By RAY WADDLE
Three recent news bulletins have relevance to Christians near and far:
1. World fuel and food prices are spiking again, putting a deeper hurt on poor people, who are turning to Christian organizations like UMCOR for help and compassion, and receiving it.
2. Horrific tornadoes ripped through the southeastern United States in April, leaving hundreds dead and many towns in ruins and the stunned survivors turning to churches for food and blankets and hope, and receiving them.
3. Judgment Day arrives this month – the rapture, endtimes and Second Coming, all this coming weekend (May 21), according to predictions proclaimed on designated billboards across the United States.
The first two news items arrive from the hard daily world of danger, courage and compassionate solutions. The third item springs from the impatient, ill-advised theories of believers who succumb to a 2,000-year-old temptation to proclaim biblical doomsday, giving the impression that there’s no more hope for God’s green earth.
It’s been hard to escape these apocalyptic billboards lately (the effort of some determined radio broadcasters and laypeople, who say the world will come crashing down May 21). Given the long history of discredited predictions, based on bad theology and overheated imaginations, the campaign’s sheer assertiveness is remarkable. And misplaced.
The problem is not the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ return. At church I regularly recite the words, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” This ancient declaration requires the greatest pondering and deepest respect. But Jesus specifically warned everyone against the vanity of doomsday forecasting. No one knows about that day or hour except God, Jesus pointedly said.
The wisdom of His warning stretches across centuries of Bible code-crackers who rain shame upon themselves by declaring The End with their bullhorns and leaving behind a bitter wake of disillusion and ridicule when they are proved wrong.
The timing of this latest billboard crusade – when there’s so much believers can do to meet the world’s pain and challenge its despair – is unfortunate. It looks like escapism, or boredom, a lack of humility stirred by a pampered sense that this generation is privileged to witness Armageddon and escape death itself. It looks also like a lack of faith in the power of the Body of Christ to make a difference in our time and place.
My sense of the Bible’s meaning is that God made the world with stupendous care and intention and will bring the world’s story to a suitable conclusion, or to a new beginning, according to God’s own timetable. I regard every sunrise as a sign of God’s renewal of the miracle of this world’s existence, another chance for us to get things right under God’s watch.
And I look forward to the late spring sunrise that arrives after the latest ballyhooed doomsday
comes and goes.
Ray Waddle is a columnist, author and the editor of Reflections magazine, published by Yale Divinity School.