7 October 2015, Oxfordshire – Well, it’s the end of the world…again. (Here is the official soundtrack, if you’d like some background ambiance.) Last week I published the post below, noting a beastly number of proposed prophetic fulfillments I’ve endured throughout my Christian life. If only it could end!
Another Christian group has announced that Earth will be destroyed . . . today! I mean, before the clock strikes midnight . . . in some time zone or another . . . the end. How frustrating is that?! We haven’t even spent our tax return yet. Our weekend plans. And I was just beginning to drop some pounds (both in terms of health . . . and wealth, given that we live here in the U.K. and the exchange rate can feel like a second death).
I mean, what if you were finishing preparations for a sermon, hoping to help your congregation distinguish between biblical eschatology and the more popular escapology? Yep, escapology, defined as “the distinct desire that everyone’s life would end at the same time, so no one could continue to grow in holiness or guide others toward the grace of Jesus Christ” (see First Impressions 6:66; Second Opinions 7:77; and c.f., Hesitations 3:2 . . . 3:2 . . . 3:21).
What strikes me, honestly, is that one might hope that our prayers would be aligned with those of our Lord Jesus when he prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Or perhaps we could align our prayers with the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:19-26, where he wrote in vv.24ff, “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.”
In light of all the failed predictions of prophetic fulfillment, such desired and practiced fidelity would be so very refreshing.
What I’d like to do is point you to the material below, if you have the time. Ha! What else are you going to do in our final hours? Then again, if Earth is incinerated later today (or if it already happened before you read this), then what I’ve written here will be so very passé. Then again, I find these current prognostications distinctly dubious. So dubious do I find them –and given that I found the announcement online – I could be persuaded to classify this nonsense not only a version of escapology but as e-scatology (see Philippians 3:8). But perhaps that can wait until tomorrow . . . if there is one.
PROPHETS AND PROFITEERS
27 September 2015, Oxfordshire – I wanted to spend more time on the following post, but time ran out (pun intended). Honestly, the wondrous realities of real people got in the way: family, friends, our wonderful students at the Summit Oxford Study Centre. So, I’ll leave this as it is: a little bit raw.
History and Hysteria
Since I became a follower of Jesus in late-1987, I have endured a series of seasons where Christians and others have believed that humanity is on the verge of some dramatic and traumatic event, one that is foretold in the Bible, and preferably ensconced in some vague passage, and especially with an appeal to a Hebrew term with wide lexical options or a variety applications or a myriad of resonances, and most preferably with some numbers (any number will do), and most desirous are numbers that are easily divided by others that can be deemed significant in some way or another.
Oh, the magic of it all.
Were these prophetic? That is the question. Or were they just pathetic? Well, that may be a bit provocative, even if a bit more apropos.
What they said the Bible said was false . . . false . . ., thus granting motivation to some who would dismiss the Bible all the more.
These folks may not be false prophets, technically, but they surely are not commendable readers, leaders, or teachers. Yes, perhaps they are just very bad teachers, people we should not follow, should not believe. People whose books we should not have purchased!
Far, far . . . far too often I find such authors’ proclamations to be egocentric, even ethnocentric, as they read biblical texts, seeing them as pertinent to any and all things American, particularly North American, and almost exclusively, but surely primarily, with the United States of America as near the epicenter of whatever the alleged prophecy is supposed to be on about.
Confused yet? Sorry, but that is the nature of such contemporary prognostications.
A few months before I became a Christian there was the frenzied and fleeting hope of New Agers in the Harmonic Convergence of August 16-17, 1987.
While planets were aligning, New Agers gathered at Big Sur (California), in Sedona (Arizona), at pyramids (wherever they could be found), and at other alleged spiritual power centers such as Mt. Fuji (in Georgia…not!).
Dang it. Another failure . . . and the globe kept spinning. The bills kept arriving. And taxes, oh the taxes . . . where was our deliverer?!
Well, it gave us some something to think about, anyway. And they were nice vacation spots. And the new friends. And probably some humming (or oming). And perhaps even some ukulele playing. I imagine the acoustics were fabulous, at least some of the time.
Reasons and Rapture
Soon after I became a Christian, it was 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.
Then it was 89 Reasons . . . , since the author had overlooked something or another (such as nearly everything that is good or true or beautiful).
Then that too passed, with Christian advocates blushing only for a few moments, as life rushed at us all.
Then someone pointed me to The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay, and the novels about whores by Dave Hunt.
There was a lot of scripture in all of these publications, of course, but there also seemed to be a different sort of God than the one I had encountered and read about in the Bible.
Wars and Y2K
I’m not sure, but perhaps the next episode in this sort of pathetic publishing was the 1990-91 Gulf War, complete oil and Armageddon. A slew of paper works spilled forth from the presses, with Christians gobbling them up like the latest blockbusting horror films for those of faith.
That too passed.
All that storage food eventually passed.
Then came 11 September 2001.
Then the Iraq war.
Codes and Camping
Somewhere in that heady mix was The Bible Code, that wonderful volume touting technological Gnosticism where one didn’t need to bother with the lines of Scripture, just what was between the lines – not the words or letters, just selections of them. Hmm.
Then it was the end of the Mayan calendar on 21 December 2012.
No, it was the Arab Spring.
No, the housing bubble.
No, the bank bailouts.
No, global warming.
No, the next U.S. election.
No . . . ISIS.
No . . . the “blood moons.”
Where is Harold Camping when you need him? Oh, that’s right: the failed predictor of the end of the world died in December of 2013. A failure. A fraud.
Moons and Lunacy
But at least we have Hagee to save the day.
Or is it Cahn?
Oh, stop it! Please just stop it. Can’t we ever learn?!
The adrenaline-fueled affairs we have with biblical prophecy are desperately fanciful. Why not invest our time in fidelity, rather than all the real and virtual infidelities that mimic our adrenaline-fueled habits.
Could this or that government, or this or that international tension bring about wide-scale problems in our lifetime? Sure. You betcha. Absolutely. Most certainly.
But I doubt to infinity and beyond that we’ll find any guidance by fiddling with numerology, or selecting every tenth letter, or reading sub-Christian fiction, or aiming yet again for September, or October, or May.
Nor will using squirrel terms of “may” and “might” and “could” and “perhaps” and “has happened before” to cloak the promotions, as if they weren’t quite false prophecies then.
But the moons . . . !
When you are a con, not even alleging “mystery” will do.
Truly, discernment is the all of the day! Discernment can be enhanced by a study of history (see 1 Corinthians 10:1ff).
One must do the hard work of assessing personal, corporate, or cultural corruption and decline by reading history, learning biblical theology, and gaining convictions deeply rooted in biblical ethics, or one can follow current Cahn men.
Rest assured, those who are selling millions of books just now are banking on being here well beyond tomorrow.
You know what you’ll find at the heart of biblical prophecy? Look for yourself. I dare you! But it’ll take time, lots of time. Here is what you’ll find, in short.
You’ll find prominent themes regarding repentance, regarding fidelity or apostasy, regarding ethics – the avoidance of idolatry, immorality, and injustice (see Isaiah or Obadiah).
Indeed, the just will live by faith, not by the pathetic (if monetarily profitable!) fiction that parades as prophetic fact (see Habakkuk or Amos).
The prophets were visionary ethicists, faithful to God, calling us to share in God’s affections and aversions (see Ezekiel or Zechariah).
They were prophets, not self-aggrandizing profiteers (see Malachi or Micah).
What does the Lord require of us? (Micah 6:8)
(Earlier versions of this post were published on 15 September and 27 September 2015.)