There is a line in the book of Esdras in the Old Testament which says, “God has made not one world, but two.” This statement is enigmatic, but a little reflection reveals its deep truth.
There is the world around us, nature and society, the world with which we interact every day, and where we suffer trial and humiliation as well as success and achievement. This is the world everyone knows about, and where we measure the length and breadth of our days.
But there is also an inner world, a world of dream, desire and fantasy, where we interact not with natural forces but with spiritual beings. Most of the time we are too busy to pay attention to this world and its happenings, unless something major upsets the even tenor of our lives.
The passage from Luke describes what happens when there are major upsets: “Jerusalem encircled by armies”, “time of retribution”, “a great distress in the land and a terrible judgment upon the people”, “the roar and the surge of the sea”, “the celestial powers will be shaken”…
This passage is what is called ‘apocalyptic’ – it reveals the power of God acting through nature and warring nations, and changes entirely the world as we know it. The apocalypse brings about the destruction of the external world and all its institutions. It’s at a time like this that we turn inward. It’s at such a time that we see with the eyes of faith — “Then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory.”
The description of the coming of the Son of Man is metaphorical, of course. Which means that Jesus’s coming is grasped with the eyes of the spirit. “Hold your heads high,” Jesus tells his disciples, “because your liberation, your vindication is near.” There is a deep sense that in spite of the destruction around, God holds the world in his hands, and with our faith in God, we will overcome.
God has made not one world, but two. The inner world is the space where we hear God’s word and cherish it in our hearts. It is this world which lasts, as Jesus concludes his teaching: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”