What do roller coasters and setting exact end time dates have in common? Both allow us to experience a thrill while at the same time realizing we may not be in immanent peril for our lives. Until the “ride” is over, it captures our full attention. So, we don’t have to pay attention to what might truly be bothering us, deep down. As in times past, there is a lot that is deeply troubling about our present age.
When we originally posted about the year 2012 it was in December of 2009, right at the time of our Center’s launch. The planned release of a Hollywood blockbuster movie, “2012,” was causing a big sensation. Everyone was talking about the end of the Maya calendar in December of 2012, and what that could possibly mean, even though their own check book calendars ran out in a few years, because of limited printing space. The new end times date has captured people’s imaginations so much that even NASA came out to reassure folks that the world is not expected to end in 2012 just because an ancient civilization’s calendar shows an end of an age.
Many of us who have been around long enough to remember the transition from 1999 to 2000 remember there was doom-saying then, as well. Computers were going to blow up, many people said. When nothing happened during the transition, the day slipped into obscurity. Yet systems administrators, computer programmers and other computer professionals had worked very hard to ensure that the transition, known as Y2K, would be a non-event.In the last few years, a number of loud predictions of the end of the world have come and gone. Just in 2011, when one group predicted rapture would occur on May 21, 2011, a group called American Atheists cheerfully capitalized on the prediction, buying out billboards inviting people to a “rapture party.” The one billboard I spotted on stated “The Rapture: You KNOW it’s Nonsense. 2000 Years of ‘Any Day Now.'” The atheists made it clear: doomsayers have been predicting end times since Revelation was written.
December 12th, 2012 came and went, of course. And those who were expecting the world’s demise may be relieved on some level, but may still experience looming fears that will attach to another, specific date. So, what is the role of the minister, in the face of fears attached to specific dates such as December 21, 2012, or when approached with questions about another civilization’s predictions and their correlation with ‘end times’ described in Revelation? One role is clearly to educate people about what the Bible says about exact dates, what it says about fear, and what it says about trials. Since we spotted a strong double-rainbow in the December 12th sky, we’ll start with the first book of the Bible, and God’s eternal covenant that the world will not be destroyed by flood or fire:
And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. (Genesis 9:12-16)
Consider what Jesus tells his followers, in the Gospel of Matthew, verse 24:
…And they said “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. . . Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
Anyone who gives an exact date, rather than simply advising us to prepare, is not being true to Jesus’ own words. Jesus Himself tells us we cannot know with exact certainty when the end is coming, We can notice signals, just as we might notice the leaves on a fig tree as a sign that summer approaches. The generation that sees those signs will also see the end times fulfilled. But there will be wars, and rumors of wars, and we should not be troubled, because that won’t indicate the end. Instead, we should always live in readiness.
It’s not hard to answer the American Atheists’ complaint about the attitude of “watch and be ready” advised by Jesus Himself. Nobody knows the number of their own days, and an attitude of watchfulness for God and readiness for the eternal is deeply important, in a broader, life-affirming way. It’s a path to joy, right in this life. Who would argue that this attitude doesn’t work better for our well-being than other choices, such as attachment to worldly pursuits (possessions, status, and power) offered up to us by our secular culture? But for the American Atheists to lump all Jesus’ followers together as of a single mind on this subject wasn’t fair play. Not all Christians subscribe to the same interpretation of scripture.
Fear, Darkness, Trials and Light
What is the first thing that angels always say, when we encounter them? Fear not! Jesus, too, reminds us many times not to fear, because worry cannot add a single day to your life. John admonishes us to remember “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
Giving voice to people’s real, material fears can bring them from the shadows into the light, where they do not weigh so heavily. These times are, indeed, hard for so many of us; stormy times are harder to navigate. Whether congregants are facing illness or loss, having difficulty with change, or just perceive a harsh landscape, open discussion can help to heal. It could be useful to share the biblical wisdom on life’s hardship and trials, and the hope so well expressed in James 1:12, “Blessed is the one who endureth temptation: for when tried, shall receive the crown of life…”
It’s critical to remind anyone who is losing sleep over an exact end times date prediction, that Jesus Himself assures us: “”No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32). While it’s easy to become lost in the details, it’s also easy to see Jesus’ overarching message: keep ready, and set about doing Our Father’s work, because none of us can see tomorrow with exactness.
The best counsel to offer as a minister could be this: while it might be fun to ride roller coasters, it’s good to live a steady life, being about God’s work, choosing love over fear, because none of us can know the future.
Jesus and his apostles and even the angels tell us “fear not,” over and over again. And Jesus reminds us, in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”