal of Theology, October 1991, p.374.)
My problem here is that why can’t the charismatic visionary be at the same time a manifestation of the divine savior who will appear? In other words the elements seem to overlap.
Hoynacki has set up a duality that appears to be fairly reasonable, on one hand, there is the social fact and on the other hand there is divine intervention. In this case I don’t think I can choose one or the other, the characteristics of either structure is not as clear-cut as presented. So instead of a choice between two ideal types, I am confronted with a dilemma (paradox) that besieged me from the beginning: Mystery or Misunderstanding!
Towards a new Paradigm
Messianic figures especially the more successful ones, never claim to be relying on their charisma, instead they appeal to divine authority. What they offer is a theology which often serves as a new worldview, even though it may be a kind of revision of existing perspectives. It is in this new theological worldview that I suggest we explore in our quest for a new paradigm for understanding Messianism. (Please permit me to share a few casual observations.)
Judaism was able to develop and maintain a more ethical culture because of their messianic expectation (debatable but plausible). But that mysterious Hope has caused them to constantly adjust their moral and ethical mores. In the case of Christianity, which has spread literally to all corners of the world did so not because of Jesus’ superhuman nature but rather to his universal appeal, brotherhood and inclusiveness. There were messianic groups that preached violence and destruction and they were the ones that were destroyed, some even instigated their own death in order to self-fulfill their prophecy. The lesson from all this is that Messianism is part of the whole metaphysical-mythical milieu through which mankind receives revelation. A divine message through human agency.
The Unification Messianism has brought a new emphasis to the fore, True Parents. The True Parents are the symbolic representation of True Love, True Life and the True Lineage of God. And through the Blessing of new marriages that pass on a new lineage, the True Parents will be able to give salvation to all humanity. In other words the messiah will establish a True Family, thus creating the basis for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Not only God’s messenger stands in that position but it is also the universal call as well.
In conclusion, I would reiterate that Messianism need not be over simplified, (charismatic paradigm), neither should it be over mystified –superhuman manifestation. If this were to be done then the effect would be that the extremes at both poles would be eliminated. Consequently, the focus will thus fall on the analysis of how the messianic hope has been able to propelled mankind forward in the direction of moral, social and spiritual integration.
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