Already Not Yet

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Luke 6:21)

There are two words in New Testament Greek commonly translated “blessed”: the first, eulogeo, refers to having received another’s blessing; the other, makarios, means to be happy or to consider oneself fortunate. Of course the two ideas can be interrelated: someone who has received another’s blessing might well be made happy thereby. In this passage from Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain the word for blessed is makarios: happy are you hungry ones, you weepers; consider yourselves fortunate. Even though you hunger now, you weep now, you are also to regard yourselves as fortunate, as happy. Why? Not because of your current situation, as if hunger and weeping are masochistic sources of joy in and of themselves. You can be happy now because you will be satisfied, will laugh. It might not happen until the end of the world but, inevitably and assuredly, it will happen.

Jesus enjoins his listeners to occupy their present miserable state as if they’re already living in a future state of plenty and jubilation. And why? Presumably because that future blessed state of affairs is so certain it’s as if it’s already present. And why is future blessedness so fully assured? Because it’s been promised by God. Those hungry weepers can consider themselves blessed, makarios, now because they have been blessed — have received God’s blessing, his eulogeo— in the past. God blessed man and woman at the creation in Genesis 1; he blessed Abraham the patriarch of Israel in Genesis 12; he blessed the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy 28; he blessed David the king of Israel in 2 Samuel 7; now in Jesus’s prophetic words he has blessed the remnant of Israel.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20b)

Jesus’s issues a counteractual injunction to his listeners: Be happy now, in your present miserable state, because you presently occupy a kingdom of God that’s superimposed over all temporary regimes and circumstances. As residents of this kingdom you can count yourselves as blessed because you will be satisfied and elated in the future, because that glorious future was promised to you in the past. This is the “already not yet” ecology of the kingdom of God as taught by Jesus and his disciples. In that kingdom the present isn’t an instantaneous and transient now, a being in the moment; it’s a continuous interval that reaches back to the beginning of time and forward to the end of time.


6 thoughts on “Already Not Yet

  1. Nietzsche considered this sort of thing to be a con, a ruse. Christianity, he argued, kept slaves happy, sort of a Marxian opiate: if there’s glory to come then maybe the shit head master of the domain could be tolerated.

    So for that reason, I’m a little hesitant to go down the already-not-yet road. I prefer the concept of a slave revolt to passive acceptance of lower class suppression and exploitation. Even so, I don’t know that I yet have an interpretation that could hold exegetical water.

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  2. Even if Jesus was leading a slave revolt, he’s asserting in the Lucan beatitudes that the revolt will surely succeed. In that day the hungry will be satisfied, those who weep will laugh, therefore, in light of the certainty of victory, let’s start the celebration: count yourself as fortunate now, be happy now. Likewise with the series of woes that follows the beatitudes in Luke. Woe is nearly a transliteration of the Greek ouai, which is an onomatopoeia, the sound of howling. Howl in pain and sorrow, you wealthy, you well-fed, you laughers, for in the future you will surely be brought low. Whether the inevitability is through the irresistible force of God or of men, the future overthrow is assured, as good as having already happened, and so the future blurs into the present.

    This overlap of the actual here with the non-actual past and future is of interest to me as a fictionalist. The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet: aren’t the past and future fictional states? Humans seem to occupy those fictional states in their imaginations, interweaving them with the present in order to come up with memories and promises, with intentions and plans. But maybe, in separating off the present from that which comes before and after, an artificial temporal distinction is being made in the continuum of time. Is the idea of the present moment a fiction, and what’s real is the temporal continuum, the interconnectedness of present with past and future? Jesus would seem to suggest as much in his sermon.

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    1. Excellent. I dig it.

      And yes, Jesus seems to be operating on that basis: create a fictional reality and actualize it as an inevitable reality.

      I’m not sure if we’ve had many discussions of Harari on this count, but one thing that intrigued me about his Sapiens book was Harari’s premise that the big cognitive difference for humankind (from other animals) was our ability to create fictions. He describes this as a “cognitive revolution” (a phrase borrowed). Fictions includes things religion, money/currency, nation-states, or ideologies (of all shapes and sizes). Fictions have enabled humankind to cooperate en mass, says Harari. Prior to the cognitive revolution we could only cooperate on a small scale, in tribal groups that typically numbered less than a hundred. Sharing a belief in a common fiction allowed us to cooperate on a scale wherein the sky is the limit.

      I can’t remember if we’ve discussed this. I blogged just a bit about it, here:

      And of course I’ve shared snippets of Harari here and there, but he’s basically honing in on the same thing you’ve been talking about for years, in terms of literature and writing, though Harari’s concern is for a greater anthropological/historical analysis. Really it’s sort of like he’s doing a meta-analysis of the way we use meta-analyses, if that makes any sense. In any event, the idea of fiction-making is central to Harari’s project.

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  3. I just came across Marx’s preface to The German Ideology:

    Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against the rule of thoughts. Let us teach men, says one, to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says the second, to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, to knock them out of their heads; and — existing reality will collapse.

    These innocent and childlike fancies are the kernel of the modern Young-Hegelian philosophy, which not only is received by the German public with horror and awe, but is announced by our philosophic heroes with the solemn consciousness of its cataclysmic dangerousness and criminal ruthlessness. The first volume of the present publication has the aim of uncloaking these sheep, who take themselves and are taken for wolves; of showing how their bleating merely imitates in a philosophic form the conceptions of the German middle class; how the boasting of these philosophic commentators only mirrors the wretchedness of the real conditions in Germany. It is its aim to debunk and discredit the philosophic struggle with the shadows of reality, which appeals to the dreamy and muddled German nation.

    Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose harmful results all statistics brought him new and manifold evidence. This valiant fellow was the type of the new revolutionary philosophers in Germany.


    1. Marx presents himself as a materialist here: ideologies have no power so they needn’t be countered; only the existing conditions on the ground need to be addressed. No doubt ideologies are to a considerable extent stories people tell each other after the fact to justify their actions and their positions in the social order. But Marx certainly acknowledges that human fictions interact with matter to create real effects in the world. Money is a prime example. And the stock market: Marx called stocks “fictitious capital.” From the Wiki entry:

      The market value of fictitious capital assets (such as stocks and securities) varies according to the expected return or yield of those assets in the future, which Marx felt was only indirectly related to the growth of real production. Effectively, fictitious capital represents “accumulated claims, legal titles, to future production” and more specifically claims to the income generated by that production.

      In Jesus’s beatitudes in Luke, future success, which hasn’t happened yet, is so certain that it produces rejoicing in the here and now. Similarly in fictional capital, future earnings, which don’t exist yet, are deemed so certain that they have financial value in the present.

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