Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lenten Blog Post Series: "The Myth that God Tells Us Exactly When Jesus is Coming Back"

I had not arrived at an idea of something to add a spiritual practice for Lent--an idea that is increasingly more and more popular in the church, (until) this blog post series--something that I have not done since my "We Are Legion" week of blog posts nearly a year ago. One of the things that has become a great labor in my work (both with folks inside and outside of the church) is attempting to debunk some of the more harmful myths that exist about God and about the church. 

And so one of my Lenten practices, for this plus the following five weeks, is, in effect, asking for another fast for y'all--a fast from some of those hurtful myths that we tell ourselves (or allow other people to convince us of) about God. 

The week of March 9: The Myth that God Considers You Worthless
The week of March 16 The Myth that God Wants You to be Rich
The week of March 23: The Myth that God Wants the Poor to be Poor
The week of March 30: The Myth that God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
The week of April 6: The Myth that God Tells Us Exactly When Jesus is Coming Back
The week of April 13 (Holy Week): The Myth that God is Dead

This is an apropos entry for me to work on because we have just spent the past two weeks in the Tuesday morning Bible study that I teach going through the "little apocalypse" of Mark 13 (the "big apocalypse," of course, being Revelation).  Jesus ends this apocalyptic prophesy that reads an awful lot like the world ending by, in part, saying this: "I assure you that this generation won't pass away until all these things happen...but nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in haven and not the Son.  Only the Father knows. " (Mark 13:30, 32)

In other words: all these things Jesus describes (what we take to be the end of the world) will happen before everyone alive at the time has died.  But then He says that nobody knows when exactly that it will happen, not even Jesus Himself.

What on earth are we to make of this apparent (on its face, anyways) contradiction by the Messiah?

Well...first, there's the reality that Jesus admits He knows not the exact time and place, which might be reason enough.  Additionally, the "nobody knows when the day or hour comes" sentiment is repeated later in the New Testament by Peter (2 Peter 3:10--"The day of the Lord will come like a thief," ie, without us seeing it).  But there is also the possibility of the term "generation" being used metaphorically rather than literally by Jesus here--if a generation of believers, rather than strictly of blood kin, can last for centuries or millennia, who is to say that not all among this generation have passed away quite yet?

(It is worth noting as well that I am largely adhering to theological tradition in postulating that Jesus' second coming is a part of the end of time itself--in other words, that "the day of the Lord" also would at one point include, as John puts it in Revelation, the first earth and the first heaven passing away.)

Yet in spite of this uncertainty that is really quite plain in Mark 13, many preachers throughout history have been all too eager to capitalize on the cottage industry of trying to predict the end of the world, often for their own personal greed and gain.  I lived just north of Oakland in Berkeley during my time at seminary and was actually finishing up my degree when Oakland preacher Harold Camping infamously issued out his followers across the country to proclaim that the end would be happening in the spring of 2011 (and yet, here we are...three years later...imagine that).  There are the televangelists such as Jack Van Impe who have built entire empires off of predicting the end times.  There (were) and are sects/cults such as the Millerites and Branch Davidians who turned these predictions into something horrifically destructive.

And don't get me started on the kookyboots indulging of people who bought at all into the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012.  And I say this as a diehard fan of the X-Files television show, whose entire premise is based upon an alien invasion that was scheduled to take place at the end of the Mayan calendar.  Suffice it to say that ranks right up there with Y2K in the disasters-that-weren't category.

Nobody knows when the world we inhabit will end--at least, with any sort of precision.  Astronomy says that the earth will eventually be incinerated by the Sun as it turns into a red giant star, but we are a few billion years away from that eventual fate.  If anything, destruction is taking place not on God's timetable, but our own--we are plowing through the earth's resources at an incredible and irresponsible rate, despite God's command to Adam in Genesis 2 to keep the land (rather than, say, exploit it).

Put simply: are you worried about when or how God will end things?  You shouldn't be.  Are you worried about when or how we will?  We probably should, at least a little.  Worry about how you live your life here--and if it is life in love and faith in God and in Christ, and of concern for your childrens' and granchildrens' future, your own ultimate future will probably sort itself out.

That's as close as I'll probably ever get to predicting the future.  And, my childhood Magic 8 ball obsession aside, I'm rather okay with that.

Yours in Christ,

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