I don't watch the news anymore- it’s just so secular and evil. I just pray all the time that Jesus comes quick so my kids don’t have to live here too long. We are a lost, Godless nation, headed straight towards destruction. When we’re old, this world is going to be so far gone, I just hope I don’t live that long.
Have you heard these phrases tossed around?
I have. I hear these types of sentiments expressed by well meaning Christians who are tired of the state of America, sickened over the decline of morality, worried their children will be infected by it all and convinced that we are in the final days before Christ returns to earth. Listen to certain voices of power within the American christian church and media for too long and you might adopt these messages of doom and gloom too. There is a real sentiment among some believers that at any moment our bad politics and Godless nation will erupt into mass chaos and the anti-Christ will be ushered in.
Or maybe not.
We are not the first society who has seen a decline in morals or lived in a “godless” era. Christ himself lived in a post-Hellinistic, modern Roman society where the exploits of human sexuality were on wild display and the love of knowledge, money and power corrupted the likes of Phillip II, Alexander the Great, Tiberius and later, Nero. When Jesus walked the earth, his best friend was mutilated and his severed head was put on a shiny platter and brought to a party at the palace. Kings and queens and monarchs and presidents have been known to abuse power and people as long as power and people have been around. Societies have, since the dawn of recorded history, dealt with every perceivable wrong and evil you can think of. America, today, is certainly not the leader on that scoreboard.
So when I hear American Christians spewing messages of doom and gloom, I get frustrated.
This frustration of mine is not about eschatology. About how Jesus will eventually come back and redeem his bride. I believe it will happen. And while many people have taken painstaking measures to write horrifying accounts of how this will come about, I have resigned myself to simply taking Jesus at his word. The day and hour are unknown and no one can predict what it will be like. That is enough for me. Eschatology is the least of my concerns.
This is also not about the length, duration or sustainability of America's future. America may survive indefinitely, finding new and inventive ways of prospering, growing, and adapting. Or America may fall a part. We wouldn't be the first nation to do so and we wouldn’t be the last. My irritation with some Christian's doom and gloom approach to life isn't a patriotic battle-cry. I'm not hoping to rally people behind a certain political party or a vision for a renewed country, even. This is not about Republican, Tea-Party, Democrat, Independent, grid-locked Congress, declining morals or a rally to return to the faith of our founding fathers.
No, this is not about eschatology or American patriotism. It’s about something bigger than both of those.
Look, Jesus said the world will hate you if you are living in Him. And I have often wondered if he said that because the fragile world turns against itself, inciting death and destruction. But Jesus? He came to earth and insisted on a trajectory of redemptive life.
The world should hate us because we insist on being agents of light and life in the midst of death and destruction. Not because we walk around loudly rattling off what the world already knows: that we are broken people living in a broken place.
Sarah Bessey says it beautifully in her book, Jesus Feminist, “God’s vision is a call to move forward into the future in the full operation of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, with a fearlessness that could only come from him. Wherever there is injustice or oppression, anything less than God’s intended purposes from the dawn of creation, our God has always set his people on the trajectory of redemption.”
Jumping on the band wagon of doom and gloom is easy. Living as redemptive agents, looking for God's trajectory of all-things-new in the here and now is much harder. This world is not our home. It is temporary. We are living in the in-between. Scripture is quite clear about this. And yet Jesus never gives the impression that giving up on the here and now is the answer. He didn't teach his disciples and followers how to be doomsday preppers, how to build and stock end-of-times bunkers, how to escape, how to hide, how to quietly disdain the world and pray for God's quick return.
When Jesus teaches others how to pray He says to His father, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven.” It wasn’t “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Heaven and save us from Earth.” And it very well could have been. Jesus could have taught people to pray in that way. Jesus could have taught that the best thing for His followers to do was to prep for the end of days and remove themselves from secular living as much as possible. But He didn’t. He did not coach his disciples on how to bring about a more rapid ending to the broken world, nor did he instruct his disciples to conform to the ways of, say, the monastic Essenes who lived in desert caves removed from society.
Quite the opposite.
Jesus lived. (He actually seems to have enjoyed living. Enjoyed people, friendship, conversation, tough questions and loving others.) He lived for the world that was right in front of Him and guided his disciples to do the same. Because Jesus knew that one day all would be redeemed and restored but in the in-between time, what happens here and now, matters. It matters enough that the very last words from His mouth before ascending to heaven were "Go." Go and tell this message of redemption to the ends of the earth.
Don’t live as people of doom and gloom. Choose life. Give life. Be about my trajectory of redemption.
One of my favorite authors and thinkers says it like this, “We are obliged to attend to America- that is to say, to the future of the earth- as that which is possible, never as that which is inevitable.” (Jacob Needleman, The American Soul)
As a believer in Christ my job is to be a bearer of that which is possible, not that which is inevitable. There is a real sentiment among some believers that at any moment our bad politics and Godless nation will erupt into mass chaos and the anti-Christ will be ushered in.
Or maybe not.
Either way, I refuse to live into that and short change the gospel and the work of Christ’s redemptive power by praying He comes quick and rescues me and my family from this broken world. Nope. I pray I live a long life here. And that every single day, Christ's power to transform and bring hope and light is laid bare through my tiny life. I pray that if the world hates me, it’s not because I’m pointing my finger at everyone else and talking about how bad the world is, it’s because I insist on being aligned with Christ- who goes about constantly, faithfully, subversively, always
always bringing forth LIFE and LIGHT.
"It frustrates me that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. I’m not so concerned about the world of tomorrow. I’m more concerned about participating in what we do today. And making sure it continues tomorrow." -Maggie Morningstone as interviewed by Studs Terkel in the book, Hope Dies Last