This Saturday, according to one group of Christian fundamentalists, is it. Jesus is coming. Time to close the bank accounts. Clear the calendar. Withdraw from society. Wear a sandwich board that says, “The end is near.” Run around screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
“Christian doomsday prognosticator Harold Camping and his sad motley group of followers say the Rapture will take place May 21. This is the day that true believers will be taken up to heaven, while everybody else — Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and anyone who supports gay marriage or accepts evolution — will be stuck here on Earth for another six months while war and pestilence rains down on us. Then, on Oct. 21, the world will end.
…Camping’s reasons for why he predicts May 21 will be Judgment Day have something to do with the anniversary of Noah’s Ark, the end of Tribulation, which began 23 years ago (Who knew?) and the mathematical formula 5+10+17=Armageddon.
As one of Camping’s followers explained, the Rapture won’t begin until 6 p.m. Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Is that in Eastern or Pacific Standard Time?”
Well, because God created time zones — just as he apparently created international borders — the Rapture will begin at 6 p.m. in each time zone. Also, you’ll know when the Rapture will begin because it will be preceded by an earthquake.
…”starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” he says. The true Christian believers — he hopes he’s one of them — will be “raptured”: They’ll fly upward to heaven. And for the rest?
“It’s just the horror of horror stories,” he says, “and on top of all that, there’s no more salvation at that point. And then the Bible says it will be 153 days later that the entire universe and planet Earth will be destroyed forever”.”
Horror of horror stories. Not exactly how I would describe the biblical narrative. Is that the hope we have in God? That he will pour out the horror of horror stories on the majority of the people he created in his image? That this whole creation of his has really just been a testing ground before he nukes it all? That those who didn’t pass the test will first be tortured for six months, then be annihilated in a detonation worse than Hiroshima? I guess that would be quite a horror story.
Many of these well-meaning Christians are trying to follow Jesus. That is where life has its meaning for them (here’s where we agree!). And they would look at others, non-believers for instance, as nihilists. Nihilism, at least of the existential sort, is the idea that life is without objective meaning. There is no outside, definitive, transcendent reality (to which we have access anyway), which we can point to or build a system of meaning upon. Nihilism causes one to create one’s own system of meaning or purpose. So for these enraptured believers, people who don’t believe in God, particularly in their version of God, are simply nihilists with no meaning or purpose in life, and hence not a source of good for the world.
Hold on a second…
Couldn’t we turn it around and see those who put forward that there is no future for this world as the true nihilists?
Couldn’t you say that those who are unwilling to face the problems we face on this planet represent a sort of Christian nihilism?
Couldn’t you say that those who are unwilling to imagine a future in which the human species, regardless of belief systems, will have to learn how to live with each other – that this is a dangerous nihilism which passes itself off as true belief?
It seems to me that a full and meaningful Christian faith is one that embraces the incarnational aspect of Christianity. Eschatology, you could argue, should be about being engaged in the process of becoming, rather than waiting for external and unknown forces to bring about destruction.
Those who are ready to kiss this world goodbye, in my view, are the true nihilists who are abdicating their responsibility as stewards of the creation, as agents of the kingdom. They have buried their talents and are in danger of being the ones who will ask, “When did we see you tired, or hungry, or naked, or thirsty?” I’m pretty sure Jesus told us we’d find him by looking around, not by looking up.
Ironically, it seems that Jesus followers who are ready to take responsibility for their own role in the kingdom would find more in common with the atheists, agnostics and humanists who say, “Hey, this world is where we are now, let’s make it work.”
May we be those who, regardless of our faith differences, seek to heal and redeem the world as Jesus requested we do rather than promote its demise?
This is an edited and shortened post from Bryan Berghoef