In my darker moments, I wonder if Jerry Falwell is the Anti-Christ. Okay, maybe not him, per se, but a major Christian religious figure, preaching righteousness and influencing American politics in the name of fundamentalist Christian principles. It would make an interesting twist, wouldn’t it?
At some level, wouldn’t such a deception be precisely how the Devil would work? To convince the righteous to destroy the world in order to save it? To convince us to view homosexuals, people of Islam or Democrats with hatred and loathing? To convince us that the world would end, and thus absolve us from all responsibility of trying to actually save God’s creation from destruction, or caring about the salvation of those who disagree with us?
It would be the height of irony for those people who believe in the Rapture to discover they’ve been batting for the wrong team. To paraphrase Ron Stoppable, it would be funny, if it weren’t going to kill us.
It frightens me that there are people out there who don’t care about the possibility of global warming or, worse still, the likelihood that we will exhaust our oil supply in our lifetime, not because they believe that these things won’t happen, but that the Rapture will take them away first. There are people out there, some rich, some powerful, some even walking the halls of Congress, who see the evidence of Earth’s environmental unease as signs that the Apocalypse is imminent.
How do you deal with people who look forward to a calamity that, if the Book of Revelation is to be taken literally, would kill a third of the world’s population within the first seven years? How do you tell someone as faithful as a fundimentalist Christian that they’ve turned their back on Christ?
As a Christian, I do not believe in the Battle of Armageddon. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that “the Beast” was, in fact, a vision of the reincarnation of Emperor Nero. Revelation itself contains no reference to the Rapture, and refers to a time in the early days of Christianity (150 BC) when believers thought that Christ’s return was imminent. When the early Christians started gathering the books to form the Bible, Revelation almost didn’t make the cut; one wonders what our religion would have been like if the Bible had ended with one of Paul’s letters to the early Christian communities.
So I do not believe the Book of Revelation is a literal prophesy of the Apocalypse. But I do believe in apocalypses. I believe everybody’s going to have one. It’s just not going to happen to everybody at once.
I believe that each of us is going to die and that each of us is going to be called to account for the things we have done and left undone in our lives. The world may keep on keeping on, beyond this pope and the one after, but that doesn’t necessary invalidate Revelation’s true message; just the attempts to use it as a book of future history.
The point of Revelation is not to give us signs of Christ’s coming, or to tell us when he’s going to arrive. It is to warn us that the warnings are everywhere, that he could arrive to each of us at any moment. And more likely than not, we are not going to be ready.
I remember a sermon that said, when the apocalypse comes, it will not be with bombs or the sea turning to blood, but with a knock on the door. Your house will be a mess. You will have dirty dishes in your sink. Your hair will be in curlers (even the men). And you will open the door, and Jesus will be there.
What will you do?
If you knew the time when Jesus would show up, you would have your house ready. You would have your hair done. You would greet him in your best suit. But how honest would your greeting be if, for the rest of your life, you kept your house as a pigsty? The expectation of Jesus’ arrival is not the point here. It’s about how we live when we don’t see God looking over our shoulder.
Best to live our life as though Jesus could knock at any moment, or not at all. Best to have our hair done and our places neat, not because we’re expecting guests, but because it’s good to have our hair done and our places neat. And sometimes we will slip, through nothing more than the act of being human, but that’s okay. God is a loving god, and he forgives us so long as we make an honest effort to live our life well. That’s the real Good News.
And I believe that if the Apocalypse, the singular, does come upon us, it will not be through God’s work but humanity’s. It will be the result of humanity’s great failure to live up to God’s expectations of us all. To Revelation’s credit, it says that this is precisely why the Apocalypse will happen. But while such an ending may be easy to imagine, it doesn’t mean it’s inevitable, and it could well be a sin (see Deadly Sins: Despair) to consider it so.
We certainly should not try to work towards it. As a Christian, I find it perplexing when other so-called Christians cheer for the arrival of the end, foregoing their obligation to love their fellow man, and to work to protect God’s creation.
What would Jesus do if he came to your door and found your house in shambles, with holes punched in the walls, windows smashed, and blood on your hands? How would he react if you had the audacity to say “we thought you were coming, so we let the place go to hell.”
Do you think he’d smile on you then?