Friday, December 3, 2010

Looking Ahead

In 1994, B. J. Oropeza published the book 99 Reasons Why No One Knows When Christ Will Return. Some seventeen years later, most of the current-events references are out of date, nearly all the world leaders referred to are out of power, and the majority of dates that various groups predicted for the end of the world have passed. Which, of course, only supports Oropeza's point: the idea that "this is surely the generation of Christ's return because times can't get much worse" was never intended to be a central doctrine of the Christian faith.

Still, the "date-setter" crowd never seems to learn. An search for "end times prophecy" revealed over 750 currently available books on the topic; a Google search, 636,000 results. My own home town (Houston, TX), hosted a major "end times" conference earlier this year, at which time at least one prominent Christian radio station suspended a day of regular programming to discuss the topic. Never mind how many times believers have wrongly predicted the Second Coming (or how ridiculous they made the Church look in the process); this time things are different.

And, admittedly, the claim that "human technology now, for the first time, has power to destroy the whole world" has some validity. Still, that doesn't prove we will destroy the world in this decade, this generation, or this century. How many sociologists predicted that a nuclear war would take place before the year 2000?

I'm no sociologist, but I suspect many "end times" adherents are motivated less by love of Jesus than by love of their own comfort; they want God to end the world so they won't have to put up with it any longer, won't have to suffer directly if things do reach the point of catastrophe, won't have to consider that they may personally be supposed to put some effort (complete with inconveniences and dangers) into bringing about reform on a major scale. If God won't promise them long lives free of want and frustration, they want to at least trade their lives for Heaven as painlessly as possible.

John Ankerberg and John Weldon, referencing Oropeza in "Why Is It Wrong for Christians to Predict When Christ Will Return to Earth?," note that "We are living in the last days [defined as the whole time period between Pentecost and the Parousia] but... we cannot know how long these days will last.... the question is not so much whether we should be ready to meet God at such and such a date in the future, but are we ready to meet Him now?" And are we also ready to accept that, if Christ does not return in our lifetimes, things may well reach the point where we have to endure homelessness and persecution--even the complete collapse of the comfortable, safe, stable world Westerners have long taken for granted? Do we really appreciate the greater blessings God has for His people who suffer?

More than that, do we have the right attitude in looking forward to the eternal order that will come eventually: seeing it not simply as the end of our hardships, but as the ultimate consummation of the greatest good--the glory of God?

Looking forward to eternity in that spirit is the secret of joy in all circumstances. 

Whatever may come to discourage me,
There are two great truths I know:
I am nearer to Heaven than yesterday;
And, in Christ I am free to grow.
Let me not look too hard at how far I am
From perfection, as Christ compares,
Except insofar as it makes me meek,
And keeps humble my thoughts and prayers.

But, lest I decide that the walk's too long,
And thus lose the will to try,
Let me also look at the Heavenly crown
That is waiting for me on high.
Keep my eyes raised up from the rocky path
That I may have to climb between,
And fixed firm on God and the joys of Christ:
Keep my heart set on things unseen.

Since my Lord looks not on great earthly deeds,
But on who I am in Him,
Let me trust His grace for my daily walk:
He Who fills my cup to the brim
And Who walks with me all my earthly days.
He alone, when those days are done,
Will reveal what always He held in store
To make me what I shall become!

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