“Sustainability”: an eschatological opportunity

 In her 1987 report Our Common Future, Gro Harlem Brundtland defined sustainable development as “… development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This capacity to think “into of the future” opens up interesting theological perspectives. Indeed, (liberation) theologians are used to reflect out of the past – narratively linking up to their traditions – and in the present – taking into account the challenges of today’s real world. A hermeneutical circle is then enacted between tradition (interpretation frames) and lived reality. The expression “sustainability” as used by G.H. Brundtland, in which future generations are taken into account to reflect on the present and to design attitudes and actions in the present, connects with the eschatological features of hope and vision. By imagining a dignified and worthwhile world for future generations and by allowing this imagination to act as a pro-active vision in the present, we shape our world today. The memories enshrined in traditions help to imagine the future out of a promise that may very well run counter to current despair and anguish. Brundtland’s understanding of “sustainability”, therefore, offers a very practical (and secular) insight into the meanings and dealings of eschatological approaches in theology.

Such time perspectives have already been emphasized in conflict transformation approaches. John Paul Lederach, for example, in several of his works shows how views on conflict transformation and peace building profit from reading the past, keeping one’s feet in the present, and envisioning or imagining the future.


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