Saturday, May 21, 2011

Merry Judgment Day!

Well, it is May 21st, the day believed by a very vocal minority to be Judgment Day. And there is no reason why it shouldn't be Judgment Day, though I suppose if you're sitting at your computer today reading this it is probably either not Judgment Day or it is too late for you anyhow. While so many reasonable people have laughed off, if somewhat uneasily, these predictions of final judgment today, there is no reason why judgment is any less likely to come at 6 p.m. EST than at any other time. If we appeal to the bibilical promise that no one will know the day or the hour then we forestall judgment forever because inevitably there is someone somewhere convinced that today will be the day (whatever the day may be). In truth, no matter how fervently these predictions are put forward as fact and even if Harold Camping is correct, he didn't know. He just happened to guess right the loudest.

More interesting to me than whether or not judgment is actually reigning down on us (as you read this, of course) is precisely the way people have reacted to the "knowledge" that the end is near. There has been a frantic setting of their moral lives in order and, more publicly, a surge of evangelical effort. But why? The end has been near for thousands of years, at least as far as the apostles were concerned. "The end of all things is at hand" (1 Pet 4:7). People in the earliest Christian decades lived with the constant expectation of an immediate return of Christ, as rightly they should have--even knowing now that the return would not come. After all, Jesus exhorts his disciples to this kind of attitude in Matthew 24:

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Imagine if the money, time, and effort that went into this propoganda campaign about the looming end of the world had been expended in a less controversial (and, from a secular atheistic point of view, laughable) evangelistic enterprise. Or for that matter, distributed to the poor in an effort to be morally upright whether the Lord was coming today or in another two thousand years. I suppose my point is that times like these show clearly the lamentable state of Christian life. We ought to live always as if we are an eschatological people standing right at the brink of eternity. When predictions like this one gain popular currency we see that those who change were not living eschatologically to begin with and those who don't, more likely than not, are simply not convinced that there is any urgency to change.

That day is coming like a theif. It may not have come today; it probably didn't. But when it comes is oddly less important than the fact that it comes. It is real regardless of its precise timing, and we, as Christians, are called to live in the light of that reality.

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