Friday, May 20, 2011

"Come, Our Lord"

    “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only  the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
    “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
-Matthew 24:36-42 (NIV)

This might be the last thing I ever write.
    According to one radio evangelist, the Rapture - the day when some Christians believe that the righteous are taken up into heaven to meet Jesus - will occur this Saturday. So, if it’s true and come Saturday you don’t hear from me, then you know where I am. And if it’s true and I don’t go anywhere - well, I probably should rethink my chosen line of work anyway.
    All this has me wandering: does not believing in the Rapture disqualify me from it?
    In the wake of this announcement, government agencies and private companies are offering to help us get ready. The Centers for Disease Control has put on its website a guide for surviving a zombie apocalypse. (OK, I grant you that the Bible says nothing about zombies having anything to do with  the end of the world, but you never know.) And, from the “anything-can-be-monetized” file, at least two companies are offering pet care for pet owners who are raptured. (I’m going to pass; there’s at least a pretty decent chance that one or two of my friends will be left to adopt my dog.) I’m glad there are two companies; I think competition in the post-rapture pet care industry can only increase innovation and drive down prices.
    OK, so I remain unconvinced, in case you couldn’t tell. This radio preacher’s theology and methodology are suspect, at best - all mathematics and numerology. All kidding aside, while predictions like his come up from time to time, and may seem well-intentioned enough, the fact is that people believe them. Believers in such predictions sometimes sell or give away everything they own. They abandon families, jobs, friends, and churches. Intentionally or not, people who gain attention by making such predictions manipulate those who believe them and uproot their lives. And when the predicted end of the world doesn’t occur, they claim a miscalculation, or that God has chosen to offer grace. But those who believe them - well, here’s what a follower of William Miller, who predicted the return of Christ in 1843 and 1844, had to say when the dates came and went:
“Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came
over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends
could have been no comparison. We wept and wept, till the day dawn.”

    So I don’t think predictions like this one are harmless, even when they seem to be well-intentioned.
    It seems so obvious to point out that Jesus himself claimed ignorance of the time of his return. He doesn’t picture anyone waiting, with their eyes toward heaven, proud of the fact that they and their followers picked the right date. Nor does he seem to think anyone should be trying to predict the date. He said that people will be going on about their business when he comes. He compared it to the time of Noah, when life was going on pretty much as usual “until the flood came and took them all away.”  He said that two people working side by side might have vastly different experiences: one will be “taken” and one “left.” (This isn’t the rapture, by the way. The flood “took” those who didn’t find safety in the ark. Being “taken” here most naturally refers to judgment, not salvation.)
    I do think that the church might lean too far in the other direction these days, though.
    God’s people have always expected his direct intervention in the  world. The prophets called  for the “day of the LORD,” when he would bring justice, destroy the enemies of his people, and create a “new heaven and a new earth.” The apostles interpreted these promises in the light of the gospel, proclaiming that Jesus was the one who would come to fulfill them. The early church used the Aramaic phrase “marana tha” as a greeting - it means, “Come, our Lord.” The church fathers from the late first century on believed in and reminded the church of Jesus’ return. It’s been a consistent aspect of our faith from the beginning.
    The fact is that Jesus told us to expect that “your Lord will come.” Not knowing when isn’t supposed to stop us from looking for him. It’s to make us that much more expectant. But everything about our busy, crowded, segmented lives feeds the impulse to forget it. We have our work lives, our home lives, our church lives. So we easily forget Jesus’ marching orders: “keep watch.” “You must be ready,” he says. Then he tells a story to illustrate what he means.
    The story involves a servant who is left in charge of his household. His duty is to be  responsible for the other servants. He’s to make sure they get their food - to care for them. If he’s “faithful and wise” in carrying out his responsibilities, he’ll be rewarded. But if he’s “wicked” and starts to get self-centered and abusive during his master’s long absence, he’ll be disciplined when the master does finally return.
    The story is not exactly subtle or hard to understand. We, believers in Jesus, are the servants, left with specific responsibilities to act in the name of the master. But we’re to act generously, selflessly. People need to be fed, taught, prayed with, helped, healed. They need to know the master. They need us to act like the master, in his name. And history has found us, at times, acting faithfully and wisely to carry out that responsibility. May we continue to do so, and look forward to our reward when he comes.
    But just as often, perhaps, history has shown us to be wicked. We’ve abused the people we’ve been entrusted with caring for. We’ve wasted what the master has given us. He’s been so long in coming we sometimes forget who we are and what we’re supposed to do. We’ve spent our time seeking power, pleasure, and profit. May we repent, so we don’t have to receive his censure and endure his punishment.
    If the Lord comes Saturday, it won’t be because someone worked a few equations. And he won’t be asking who predicted the date correctly. He’ll be coming to reward faithful and wise servants who spent their time fulfilling the responsibilities he gave them.
    This might be the last thing I ever write. And it might be the last thing you ever read.
    Keep watch.
    And if you see any zombies, do me a favor and give me a heads-up, will you?


  1. Nice post - thanks Patrick.

  2. A girl at my office was asking if this could be true. I smiled, and told her to read the same scripture.

    Then I told her to ask herself why she'd listen to a man, who claimed to serve Jesus, but in effect was calling him a liar.