NOTE: Well, it had to happen. Someone in Hollywood had to make a bad remake of a bad movie based on a book with bad theology. I will admit, I have not seen the movie, and to be honest with you that is OK, because this article is not about the movie, and not so much about the theology, it is more about some of those who are addicted to both.
When I first decided to follow the teachings of Jesus, I learned about this thing many called “The Second Coming” (SC) and it was not long before I became completely confused. With terms like Eschatology, Tribulation, End-Times, and Second Coming, all seeming to be saying the same thing, and yet, at the same time, something very different, confused me. Besides, the math used hurt my head. I can remember people in the church arguing whether the SC would be pre-tribulation, a-tribulation, or post-tribulation; or if it would be pre-millennial, a-millennial, post-millennial. It was at that moment in time I realized that eschatology would be my theological down fall. Why? Because thinking in terms of Preterism, Historicism, Futurism, or Idealism is enough to lead a sane person to a padded room wrapped tightly in a long-sleeved canvas jacket with buckles.
I remember when I started out in ministry being asked by a church looking for a pastor my stance on the SC, and to be honest with you I froze like a deer in the headlights. My only response was, “I’m not sure, I am still trying to work out the first coming. Besides, I take Jesus at his word when he says no one will know.” That was not the answer they were hoping for. One of the members of the search team looked at me and said, “You need to have a right view of the Second Coming, because it will tell you how you need to live your life.” I left the meeting defeated, and very confused. However, I started to think, and that is always dangerous, about what the man said to me. After some thinking, I realized that we should not base the way we live on the SC, we should base our faith journey on the teachings of Jesus from his first coming. I mean, how we live our lives should be based on what Jesus said, not what we think he might say at some distant time. I came to realize that for many churches the SC is rather problematic.
Here is where I see the problem: When we live for a SC, we miss so many things in the present. Those voices shouting the end of the world seem to be loud and, well, annoying. Many of us can remember the issues surrounding Harold Camping; people gave millions of dollars to Camping who predicted the end of the world twice (May 21, 2011, and “revised” on May 22 to be October 21st) and both times were wrong (which seems silly to say). We hear people like Jack Van Impe (and his lovely wife Rexella) who peddle end time theology on late night TV to anyone willing to pony up some hard earned cash to buy his books, CDs and tapes (which always leads me to ask: If the end is near, why sell the books? I mean, do you need the money for some future use?). Still others, like Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite, believe so strongly in their predictions that they made sure their followers met a bitter end. While others, like William Miller (Adventists) and Herbert Armstrong (The Worldwide Church of God, who was a four time heavy hitter at the endgame: 1936, 1943, 1972 and 1975) founded entire denominations centering on the end of the world. I kind of wished Armstrong was right, because it would have eliminated my High School years.
I believe that those issues lead those who spew “The End is Near” theology to see the world in very different ways than most people. Here are two that pop into my mind.
Way One: Glee
There seems to be a pathological destructive mindset to some who speak about “the end times.” They speak of evil [i.e. wars, terrorists, mass killings] and natural disasters [i.e. floods, earthquakes, fires] with an almost twisted sense of joy and excitement – some are downright gleefully. The problem is found in the reality that they see those as “good thing,” they are not very interested in stopping them – in fact, they encourage them; I even know some who pray for them to happen. For those who proclaim an End Time Theology see those horrid events into something they look forward too because they will usher in the age of a New World. In the past I have heard preachers and theologians speak with an almost joyful tone in their voice when they share about how the end is so close because so many people are dying. To be honest with you, that scares me. You see, if we can see evil as something good we have missed the point of Jesus and the first coming and replaced it with a twisted view of his SC. These are the people who say things like; “Why worry about the poor, wars, violence (or anything for that matter) because Jesus is coming back soon and everything will be made right for those who will be saved.”
It is sad, because they actually believe holding back any involvement in current events will bring about the second coming. This kind of thinking replaces violence with peace, law with grace, judgment with forgiveness, and sees a world falling apart and no desire to be part of a solution. Which lead is to the second point.
Way Two: Escapism
While escapism is related to feeling gleeful about world events, there is enough difference for me to share it as a second way people react. Those who speak in terms of not worrying about the condition of the world speak in terms of “escaping the disasters” that they see coming because they hold the magic golden ticket. The problem is, when we hold to an escapist view, we ignore the problems facing our world. We ignore the violence, the environment, the hunger, the poverty and more because we believe that upon Jesus return all will be made better; they have become so future minded, they have become so presently useless.
Their idea is that they will be “lifted out” of all the pain those “left behind” will suffer, so why should they care. The problem with this way of thinking is that the idea of “escape from” seems to fly in the face of the redemptive narrative within the collective narrative. They speak in terms of “escape from” while Jesus speaks in terms of “redemption of.” The idea of escaping the end of the world does not seem to fit the narrative of the redemptive cross. If we look closely, we can find some who believe that it does not matter how wrongly others are treated (slavery, sex trade, low wages, horrid working conditions, thriving poverty) because in the end, Jesus will return and all will be made right. This removes our responsibility to speak against injustice today, and seek a better life for all.
As we think about the SC in relationship to the world we live in we need to ask ourselves some very important questions: Is a strong belief in the Second Coming bad for the Creation? Does the Second Coming negate our responsibility to be actively involved in feeding the hungry? Does the Second Coming remove our call to live in peace, and speak in terms of peace?