Thursday, December 27, 2012

End Times Predictions

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about End Times Predictions:

Q:  With all the different predictions and scenarios circulating these days, how can a person know what is true about how and when the “end of the world” will occur?

Let’s start with a piece of good news:  Since the first newspaper edition this article is intended to be in will be dated December 27, the fact that you are reading this means that the Mayan Calendar hysteria turned out to be false. 

Beginning with Charles Wesley in 1796, continuing with repeated Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness predictions throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries, followed by a variety of Y2K-induced predictions between 1996 and 2006, and carried on most recently by the predictions of Harold Camping, English-speaking students of the Bible have had a fascination with predicting the date of Jesus return. 

However, Jesus Himself says on one occasion, “No one knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man,” (Matthew 24:36) and on another, “the Son of Man is coming at a time when no one expects Him.” (Luke 12:40)  Based on these verses, Christians can be confident that the world cannot end until Jesus returns, and anyone setting dates, or even years, for the return of Jesus is most certainly not speaking the truth.  Jokingly, I even give a “no-Second-Coming Guarantee,” based on Jesus’ words above, on any date that a major media-publicized end times event has been predicted. 

For about the last 150 years, another trend has been for certain preachers to lay out elaborate timelines of events surrounding the Second Coming.  The sequence and duration of these events varies, but they have the common characteristic of dividing the end times in to a multi-stage event with segments lasting from seven to a thousand years. 

Prior to that time, it had been the common understanding among Christians that the “Last Day” (a more preferred term among Christians than “end of the world”) would come instantly and unexpectedly.  At the moment of Jesus’ return, it would be universally known that it was occurring, and the following events would occur without delay and without the possibility of being prevented.  This agrees completely with the warnings of Jesus in Matthew 24-25. 

Any scenario that proposes particular dates or warning-shot events (such as the disappearance of large numbers of people or the formation of a nation) are the beginning of a count-down before the end of which Jesus will return, is extremely problematic from a Biblical perspective, because it necessitates either that people will know in advance when Jesus is coming again or that Jesus return will somehow be separated from His judgment of the living and the dead.  Either of these possibilities (usually based on the books of Daniel or Revelation, which have particular literary challenges for modern readers who must rely only on English translations) eventually run contrary to the clearer statements of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 

Christians can take confidence in this:  The return of Jesus will be nothing but blessing for those who trust in Him, so they need not fear its arrival.  Additionally, our preparedness does not rest on our own ability and foresight, but in His provision by the Holy Spirit through the Word, so we can go about the business of serving in our vocations in eager anticipation, rather than fearful anxiety about the end—whenever it comes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Does God Hate America?

My article fromt his week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Divine Punishment

Q:  When soldiers die and natural disasters occur, are these things a sign of God’s judgment on America for immoral lifestyles or lack of religious belief?

Even though this sort of conclusion is believed by only a small minority of Americans, several times in recent years, those small, but vocal, few have drawn media attention for their claims.  After hurricane Katrina, two prominent religious leaders insisted it was God’s judgment against New Orleans for its sins.  When another hurricane threatened the same area recently, one of them claimed it was for the same reason.  Another group insists that the death of U.S. Soldiers abroad is God’s punishment against the United States because our nation’s laws fail to punish certain types of immorality.

The thing about this, though, is that God got out of the business of having a favorite nation which were “his people” as of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  From that point forward, the New Testament is very clear that God’s people (now known as Christians or the Church) come from every nation.  God no longer works by supporting or destroying nations because of their religious convictions.  Instead, He desires that governments would provide safe and free societies where His Church can do the work of convincing people regarding morality and religious teaching. 

When Jesus is presented with a blind man in John 9, the Pharisees, and even His own followers, speculate over whose sin caused this man to be born blind.  Some said it was his own sin.  Others said it was his parents’, but Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him,” and He says in Matthew 5, “[God] makes His sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” 

Much like God’s earthly blessings and provision do not come only to Christians, but to all people regardless of spiritual standing, tragedy occurs in the same way.  All people suffer various kinds of illness and disaster.  There are devoted Christians who suffer immensely in this life while there are notoriously immoral people who are wealthy and strong.  When these tragic circumstances come upon a person or a city, it is not because God is particularly displeased with them, but rather because human sin has broken the world and thrown it off course from God’s will for it.

So, when a soldier is killed it is the result of the sin of the enemy who attacked him, not because God is displeased with him and his nation.  Likewise when a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami threaten or destroy a city or a whole region, it is not because God is particularly displeased with them, but rather because the collective sin of humanity has brought destruction even as far as nature itself, which then returns on us—not as compensation for specific sins, but similar to a car whose driver is asleep at the wheel and takes out anyone, righteous or unrighteous, in its path. 

So, when we are healthy and have plenty, we ought not think it is because we are more worthy, and when we suffer pain and need, or even death itself, we ought not think it is because we are less worthy.  Instead, Christian teaching acknowledges that God is the author of every blessing, while humanity and its rebellious disobedience are solely and collectively responsible for all of the evils of nature and our fellow man which we face.