Thank the Lord. We made it through another prediction that the end of days was upon us with the fresh dew of morning.
“If I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I still would go plant an apple tree today.”
This quote is attributed to Martin Luther. Chances are he didn’t say it, but whoever did captures the essence of what it means to live our faith in the world, rather than trying to escape it.
Harold Camping is not the first to predict the end of days. In this particular rendering of impending doom, Camping has recycled the notion of the Rapture – the idea that the saved ones would be taken out of the world to meet Jesus in his second coming. There is a whole understanding of God and the Bible built around this idea – pull a proof text from one book of the Bible, pull another line from somewhere else and so on. It is hard to argue with Jesus saying the son of man will come in the clouds with power and glory (Matthew 24:30); or when where two are working in the field and one is taken (Matthew 24:36); or Jesus coming like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:43). These verses are even in the same chapter!
The question is what do we really believe about Jesus,
and what do our lives mean because of him?
For some the world is only in decay. The good old days are gone. The worst is yet to come. This place is disposable. There is a need to destroy the evil that has infringed upon us. Jesus acts as the boogie man appealing to our sense of justice that God’s judgment comes upon sinners who finally get the wrath that they deserve. The Rapture insists in a world gone wrong that the good guys get taken away. The bad guys lose. We cheer from the sidelines and wait for the day. And if you can tell me when the day is because the Bible is nothing more than a roadmap to safety, then all the better…Well, better for the chosen anyway.
For others of us the Bible is much more, Jesus is much more, the meaning of this world and our lives in it is much more, so much more. The interpretive lens is not God’s impending judgment for an evil world, but God’s love for the world revealed in the cross, and made new on Easter morn.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
Remember that verse? Here is the next one:
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17).
Could it be that Jesus is not the boogie man – waiting one day to snatch us up? Or zap us? What if he said those words about coming in the night not to frighten us, but to remind us in our own darkness to keep the light on? To let his light shine in our lives? To guide and protect and serve and love? What if the message of the Bible is not about judgment but mercy? What light has God called us to shine on the hateful? The malicious? The greedy? The indifferent? Then what would the end look like?
“I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 21:22-22:5).
God calls us to a future where we gather around the Lamb. In the meantime our lives are meant to shine; to water; to grow. In Christ all things are made new. In these days we are called to plant, cultivate, nurture, harvest, the joy of faith that does not end on a cross, but begins at an empty tomb.
When the world feels like it is headed for destruction, get out there and plant a tree. If those around you doubt your faith, give them good fruit. Try handing them a shovel. God is not done with any of us yet.
“Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.'” (John 8:12)