Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wine that gladdens the heart of man

Over the past month or so, the prophets' and psalmists' vivid descriptions of the fruits of God's realized kingdom have been standing out from my reading of the Old Testament. The Turkish word bereket -- abundance, plenitude, cornucopia, fecundity -- sums it up well. In the execution of his gracious reign God promises refreshing, life-giving rainshowers, fields golden with wheat, jars filled with wine to gladden people's hearts, trees whose limbs are bowed low with the weight of their fruits, tables spread with the choicest of foods. Particularly Psalms 84 and 104, Isaiah 25, 26, 41, 65, and Joel 2 and 3 have pointed me toward this.

"In that day the mountains will drip new wine,
and the hills will flow with milk;
all the ravines of Judah will run with water.
A fountain will flow out of the LORD's house
and will water the valley of acacias [a tree common to dry, arid climes]."
(Joel 3:18 NIV; see also 2:21-27)

Some may say that these are merely poetic images that serve to point us to some sort of spiritual reality beyond this creation. But when Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, he meant exactly that. "Bodily life is not disdainful," writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Precisely for its sake God has given us his fellowship in Jesus Christ, so that we can live by him in this life and then also, of course, in the life to come" (Psalms, p. 44). We can and ought to pray for such things insofar as they turn us toward the Giver in dependence and gratitude.

But here's the tricky thing: this bereket belongs to the eschatological age of kingdom of God. On one hand, the kingdom in a present reality in which we live, as attested to St. Peter's use of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2 -- meaning that all these blessings are, in a way, our possession right now as firstfruits of the coming harvest. But that's just it: the full harvest has yet to come in. There is a way this will only be realized in the "new heavens and a new earth" for which we are still waiting (Isa. 65:17; 2 Pet. 3:11-13; Rev. 21:1; cf. Isa. 25:7-8).

So in what ways can we -- you, me, and anyone else belonging to God's redeemed -- expect, hope in, and pray for these type of rich bereket blessings in this earthly life? I surely do not want to expect less from our generous Lord than he wishes to provide, but at the same time I know that this world is fallen and we must live in the shadow of the Cross, passing through death into resurrection. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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