Keeping the End of Things in its Place – and a Little Bob Dylan


I started to entitle this, “Keeping Eschatology in its Place,” but then I remembered that I should eschew obfuscation. 🙂 But the doctrine of the Last Things, generally referred to as “Eschatology,” is deeply important for our lives as Christians – primarily because our faith is an eschatological faith. There it is in the Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead…” Like the incarnation, crucifixion, descent into Hades, etc., Christ’s second coming cannot be ignored without doing great damage to our faith. But not all eschatologies are equal.

In Orthodox terms, we believe that Christ will come again, but we also believe that He Who Is Coming, is already among us, and that any encounter with the Risen Christ (such as eating His Body and Blood) are eschatological encounters. When we celebrate the Liturgy, we believe it is a meal eaten in the Kingdom of God. The Risen Christ is made known to us in “Scripture and in the breaking of the bread.”

The behavior of Christians, the decisions and choices we make in obedience to the commandments of Christ, are eschatological acts: in loving our enemy we are acknowledging that Christ, the Lord of History, has already won the battle for us and that we are free to forgive. We do not have to be in charge of the outcome of history.

Thus in keeping the End of Things in its Place we should keep it both at the End of all things, and in the present. The Christian life should be lived always in view of the Coming Christ. “Behold the Bridegroom comes, and blessed is the one whom He finds watching.”

Not to start an argument about the nature of our nation (again), I believe it is fair to say that we have always had an eschatological view towards ourselves. Our culture has always seen itself as heading somewhere – greater freedom – greater democracy – greater equality, etc. We tend to use “change” as a positive political word. The songs of the American Civil War were quite eschatological: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” In many ways this is a good thing – we compare ourselves to something that is not yet fulfilled and we strive towards it.

There is another side to eschatology that I would cite: the cottage industry of predicting the second coming. Ever since John Nelson Darby became a major force in Christian thought (he is called the “Father of Dispensationalism”) increased speculation on the interpretation of Bible prophecy, particularly as it relates to the Second Coming of Christ, has been a hallmark of many Christian denominations. The best-selling novels of the “Left Behind” series are only the most recent examples of this strain of thought. This fascination with reading the signs has a great problem: it tends to leave the Last Things for the end of things. The great interest becomes in seeing the signs pointing towards the Second Coming, but leaves the present largely unaffected (accept where Dispensationalism has effected American foreign policy). It leaves the Church in the position of waiting, which is not quite the same thing as the Church being the place where the End intersects with the present. Something is lost.

Now for a quick confession. My reflections for this post came as I was riding along in my car listening to a Bob Dylan CD my youngest daughter had given me. (Aren’t teenagers wonderful!). I have written before about Dylan and the eschatological edge in his lyrics. The song that caught my attention was “When the Ship Comes In.” Like many of his songs, you could apply his lyrics to many situations – both present and those to come. But it may be a piece of American Eschatology at its best.  It certainly seems superior to trying to figure out what place the War in Iraq holds in Bible prophecy.

I apologize to those who are not fans of Bob Dylan and to those who may be too young to know who he is. But I offer these lyrics for your edification or enjoyment – indeed it’s almost Pascha-like in its imagery.

Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’.
Like the stillness in the wind
‘Fore the hurricane begins,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking.
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking.

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling.
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand,
The hour that the ship comes in.

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken.
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean.

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline.
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck,
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’.
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’.

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’.
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Then they’ll raise their hands,
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands,
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh’s tribe,
They’ll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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6 responses to “Keeping the End of Things in its Place – and a Little Bob Dylan”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    I will be in NY Sunday evening through part of Tuesday and may not be able to manage the site or post. I appreciate your prayers for my safe travel. Don’t want my ship to come in sooner than expected. 🙂

  2. Alyssa Avatar

    Does that mean you’re flying & not driving? 🙂 Will certainly be praying for you, Father!

  3. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Yep. Flying.

  4. Coroebus Avatar

    “…the tide will sound
    And the wind will pound
    And the morning will be breaking.

    “Oh the fishes will laugh
    As they swim out of the path
    And the seagulls they’ll be smiling.
    And the rocks on the sand
    Will proudly stand,
    The hour that the ship comes in.”

    To hear this snippet here:

  5. Jfred Avatar

    Fr. Stephen — have your listened to the last track (#10 I believe) on Modert Times called Keep Walking?

    There’s no lyrics included with the CD, but it sure sounds to me like he’s talking about Christ, at least in part. IMO, it is easily the best song on a very good album.

  6. BabyBlue Avatar

    Another one of Dylan’s ec is this one, When He Returns, written by Dylan in 79 and featured prominently on the Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan recently released on DVD and CD (excellent by the way). It was also on the CD Songs Inspired by the Passion put together by an unlikely duo – Mel Gibson and Bono.

    It’s quite an amazing song – really upset his fans at the time. But when you hear it sung by black Gospel singers, it carries a different view – one of justice (though Dylan could make the claim of knowing what it feels like to be a crucified prophet, a mantle he rejects but keeps getting placed on him, his crown of thorns you might say – and image he uses often even now).

    Of course, what people often fail to realize is the song is aimed – as so many of his most pointed songs are – at Dylan himself.

    Here it is:

    The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod,
    The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God.
    For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
    It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
    Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
    For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
    When He returns.

    Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through,
    He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew.
    How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
    How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
    Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
    Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
    Until He returns?

    Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask,
    He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask.
    How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
    How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
    Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned,
    He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
    When He returns.

    Bob Dylan 1979

    You can hear an excerpt here.


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