I was recently confronted with a new word to describe the ethic that Christians are supposed to live; Christians should live a proleptic ethic. Prolepsis is the assigning of a person, event, or situation to a period earlier than the actual one, or the representation of something in the future as if it already existed or had occurred. In other words, it is being so sure of a future outcome that one acts today as if it has already happened. For instance, in the weeks leading up to my wedding I started making plans for my life based on the assumption that I was already married. Our wedding was still weeks away but we were buying furniture and organizing budgets as if it was already reality. We were so sure that we would be married that we were living now as if it was a reality. It was a proleptic way to live.
In scripture Paul talks about two different ages or Aeons. He speaks of this present aeon which is defined by sin and destruction and death, and he also speaks about the coming aeon in which God’s Kingdom will rule and sin and death will be done away with. When discussing a present age and a coming age we typically think of them as two different time periods; the present age will pass away and then the future age will come. However, that view is not necessarily biblical. The Bible paints the picture of the coming age breaking in. Jesus says, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Jesus does not say that it’s coming sometime many centuries in the future, but that it is at hand, it is near, it is in your midst. With the coming of Jesus the future aeon has broken into the present. Sin and death are still apart of this age, of this present world. But this age is passing away, it will not last forever. However, the coming age has broken in, the Kingdom of God has broken in. And while the coming age has not triumphed completely yet, it will. And while the Kingdom of God is not here in its fullest yet, it will be. In fact, the reality of the reign and rule of God is so sure we can speak of it now as if it has already happened. The reign of the Kingdom of God is such a reality that we can live now as if it already is.
Thus our call as Christians is to live a proleptic ethic. It is to live now as if the future reality has already taken place. It is to witness now to the coming reign and rule of God because that reign and rule of God are so sure to come that we can live in the reality now. We can live the future now.
For instance, in the Kingdom there will be no hunger, so we work now for a world in which all people have food and as Christians we don’t horde resources for ourselves but we freely share with others.
In the Kingdom there will be no sick, so we work in the health care industry to try to heal diseases not because we think we can heal them all but as a sign of the coming Kingdom of God where there will be no sickness.
In the Kingdom there will be no war, so as Christians we spend our energy to find non-violent ways to reconcile disagreements between individuals and nations. We choose to abstain from war and violence not because we think that our abstention will somehow end all war but as a sign that the future reality is present now.
In the Kingdom there will be no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female so we work towards a world of equality now where cultural, economic, and gender barriers are broken down now as a sign of the coming Kingdom.
As Christians we are called to live a proleptic ethic, to live as if the future reign of God is such a reality that we live in it now as if it already has happened. And by doing so we become witnesses to the world of the way life should be lived.
Editor’s Note: I am indebted to a friend and professor, Lee Camp, for introducing me to the idea of a proleptic ethic.