I don’t know about you, but I get a little weary of all the Chicken Little theology I hear people spouting these days. Lots and lots of folks are just convinced that we’re positively living in the End Times, and they appear to be bent on stirring up as much panic as possible…and it seems to me they’re mostly doing it so they can sell their books or videos or egos or whatever they’re hawking. And people are buying it! To be honest, it’s starting to tick me off.
Now, I certainly can’t claim any inside knowledge here. Maybe we are living in the End Times. Certainly we are seeing a lot of the kinds of things happening that Jesus describes as precursors to his return. But is our generation any different than the hundreds of generations preceeding us? Hasn’t pretty much every generation since Christ’s time on earth seen wars, earthquakes, brothers turning against brothers, etc., etc., etc…all those things he lays out as signs that the end of the age is coming? So why is it that folks living today think they’re right where their predecessors were wrong? Don’t you suppose the generations before us thought the same thing? What gives us so much more insight than our ancestors had?
Certainly, we have to be getting closer to the Second Coming every day. That is the nature of time. (Of course, we have to remember that time is, well, temporal. God isn’t constrained by the ticking of the clock or the turning of calendar pages or the entries in our palm pilots. I mean, he created time. So he can pretty much do with it what he wants. But that’s a topic for another blog.) So I suppose we do have to assume that our generation is closer to that day than previous generations were. But they didn’t know that….I mean, lots of them assumed that our generation wouldn’t even exist. But I digress…
What brings me to this particular rant is reading from Mark’s gospel this morning. I like the kind of journalistic style Mark uses in reporting the life of Jesus. It’s very much a “who, what, when, where, why” type of format. Mark lays out the End Times scenario in Chapter 13. It really doesn’t tell the story any differently than Matthew 24 or Luke 21, but somehow this morning it caught my attention in a new way (isn’t it cool how the Bible does that?). So I went back and cross-referenced those other Gospel stories about the “end of the age,” and the conclusion I’ve come to is that every generation since Jesus’ resurrection has been living in the End Times. All of us! The point of these stories is not to give us special insight as to when the last day will come, but to live in preparation for that day, whether you’re living in 1st Century Jerusalem or 21st Century America, or a 53rd Century Moon colony.
The “signs” people keep pointing to as sure indication that the end is imminent seem to me likely to be, as Mark says in 13:8, “the beginning of birth pains.” Our problem is, we expect those things to come to fulfillment quickly, like every plot line of every 30-minute sitcom we’ve ever seen. When we experience birth pains today, we expect the baby to come tonight, or tomorrow at the latest. God’s a little more patient than that. He even warns us that “false prophets” will try to convince us that the time has come. In essence, in Mark 13:21-22, he tells us that folks are going to run around yelling, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Quick, Ducky Lucky, we must go and tell the King!” He also tells us, in essence, “Don’t you believe it!” Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message says, “…don’t fall for it. Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere. Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better. So watch out. I’ve given you fair warning.”
I like that… “I’ve given you fair warning.” What it seems to me Jesus is saying is, “Trust me. If you’re living in faith like I’ve told you to live, everything will work out just fine.” Heck, Jesus tells us that even HE doesn’t know when the day and hour will come. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32). Which tells me that anyone claming to know that he’s living in the End Times is, by definition, a “false prophet.”
I’d even go so far as to say that our preoccupation with “knowing” when the end is coming demonstrates an utter lack of the kind of faith God demands of us. What he’s saying in these Gospel stories is to be prepared, for the time may come at any instant, but to trust that God will do it in his time and not to synch up with our day planners, and that if you’re following the directions he gave you, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
I’m not saying it’s not OK to think the end is near. Heck, you could be right! I’m just wondering, why all the panic? I mean, if you’re living in preparation for the end the way Jesus tells us to, what’s the big deal? Sure, it’s clearly going to suck when it happens, but there’s nothing we can do about it other than be ready for it. The only reason I can see for panic is if you’re not really prepared for the end to come. And about the only reason I can see for stirring up panic about it is to somehow profit for yourself.
Here’s what I think the bottom line is: The “signs” that every generation for 2000 years has pointed to as sure evidence that the End is imminent, are necessary to our faith. Think about that for a second. If it weren’t for wars, famines, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, false prophets, etc., etc., we’d get pretty complacent pretty quickly, wouldn’t we? The lack of any signs of the “beginning of birth pains” would lead us to believe that we can just do pretty much whatever we want, because we know the end’s not coming, because we’re not seeing any of the signs Jesus promised us. I’m not saying that God makes those things happen, but that he lets them happen because it helps keep us on our toes. It’s just another one of those amazing ways that he turns ALL things to good…even the most dire, desperate, devastating circumstances. And wouldn’t the Enemy just love it if we didn’t believe it could happen at any moment and just partied like it’s 1999?
Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to live in preparation for Jesus’ return if we see things that make us believe it could happen any day. Not so we can proclaim to the world that the sky is falling, but to live in the faith that God’s making good on his promises, which in turn gives us the certainty we need to effectively spread the gospel to all nations (Mark 13:10).
So let’s take a break from the Chicken Little mentality, shall we? Let’s let our faith do the talking for us.