Before reading this post, there are a few key theological concepts to understand in order to follow the post well. They’re simple, but important, so if you don’t recognize them definitionally, click on the link and scan the information.
Today is December 21, 2012. If you’re reading this blog and the continent of Australia is still around, then it’s not the end of the world. Sorry to disappoint.
I can’t stand predictions about the end of the world. Every time a Christian says to me that he/she is just so sure the return of Jesus is near because of all the world events falling into place, I want to preach a two hour sermon to them.
On top of that is all this Mayan calendar business. I feel bad for the Mayans who were just creating a calendar in order to, I’m sure, stay organized and connected. How could a Mayan wife tell her Mayan husband to be sure to pick up the kids from school next Friday if next Friday didn’t systematically exist? I bet the Mayans invented their calendar just to keep some harmony in their marriages. That being the case, this calendar (one of many they employed) had to stop somewhere. Given the brutality of theirs and their surrounding cultures, I think they were positive there was no way humanity could make it to December 21, 2012. So they just stopped at a time really far out there. But they weren’t predicting the end of the world. In fact, the Ancient Mayans predicted that the world would not end on December 21, 2012.
My friend posted on the Book of Face a t-shirt that read: “Keep Calm…and remember that if Mayans could predict the future, there would still be Mayans.” Good point.
We humans are fascinated with the end of the world. The concept of the end of all things has a certain ring to it that keeps us coming back for more…like a drug almost. But if you ask me, I think our fascination with stupendous finalities is simply an attempt to escape the pain of our present.
Growing up as a kid in the Christian Fundamentalist subculture of the 80s and 90s, I was immersed in the wake of what had been a massive emphasis on eschatology (the Christian doctrine of the end times) through the 50s, 60s and 70s. I think the fascination at that time about the end of the world was very understandable.
The previous two world wars — contained in a space of just three decades — had wreaked havoc on the human condition around the world. Trench warfare, mechanized combat, machine guns, airplanes, chemical weapons, genocide, battleships, prisoner of war camps, kamikazes, the Holocaust…all culminating in 1945, when America dropped two atom bombs on Japan, and with that decision came the fullest declaration of humanity’s ability to destroy itself. In between these two wars, America experienced two of its darkest periods: Prohibition and the Great Depression. The amount of confusion, upheaval, grief, loss and havoc is beyond imagining. I think that for centuries, the world will continue to be formed by the events of 1914-1945.
Caught in this fray was the American Church, paralyzed like everyone else by these unprecedented shifts and historic happenings. If the end of the world was ever at hand, it was at this point. Hitler was the closest thing to a Christian dispensational concept of the Antichrist since Innocent III, and in 1948, Israel reclaimed its homeland. Of course, the Day of the Lord must have been at hand.
Into this time of deep uncertainty stepped a handful of very conservative Christian leaders: John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Cyrus Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Hal Lindsey, and Roy Zuck. These men crafted a dispensational view of eschatology that is a linearly strict interpretation of the Scriptures — particularly the books of Daniel and Revelation — using the metaphors, allegories and pictures therein as proofs of their own constricted and narrow views of history and then generously applying those interpretations to the present day times in which they were ministering…the 50s, 60s and 70s.
While making some interesting points and hitting upon some possible historic parallels, this eschatological movement is a primer of how not to do hermeneutics; prooftexting and literary projection at its worst. The crowning achievement of this poor hermeneutic was the invention of the Rapture, a word not even mentioned in Scripture. But I digress.
Like I said, though, in the wake of these two world wars and in experiencing the tensions of the Cold War, I can understand why they went where they did. Things were bad. But it produced a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea of what it meant to be a Christian. This massive focus on prophecy and a strictly dispensational approach to the future — directly and indirectly — told Christians, “Hunker down, stay holy and don’t let the world get to you. Jesus will rapture His church soon and then you can get away from this world. All the horrible sin, sinners and suffering that you have to put up with in this world will get what they deserve and after seven years of a just Tribulation against them, you’ll even be able to come back with Jesus and help Him with His vengeance upon the whole world.” If you’re not from this theological line of faith, I’m not joking; this is how it was.
The focus created was: this world sucks and salvation means we get to get out of here. So the whole focus becomes about a time that we are not actually in, a time of escape and leaving, for which we should all get ready. Evangelism became about saving people from this terrible world that they might have hope around their ability to one day get out of here.
The words of Jesus are very clear:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.
But I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”
Abundant life through Jesus is a present concept, not a future one, but this does not matter to us humans. It is much better for us to focus on the fantastical concepts of the end of the world than the miseries of the present.
One week ago today, twenty children and six educators were gunned down in an act of senseless brutality. It is something simultaneously unspeakable and non-ignorable. I agree with the Mayans; if, as 21st century Americans, the end of the world were ever upon us, it is December 2012. In light of this, I can understand the desire to escape our present. The problem is, the present is what we have. The past is behind us and the future is unsure. We have the now, and the now is broken and dark, desperately in need of the healing and light of Jesus.
God is Immanuel. He is with us. He was with us, and He will be with us, but right now, He is with us. He is in Newtown, Connecticut, at every funeral, with every agonizing family member and friend. Present, aware, sustaining, sufficient…He is. He is grieving with those who grieve, hurting with those who hurt, comforting those who mourn, foaming-at-the-mouth angry at injustice, declaring His restoration and hope through His Son. God is with us…all of us. In the deep questions and hopeless pain, the sickness and disease of our bodies and souls, He is there. This is all present tense stuff. And He calls His people to be actively with Him, which means we are actively with one another…in the now. This world is not something to be escaped; it is to be embraced, enjoyed, and redeemed, because our God is a God who is. He entered the mess, the brokenness, the destruction of it all and forever defeated that which would destroy, rob and kill us. There is no prophecy yet to be fulfilled that can erase or increase this fact: Jesus is the Victor.
The end of all things is not the destruction of the world; it is the creation a new one. The end of all things is not judgement; it is rest. And that is something God invites us to in the now. Hear again the words of Jesus as He calls to you:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”