Friday, May 06, 2011

Doomsday 101

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night ..." 2 Peter 3:9-10

Translation? There will be no announcements prior to the Lord's coming beyond what is already written in Holy Scripture; that is, unless you know a thief who announces his arrival prior to his arrival.

There is a group traveling the country by caravan proclaiming that the Rapture will occur on May 21 and that end of the world "as we know it" will be in October. The name of this group or the group's leader or founder is not important. It may not even be important that he made a similar prediction in '94 but was profoundly disappointed in '95. Ever the optimist, however, this gentleman later claimed he had simply made a mathematical error in his calculations. I don't know; maybe he forgot to carry the 1.

I must also say I will be attending a clergy meeting on May 21. It will be rather embarrassing, to say the least, if we are all still present after the meeting if this prediction comes true and if the Rapture will literally look like what is portrayed in the popular movie, "Left Behind".

I will not try to convince anyone that this man and his group are crazy - not at all. They appear to be perfectly sane and completely convinced of what they claim to know. And in a significant way they are not completely wrong. The world "as we know it" will come to an end; but how, when, and precisely what it will look like cannot be determined or concluded by the human mind. The Bible is filled with images, confusing images that lead to the "Day of the Lord" but I think these images - if divinely inspired - are meant to be as incomprehensible as the very image of YHWH Himself. There absolutely is a message in these images; I'm just not convinced that humans are to be trusted with literal translations of these images strictly on human terms.

I am also not convinced that the essence of the Christian faith should be focused on how it will all end or how we will all "die". I think the whole purpose of Jesus' ministry on this earth was to show us how we should live so that when that times comes we will not have to worry about it because we will have lived according to what was taught us by Christ Himself. Who is hungry? Feed them. Who is thirsty? Give them a drink. Who is lonely? Visit with them. Who is sick? Pray for and with them. Who is in prison? Give them a reason to have hope. Do for others as you would have them do for you. Give until there is nothing left to give, and then give some more. This is faith in action. This is the essence of Christ and the Covenant. This is righteousness. This is witness to the goodness of the Lord and His desire that "all should come to repentance".

This group claims there is nothing to fear in what they say, that it is an occasion for rejoicing. Indeed. However, try explaining to a young child that her mother may no longer be with her come May 21. Try telling the child that she will be taken to a "better place" and that mom may not be able to go. I recall hearing similar messages as a child when I visited local Protestant churches with childhood friends (our priests did not harp on "end times" theology but on "here and now" theological practices), and I recall thinking this "promise" of Rapture did not sound so great to my juvenile mind though I never felt compelled to run to the preacher so he could "save" me (to which my Protestant friends would say, "So you're not saved, huh?").

There are, of course, "signs" spoken of throughout Scripture. Jesus speaks of "wars and rumors of wars", but human history is filled with actual wars. There are earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, and other natural disasters that have also occurred throughout human history. There are many whose "known world" came to a violent end as a result of these acts of humanity and forces of nature. When the entire world was at war, the "end" certainly seemed imminent, and for millions it was. Yet what was left of humanity rebuilt from those ashes of despair and utter destruction.

None of this is to say that the "end" will not come nor do I suggest the "end" is not immediately upon us, but this is exactly the point. The Lord Himself very pointedly tells us that it is not for us to know because this is not our task, our mission, our ministry to our neighbors and to the world. We were not commissioned to proclaim an "or else" theology of threats and intimidation. We were taught - and have often failed at - a theology of redemption and grace. We were offered an image of a benevolent and loving Holy Father who forgives, who heals and restores. Jesus did not teach us about an angry God who looks forward to the day when He can spiritual smack us around. Rather we were taught that He is the God who seeks to be reconciled with His beloved, His creation by faith, by trusting Him rather than by trying to figure Him out.

Do not be dismayed by the teachings of doomsday prophets, and do not be deceived by false prophets who make such messianic claims of having figured out "secret" biblical codes. These come dangerously close to claiming to have figured out the very mind of YHWH Himself. This is blasphemy in and of itself and is not worthy of our time and attention except to warn those who will listen that Jesus also taught us that such people would make these claims throughout the generations.

Have peace and peace of mind. Get to know the Lord of the Scriptures. Do not read too literally, but contemplate prayerfully. And let God be God.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Very well said! I'm with you there. Still, I'm glad that once in a while some "predition" shows up just to remind me to stay close to God.