The End of the World Was Near!
Last night after tweeting a sarcastic comment about the end of the world according to Harold Camping being today, I got a response asking me what I thought about it. Specifically, other than rejecting the certainty of Camping’s date, do I think that it will happen generally like he says? Before I try to tackle too much of this topic, I offer the caution that I haven’t really studied this area in much depth. Simply put, I actually don’t care all that much beyond being able to trust that God knows what she’s doing. Even my Intro Systematics course barely touched on this because one of our lectures got cancelled and that was the area we felt most comfortable setting aside. I have read most of the Bible at some point (other than some of the wisdom literature), so I can discuss my impressions on the grand scale but maybe not so well in the fine details.
Knowing the Precise Date
This is the obvious point of disagreement that almost all Christians can say. It is repeatedly stated throughout Scripture that we don’t know when “it” (whatever the “it” is) will happen. Even that minority of Christians who do think that you might be able to get a precise date based on the Bible reject today’s date because there are some seriously illogical uses of arbitrary Scripture texts to make it work. I’m not sure exactly how Camping got this date, but I know it’s supposed to be 7000 years after Noah’s flood. How did he get that number? No idea. How did he figure out the exact date of Noah’s flood, even assuming that it literally happened? No idea. I talked about an important point on my post called The Tale of Harold Camping, Judgement Day Prophet: he is trained as an engineer, no formal theological or biblical studies training, no Hebrew or Greek, and did not even study in a church. He came up with it all on his own based on some very skewed interpretations, some literal as it suited him even if it was a poetic form and others as symbolic even when it was a literal form (such as the repeated texts that we can’t know the date).
Knowing Who’s In and Who’s Out
I think I’ve said this before when discussing the Rob Bell Love Wins controversy. One of my classmates recently in casual discussion pointed out that nobody ever predicts the Rapture and says that they’ll be left behind. This framework is fundamentally one of being able to say that their group is better than everybody who isn’t in their group. So the next problem I have with the framework like that of Camping is that he can proclaim who is going to Heaven and who is left behind to suffer until the end of the world. Scripture is fairly clear that we don’t really know: Jesus rejects a lot of the religious leaders who believed the right things and carried out the right rituals, and accepted the worst of the worst of society. Some of his parables similarly say that people will be surprised on both sides, some learning that they haven’t really been following God when they thought they were and others learning that they were when they didn’t realize it.
Destruction of This World
This may be my biggest problem of all with the “end of the world” framework. I would argue that there is little or nothing biblically to justify a belief that God will destroy this world. The consistent paradigm of the Bible is that God is going to restore the world, not destroy it. God made the world and said that it was very good. Even after The Fall God didn’t take that back. So did God make a mistake the first time and has to start all over? But lots of other passages also talk about the Kingdom on Earth, not the Kingdom floating around as spirits somewhere else.
This flows from the previous one. If God is going to destroy this world, then nothing else matters except believing the right thing so that you can get away before the world is destroyed. I believe this is a fundamentally un-Christian attitude. It suits Buddhism far better, or Gnosticism. At the core of the Christian message is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God became human and suffered an unjust torture and death before conquering that with a physical resurrection. Fundamentally the story of the Bible is radically incarnational, the opposite of escapist. He could have avoided this evil world, but he didn’t, so maybe avoiding contact with the evil of the world isn’t the ultimate goal as Rapture theology promotes? I think that God just pulling us away from everything one day would be completely counter to everything else he’s done in history.
The Nature of the Kingdom of God
What is the Kingdom of God? The framework of Rapture and destruction relies upon a very earthly concept of kingdom. Enemies are destroyed. It is instant and brutal. God is angry and violent, doling out retributive justice in his wrath. I think this is fundamentally the type of kingdom promoted by Satan, not God. The Kingdom Jesus proclaimed loves his enemies. It is nonviolent. It seeks restorative justice, healing both the victim and the oppressor. When Christians say that God’s Kingdom will violently obliterate all enemies, I think they are working against the Kingdom of God and are making the same mistake about the type of Messiah that Jesus was as the Jewish religious leaders of his day did. I believe God instead wants a free Kingdom where we choose the radically loving life he calls us to, not a forced Kingdom because he has obliterated every other option.
Furthermore, is the Kingdom something that happens suddenly in the future? Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, very slowly growing into a huge tree. He also constantly proclaimed its immanence. So has the Kingdom of God already started? I believe that the reign of God is already evident in the world, even if it isn’t complete yet. In the past week, I have even been toying with the idea that perhaps “the return of Jesus” simply meant the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and with the Holy Spirit’s power through individuals and through the church, we work at bringing the Kingdom of God into being.
Maybe we don’t need to sit around waiting and hoping to escape this world. Maybe we don’t need to call on God to destroy our enemies, and maybe we shouldn’t go ahead and try to destroy them ourselves. Maybe Jesus is already with us and calling us to better than that, right now, on this earth. Maybe we should stop caring so much about what heaven and hell will look like when we’re dead and instead bring about heaven all around us while we’re alive.