Holy Apocalypse! It has made the CBS, NBC and CNN news networks. It is all over the internet and radio. I have now heard or seen eight separate stories on the impending Judgement Day. Sure enough! This morning at 7:00am I was driving my wife to the airport for a trip to see one of our daughters for a few days. On I-435, just before the Missouri River bridge, there was a billboard emblazend with the words, "Judgment Day....May 21, 2011....Are You Ready?"
The billboard work is part of a "ministry" of Harold Camping, who owns and directs Family Radio (headquartered in Oakland, CA). It is an international broadcasting system. Camping -- a retired engineer -- claims to have done the math, after fifty years of study, and determined that the Rapture (a term used by evangelical Christians to denote the moment when the chosen will be taken into heaven) will take place on the above date. Further, his calculations indicate that there will be five months of torment following this event until the end of the world as we know it on October 21, 2011.
Speaking of the end times, there is also a claim that an important transition for humankind will happen on 11-11-11 (November 11, 2011). Then, there is the Mayan calendar research and event that is locked in for 12-21-12 (December 21, 2012). This creates an abundance of confusion.
Already, thousands of people (not exaggerating according to a CNN report) in the United States alone have sold their property, liquidated retirement and life savings, and taken themselves to places either to assist in getting the word out or to prepare themselves for this Saturday's apocalyptic event --scheduled for 5:58pm. This is a potentially dangerous and disasterous situation. Where is the Church and its leadership in all this?
Let's clear up some terms first:
- Apocalypse - Literally means to "unveil" or "reveal." In both Old and New Testaments, apocalyptic literature was written to unveil the mysteries surrounding the actions of God in creation. The Book of Daniel (OT) and the Book of Revelation (NT) are two such writings.
- Rapture - Literally means "moment of pure joy" or "jubilation." This is neither a biblical nor a theological term. It does not even appear until the late 19th century among strongly evangelical groups presenting a uniquely literalistic approach to biblical writings. Adherents to the Rapture say that a select group of chosen people will be taken into heaven before the end of the world.
- Eschatology - Literally means "last discourse." It is a biblical term and connotes the part of systematic theology dealing with the final destiny of both the individual soul and of mankind in general. Albert Schweitzer and Karl Barth were primary architects in the modern theological investigation into eschatological events. In orthodox (eastern and western Christian systematic theology) terms, the Church has taught about the "four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell." Modern biblical theology has continued to fine tune what this means in light of further language and cultural discoveries from the time of original biblical texts.
- Judgment Day - Literally the day where humans will be "sifted" into the "saved" and the "damned." There is no biblical material to support this and, again, the term only appears in the latter 19th century.
Jesus makes a strong reference to a place, which in Aramaic (the Hebrew of the New Testament) is call "Gehenna." Dante later translated that into "Hell" in his book Inferno. Truth is, Gehenna was a valley about three miles outside Jerusalem...kind of cut in the rocky earth that went on about two miles. It was where refuse was taken after being removed from the city. One end of Gehenna was marked off as a leper colony. It was a place forbidden by those who were "clean." The garbage end of Gehenna was (it seems) always smoldering. Thus is had an acrid and putrid stench. It was a place of disease.
In describing sin as separation from God's abiding love, Jesus used Gehenna as a picture symbol for what that might seem like. His manner of teaching almost always used pictographic elements and metaphors to aid the hearer in remembering the parable or teaching.
Does hell exist? Separation from God's Love can happen...but only at our instigation and choice. We consign ourselves to that state of loneliness and isolation. The torment of the Evil One (Satan) is two-pronged: our tireless, egocentric willfullness at work with the fractured element of creation that rebels against God's love. It can be and is easily enough defeated with a proper sense of who we are in relationship to God -- and the humility to be reconciled.
Now, is the end of life as we know it upon us? My absolute true answer is: I have no idea whether it is or not. Truthfully, I do not bother myself or my folks with such speculation. Why? Jesus is pretty clear: It's not our business to know the time or season of the eschatological events. I think it will happen, and I have sound theological and deep internal senses to support my thinking and believing.
What God expects (and I am utterly convinced of this), is that we should live faithful, loving, honest and productive lives -- using our gifts and talents in such ways that foster both community and goodwill. To the extent that we do that, we are honoring who we are as people created in the image of God.
Pray: Daily time of true prayer (not a mouthful of words spewed forth as we hasten into our self-important busy-ness) that invites a strong time of listening for the soft words of God's love and purpose in our lives and the world around us is vital. It reduces anxiety and gives us appropriate perspective. I do find myself spending more time in quiet, contemplative prayer daily of late...as if I am being drawn into a deeper relationship.
This leads me to say that I believe a shift and changes are underway. We, as humanity, are moving into a new place of community, oneness and enlightenment. I see strong signs of this in a number of venues. It is comforting. BUT, it is not anything like Judgment Day or Rapture.
While I practice a Benedictine style Rule of prayer, study and work; I am Franciscan in my attitude about the eschatological events. St. Francis was weeding a vegetable garden, when one of the monks asked what he would do, if he knew that Christ Jesus' coming was imminent. Without missing a stroke, Francis responded, "I would hope to be able to finish this row of weeds."
God loves creation with all capacity. God brought us forth and will take us back into that place of enlarged being. It will be on God's terms and in God's time. Maybe this Saturday and maybe a thousand years from now. If I am alive, I want to be found faithfully doing what most pleases God...which is what I have been equipped to do.
Blessings in the Risen Christ,