by Eric Watkins
There are countless places in the Bible that will comfort Christians in their trials or encourage them in their obedience through reflection on the things that are to come. Perhaps it is too common (and unhelpful) to reduce these things, the study of which is called eschatology, to “that hard-to-understand stuff at the end of the Bible.” Rather, I would like to suggest that eschatology is not simply that with which the Bible ends; it is also that with which the Bible begins, and that knowing our eschatology is extremely comforting.
Let us begin with Eve. Among the women we honor in the Bible, Eve is not considered often enough, either for the weight of her afflictions or for the means by which God comforts her. Eve’s story is one of the most broken stories in the Bible. She comes into the world in innocence. Lovely and loveable, she is formed to bless and please the man from whose side she was taken. Yet she is left physically and spiritually unprotected in the garden by her husband, who then blames her for his faults. She experiences the most violent rupture of human history—the fall. Having once basked in the light of innocence, she now withdraws into the darkness of sin, shame, and loneliness. Eve is the beginning of a long line of broken-hearted women.
In the midst of this, God promises a climactic redemption. He promises that she will bear children, and that from her will come a son who will consummately destroy that dreaded, deceptive serpent (Gen. 3:15). This son will obey all that was disobeyed. This son will succeed where Eve’s husband failed, and will once and for all remove her earthly garments of shame and replace them with heavenly garments of righteousness (see v. 21 for the preview). Eve looks forward to a climactic event of rescue, redemption, and reconciliation. She then conceives children in hope. What went through her mind as she bore Cain in her womb and bore hope in her heart?
Eve bears two sons, but neither is the son she was promised. In fact, one will kill the other. What woman could endure this? A failed husband, her own failures, and now in the dawning hours of hope, her older son murders the younger, and thereby prolongs her darkness. The enmity begins—two kingdoms, two cities, and the first visible death. Both in her lifetime, both from her womb. Is it too much to call Eve the mother of the broken-hearted?
What could possibly comfort her and reunite her with her younger son? What could reverse the curse upon her family? What could turn these long nights of sadness into an eternal day of gladness? And for Eve’s daughters and sons, what can truly comfort us when the dearest of things in this life are taken? When the sufferings of life seem to be more than we can endure? When this world, or our family, or perhaps even our spiritual family hurts us with wounds too deep for words?
It is here that we must admit that trite clichés of good intentions barely comfort us at all. Some wounds are simply too deep for earthly consolation. We must, by faith, join Eve and the choir of the broken-hearted, who often sing their songs of praise through a veil of tears. We must learn, with Eve, to long for the coming Son who is better than Adam and Abel, and to rest in His word of promise. He has come and is yet coming again, and through His Spirit we are assured of our eternal consolation.
But we must remember that even when He came into this world, it offered Him no bed of roses but rather a crown of thorns, and that we bear our crosses united to Him in a bond that cannot be broken. We must learn to find our truest comfort in the same place Christ did—in heaven.
I do not mean to commend an ungodly stoicism, disinterest in this life, or even pessimism. But I have learned after pastoring people for twelve years that in this life, some things do not just “get better.” And people do not always just “get over it.” Wounds heal, but scars remain. Eve saw flowers and rainbows and even had other children, but she would never forget what she lost in this age or what she awaited in the age to come.
As Paul so pastorally says to us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). Our cry, “How long, O Lord?” will indeed be answered on that climactic day that God has appointed for the eternal consolation of His sons and daughters. The Bible (from beginning to end) is fixed on the coming of our King and His kingdom.
What could truly comfort Eve—and us? In a profound sense, the answer is eschatology. It is the consummate coming of Christ and His glorious kingdom, and the foretaste of that kingdom that we have now through His Word and Spirit. That is eschatology—and there is nothing more comforting than that.