It came today–the email about how the world is ending on August 21st. I was wondering when I’d get that prophetic chain email and there was, just waiting for me in my inbox this morning. It was long and it involved a lot of different colored fonts and maps and apocryphal scripture quotes. And I did what I always do when I get these “doomsday” emails about how someone has “read the signs” and the end is imminent: I deleted it.
Is the world going to end? Yes. Eventually.
Is the sky going to come crashing down on us on August 21st? Almost certainly not. Though, I guess, anything is possible.
Do we need to be quaking in our boots in fear? I can’t speak for you, but I know that I don’t need to be afraid.
These sorts of messages are a classic example of a misdirection. While fear about the end coming keeps Christian’s eyes glued to the horizon, searching for “signs”, all sorts of evil continues to happen all around us, unobserved, and unhindered.
Any Christian who claims to have “read the signs” and have an idea when the end is coming is fooling themselves (at best) or using faith to fool others (at worst).
The notion that we are living in the “end times” is nothing new and it doesn’t take lots of colored fonts and maps and scripture quotes in bold to figure that out. All one needs to do is to look at Jesus’ first public sermon. Go to Luke 4 and read Jesus’ short message.
He had just returned from the wilderness where he had fasted and prayed for forty days and had a profound spiritual experience. He walks into the synagogue and takes his place to begin teaching. The scribe rushes up and hands him a scroll, which Jesus unrolls and reads:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good new to the poor, to proclaim release of prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then his famous sermon:
Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.
This was Jesus’ first public message and it consisted of ushering in the “year of the Lord’s favor” by proclaiming it has been fulfilled. In essence, Jesus was ushering in the “End Times” because the “year of the Lord’s favor” was understood as a prophetic declaration of a future time when God’s goodness would shine on God’s people and evil would be trampled under foot. Basically, Jesus told us then that we are living in the End Times and then set about living a life demonstrating what we should do in the face of that reality: Care for one another, heal the sick, lift up the broken, show grace and mercy, and love.
When John penned Revelation or the prophets shared their apocryphal messages, they weren’t trying to scare a world–these were people living in difficult times under extraordinarily bad circumstances. The apocryphal messages weren’t about striking fear into the hearts of God’s people or sending them into overdrive seeking proof of the pending doom.
Believe it or not, these messages were messages of hope for a people who were oppressed, suffering, and desperately seeking the presence of God. They weren’t puzzles or riddles which would contain the date and time of the “end” in their solution. These were stories of God’s ongoing presence even in a world which seemed unbearably evil. When they had no earthly hope, they had hope in God who would not only show favor to God’s people, but who would also wipe away the pain and tears and suffering… and who would bring an end to the evil which causes those things.
Revelation is a book of hope.
The apocryphal prophets of the Old Testament were people who found evidence of the presence of God in a world bent on destroying them.
When I don my solar glasses and watch the sun slowly extinguish (I’ll be in the path of totality, so I’ll be plunged into total darkness), I’ll be thinking about those Old Testament prophets. I’ll be thinking about the Revelation of John.
I’ll also be thinking about Good Friday, when the earth was plunged into darkness at the death of Christ.
And I’ll anxiously await the return of the sun–and I’ll ponder the “light which cannot be extinguished.”
I’ll think about the rainbow after the flood.
I’ll think about promise of the Kingdom of God and what it will be like dwelling in the presence of God for eternity… and about how John, in his revelation, tells us that in that place there won’t be a need for a sun because God will be the eternal light which drives out all darkness.
I’ll keep these things in my mind as I watch a phenomena which won’t happen again in my lifetime and when it has passes I will keep those revelations protected in my heart as I turn to face a world where, sadly, evil still exists. I won’t be staring at the horizon, or trying to find signs written in the stars. I will see the evil where it is. I will name it. And I will confront it. And when it feels like too much, I’ll draw on the lessons learned in those moments of total darkness, and I’ll find the hope of those ancient prophets, the hope of an exile 2000 years ago, the hope Jesus spoke to us the day he proclaimed to all who would hear that “these things have been fulfilled.”
And… on the off-chance the sky does fall, I’ll be ready. Because that’s what the urgency of all those writings is really about–not being able to read the signs, but being able to live every single day ready to stand in the presence of God.