All week I have been inundated with jokes about the rapture, news stories, comedic skits etc etc. I myself have playfully participated in what I perceived to be the “fun” and silliness of it all.
Now that the hype has settled and we have resolved ourselves to the fact that yes, we have to return to work tomorrow and it is not the end of the world, I have come to realize that all this rapture/end of the world talk has tremendous sociological as well as theological applications that simply should not be missed.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, it has bothered me for quite some time about the seemingly over emphasis of evangelism in the body of faith. I know a little bit about evangelism. I have personally evangelised myself within the context of a “church setting” and previous to that I worked in a marketing/sales field for over 3 years in which I “evangelized” people in the ” life changing propensities” of higher education- a job that to my chagrin required me to treat people as numbers to be counted rather than well- people.
I am lucky enough to no longer be in that position, but as I continue on my journey of faith I have noticed that there seems to be an almost equal approach to “getting numbers” in the evangelism of Christian ministry.
Let me be clear, this is not to state that I have a problem with evangelism. However, what I do struggle with is what I see is a seemingly overemphasis on evangelical outreach that is not in my belief being tempered by an equally passionate message of a quality of life that the good news can bring to people in the PRESENT.
When we limit the gospel to it only being good news when it comes to an eternal afterlife, we rob it of its power and scope. An overemphasis of this narrative is not fully encompassing the gospel and it offers little hope to people who are trying to figure out how to live life TODAY. A deemphasis of this narrative robs the gospel of the redeeming power that speaks of a quality of life that exists in the present.
My grandmother once said in her Jamaican patois “Everyone a bring flower when people a dead. Mi? Me want mi flowers now not when mi dead”. In that simple statement my grandmother voices the concern of billions of people around the world. The desire for a quantifiably better life NOW.
It is in this statement that the majority of people are concerned with finding the answers and keys to, not how will my life be in the afterlife. How can I raise my kids better? How can I communicate with my spouse better? How can I be successful? How can I fix fragmented familial relations? How can I get off drugs? How can I move past the abuse that was done to me as a child? How can I get over the fact that I never knew my father? These are real and genuine concerns that people have and it speaks volumes as to why there is a multi million dollar self help industry.
As people around the world, including some christians, mock Harold Camping and the members of his church for believing in his predictions of the end times and calling them “fruitcakes” or “wackos” I believe this is an oversimplification that does not give us an opportunity to reflect on the message and spirit behind it.
Whether you were a member of Campings church, a “God fearing Christian” of another denomination or someone completely removed from the Christian faith, the amount of talk about the coming “end of the world” and the numerous jokes that accompanied it by tv hosts, pundits, and on internet chat sites alike, one cannot deny the underlying tension behind it, an internal dialogue so to speak of one’s current position in life in this reality.
The American Dream is dead. If it indeed ever existed. The “dream” that has been packaged and sold, to billions of people around the world is coming to an end. It was a man made fabrication and false reality of heaven on earth, and the end of it, as it begins to crumble from the inside out has literally been the proverbial end of the world for billions of people who bought into it or had the opportunity to buy in to it.
Mass unemployment, layoffs, bank bailouts, a trillion dollar national debt, corporate greed, the mortgage crisis, high gas prices, entire governments experiencing financial collapse, and the war on terror all combine to make a powerful societal malaise, disenchantment and overall hopelessness that feeds a desire to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here- even if it takes the end of the world..and that is what makes this end of the world/doomsday predictions so insightful.
While the world delighted in poking fingers in laughter at Harold Camping and the members of his church as if they were some circus sideshow, I argue that there was also millions of people who actually silently “camped” with them, hoping that his predictions were true and that all this end of the world talk would prove to be a segue way to the main event. Bring on the death, destruction, fire and brimstone because for billions of people they consider themselves already dead thus the current cultural fascination/obsession with zombies.
Burdened by massive debt in a market that offers little employment opportunity, student loan debt that needs to be repaid despite the fact that the college degree that was earned has not paid itself off like the recruiter told them it would. Strained family relations, marriages on the brink, self medication, disconnection from their kids who listen to “weird” music that tells them to “wolf gang kill them all” by angry young black men with balaclavas that have upside down crucifixes on them(OddFuture) and of whom would rather connect with their iphone or macbook than they would with their overly stressed and burnt out parents saddled with a mortgage that was secured by a variable interest rate. Yes, millions hoped that this indeed was the end and that they finally would be put of their misery…. only to awake and find out that their worst nightmare came true- not that the end of the world was on May 21st 2011, but that they were still here and alive in all this mess.
Jesus was a storyteller and in Luke 12:40 Jesus tells the disciples to be prepared, for the Son of Man (Jesus) is coming at an hour you do not expect. While we can clearly interpret this as Jesus saying that his return is something that cannot be predicted there are also lessons that can be taken that apply to this life in the present.
Whether it is the fear of the rapture or end of the world or death, for each of us it should call into question our very presence and present place in this life. I hear Jesus saying to us that we should live with life with a sense of passion, and purpose and fulfilment. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, whether it be in his return (which is actually not the end but a new beginning) or our deaths, we should live with earnest expectation, not putting off those things for tomorrow that we can do today. There are too many people who come to that midpoint of their life or later, only to be filled with bitter regret, missed opportunities and anger. And in this story as in others he is offering us an invitation to join with him in a new experience and not miss out on anything.
While the “afterlife” is a reality that we all have to face, it is quite esoteric and full of spiritual mysticism that can only be partially explained by interpretations of scripture that offer us small snippets of what lies behind the veil. I think the word that God shared in the Bible through Jesus Christ does that purposely offering up a glimpse but speaking more to the reality of our life in the present because that is what resonates with people and allows people to fully experience a reality that is worth living. Healed relationships, selfless service, recovery from addictions, the value of and purpose of money, giving, loving others despite themselves, others loving you despite yourself, equality, justice, reconciliation, and restoration.
Jesus was all about speaking to people’s present realities and brokenness, because in dealing with those things our hearts are being healed enabling us to perceive what is important in the present, be an active participant in the now, and it prepares our hearts for whatever is to come in the new kingdom that is to take place after the “rapture”- in whatever form that may take and whenever it takes place. More importantly it gives people something tangible and a vitality of life that allows them to live with a peace of mind and means of how to co-exist and live harmoniusly with others in the present while offering up hopes for a better future.
If the only message that we have to share from the christian gospel is that life gets better after you’re dead and that on the other side you are resurrected on gold paved streets of heaven, then what do we really have to offer that is much different from anyone else because everyone has an afterlife narrative and for some 12 virgins sounds a lot better than streets of gold.
Where is the life changing power that comes from an encounter with the resurrected Christ if this is the only message that is being preached? I’ll tell you where- it’s dead, in a tomb with a stone rolled in front of it guarded by Roman soldiers. It is in fact, as symbolic as if Christ himself was never resurrected. And I ask where is the good news in that?
Harold Camping and his followers know the story of the glory of the afterlife. Let us not forget they are believers in the christian narrative of Jesus Christ. That is why they were so eager to “escape” as are the millions of others who believed that the 21st of May was their “rescue” date and as are the millions of others who believe that the end of the world is going to be on 2012.
It is too easy to just disregard them as “wackos” because when do that we fail to miss why these people believed so desperately that the end of the world was coming on May 21st. We miss the valuable lesson behind all of this and it is that they are simply broken people who were so jaded with their present reality that they were willing to believe anyone who could offer them a way of escaping out of here with a chance for a new beginning and who has not ever felt like that?
My question is do they know the other story? The one where Jesus offers them a plan of a redemptive life that exists in this reality?
I dare say no, and I also confidently dare to say that neither do thousands if not millions of others who, caught up in the attempt to “save” their souls from eternal damnation, were sold the idea of Jesus Christ as a triumphant cowboy or a divine rescuer who is returning to take them away from lives that have experienced little change starting from the day they said “I do” to Jesus.
Heaven is being made right now, here in the present. We can choose to participate in the process or live like hell. We can choose to embrace life in all its fullness and look at every turn for a new opportunity. We can decide to chase our dreams and not put off tomorrow what we can do today.
Life or death, heaven or hell, we all have the choice to choose. We need to choose to share a message of life that begins now as much as it is discussed about the here-after because it is in living a life that is worth living that makes the gospel GOOD NEWS.