Talking End Times With Old Friends

I checked the email account I reserve for a group of old friends from high school. They’re very verbose and keeping up can be kind of difficult with my schedule, but I like to peek in every now and then to see what’s up. Today I went over there and saw the top message was ‘Calling Winston Delgado!’. They were discussing current events and had come onto the subject of politics and the End Times and I was asked what I thought.

How crazy. I just logged into this account for the first time in a while and this is the email at the top of the list. There’s something like 4000 unread messages here. How are all y’all? I’m fine. Good to hear from you and to know that you think of me sometimes-I think of all of you often. Liza asked about how our political views have evolved. Let me link you my latest blog post and you can get a sense of where I’m at politically this very afternoon: My tongue is firmly in my cheek on the title, but I am trying to lure people who strongly disagree with me into reading what I have to say. I see no need to preach to the choir. I’m not a raving liberal-I consider myself a progressive pragmatist. I voted for Hillary in the primary but have come around to be very impressed by Mr. Obama. It’s not that I think Obama is going to solve all of our problems, but what our nation needs is someone with foresight, a willingness to be flexible, and the ability to stay cool in tough situations. I see these qualities in Obama and he has my unreserved support at this point. I would have voted for John McCain in either 2000 or 2004 if given an opportunity but the GOP decided to go with someone I said of in the fall of 2000: ‘if you elect Bush, things are gonna suck. Your precious economy is gonna freeze up, foreign policy will be a disgrace, and our rights will be attacked.’ It was a lonely position to take back in those days, but such is the lot of the progressive pragmatist.

I would like to think that I’m better informed than I used to be, and that my perspective isn’t bound by the ideologies of others-I don’t toe anyone’s ‘party line’ these days and do my best to think for myself. I also hope that my understanding of the thoughts of people who disagree with me is far more sophisticated and compassionate than it used to be. It’s easy to demonize but far more difficult to humanize people who don’t share our viewpoints. In other words, I don’t want to harm racists, but I would like to get them to reconsider their beliefs.
To give Athena the response to Sunny’s thoughts that they both deserve will require explanation of my own beliefs as well, and I’ll try to keep it simple. I consider myself a Christian while acknowledging that most of my brothers and sisters who are believers would disagree with me about what I mean when I say that word. I accept this without complaint and don’t expect anyone to see things the way I do but would hope that people consider my words.
To begin with, there is the difference between faith and belief. These are two different words that mean two different things. Beliefs are mental constructs that we assert are true outside of any tangible evidence. Prime examples would be the belief that Jehovah created the universe with His Hands less than 10,000 years ago, or the belief that there is no God and that life is without any meaning. Beliefs are the basis of ideologies and worldviews. Faith is something else. It is the trust we put in that which we don’t know and cannot percieve directly. Most people use beliefs to shore up their faith. I have often heard fundamentalists argue that if any of their beliefs about the Bible were proven false, then their faith in Jesus would be a lie. For me, this is an example of a very weak faith that requires elaborate justifications for it’s existence. My faith in Christ would remain if a time traveler showed up with videotape proving the Crucifixion never happened. The idea of a universe that has taken billions of years to reach it’s current development only makes the idea of God more glorious to me. I have spent my adult life stripping away my beliefs to make my faith stronger.
This is not a minor point to me. Faith is what gives us the courage to live by Christ’s difficult commandments. Belief makes excuses as to why we don’t have to. I’ve argued at length with conservative theologians who insist that ‘believing in’ Jesus is enough and that our actions are insignificant in regard to our souls. These folks insist that what God wants from us is to obey church authorities and internalize their proclamations of interpretation and nothing more. I have studied the Bible devoutly for a long time. My friend Kenny is a Methodist minister who jokes that I know my Bible better than most of his professors at Divinity School do and he apparently shares my writing with his classmates for discussion. (and yes, Persi, it’s that Kenny. He’s got a collar and everything. How are you, girl? I hope everything’s good.) I share this to underscore that what I am about to say isn’t some Da Vinci code bull$hit. It’s my own personal bull$hit that I made myself.
The Bible is a very complex book with a very long history that is often misrepresented by the churches and misunderstood by the congregants. ‘Revelation’ is not a literal forseeing of the future. It was a letter written to the early churches by an apostle containing exhorations to remain faithful despite hideous prosecutions being inflicted upon the early Christians. For example, the ‘number of the beast’ is very likely referring to Nero. Nero’s name in Aramaic is numerically ‘666’ and it makes sense to not refer to him directly in any document because at this time Nero was impaling Christians and setting them afire to act as torches to light his garden parties. He also is likely the Emperor who executed St Peter. He certainly would qualify as an ‘antichrist’ in every way. It is impossible to fully understand the Gospels and other New Testament writings without understanding the history of the Roman world during the first century AD. During the lifetime of the original Apostles the Romans obliterated Israel and scattered the Jewish people in yet another diaspora that would not end until 1947. It is very likely that the first Gospels weren’t even written until after this event, which makes a certain amount of sense from the viewpoint from the Apostles; until Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple destroyed in AD 70 the Apostles believed Christ would return bodily to them in their generation. This was their Apocalypse. The field of Megiddo is where the battle of ‘Armageddon’ is supposed to take place and this field would have been a likely place for a Roman host about to siege Jerusalem to stage their forces. It makes perfect sense that the writer of ‘Revelation’ would have warned about the ‘final battle’ beginning there. The Apostles who survived this ‘Apocalypse’ would see that their world was forever changed and that if they were going to keep faith alive in Christ their witness would have to be recorded. The warnings about a single ‘world order’ and single currency makes perfect sense if you lived as a non Roman citizen during the Pax Romana because that is exactly what the Empire was enacting. (consider what Christ was talking about when he said ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s-he was talking about using Roman coins in the Temple) Early Christians and Jews were forced to engage in worship of the Emperor at the cost of their lives-shrines to the Caesars can still be found throughout the former Roman Empire proclaiming men like Julius, Augustus, and their heirs to be ‘the messiah of mankind’ and the ‘king of kings’. These were not warnings about some future event but things that were occuring in the world as St John wrote the words.
All this aside, there are the words of Christ Himself in Matthew 24. None of us will know the time of the coming of the Son of Man and those that claim to are vultures picking at a carcass. He exhorts us to keep watch; that is, to stay awake and aware, to live as if any moment could be the last. He tells of the faithful and wise servant who behaves as if His Master were due to return any moment and so keeps the household in good order. He tells of the faithless servant who beats the other servants and disregards the Master’s instructions while He is gone. There are many vultures around us who seek to abuse us and use the Body of Christ for their own ends. They enrich themselves by spreading fear and ignorance, claiming the mantle of the Master for themselves when they are nothing but servants like the rest of us. If Christ is going to appear in the sky to usher in the End Times, let Him find you at work in His fields, not trying to second guess Him or trying to usurp His flock for your own enrichment.
The End Times are always upon us in that plagues, disasters, and wars are nothing new. Humanity has suffered countless trials and ultimately survived, and I believe that is truly what God wants. I don’t believe that God created a world just to destroy it when things were finally getting interesting. I think that nurturing the belief that humanity will be over in a short time is dangerous and anti-Christian. I don’t want a person who believes that God’s Will is for the Earth to end to have the power to make that nightmare come true. It is our duty to make the world a place fit for our children to raise their children in, not to prepare it for God’s Cleansing Apocalyptic Fire. If God truly wants end the world, then there’s nothing I can do about it, but I’m certainly not going to take any steps to bring it about. As I said earlier, I have much faith and few beliefs, but one of those beliefs is that God wants humanity to have babies, and to have those babies for uncounted generations to come. I believe that if Satan truly is in the world with us, he is the one whispering of apocalypse and end times to us, for with the destruction of the world he would then be freed from his captivity.
Sunny, (and anyone else I may be offending) I don’t want this to sound disrespectful or obnoxious because I am speaking with unflinching spiritual sincerity when I say that when I read the ‘Left Behind’ books I saw the same sort of death cult mindset that I find amongst Islamic Fundamentalists. I think fantasizing about God wiping away the world is the sort of thing suicide bombers embrace. It’s a nihilistic daydream that strokes our egos by telling ourselves that we are so important that the world will not outlast us, that if we must die then we will take everything and everybody with us. This is the exact opposite message than the one delivered by Christ on the Cross. But then, that’s just my belief. Thanks for asking me to share mine with you.
Sorry this was so long, but I got on a roll. I am, however, totally going to use this for a post. Thank you!

One Response to “Talking End Times With Old Friends”

  1. Just a minor correction: I am not a Minister yet. I am a Seminarian. I am considered clergy, but I think the titles Minister and Reverend should be reserved for _ordained_ clergy. Second, I said you knew more about the Bible than my _classmates_ not my professors. Big difference! I do think you would do well as a Biblical scholar. I also think you’d do well in theology since you are not freaked out when someone gives you new stuff to think about or challenges the nice safe theology you’ve spent years having constructed for you by the church.

    I loved that you differentiated between belief and faith. I think I’ve always understood that on some level, but it was very helpful to have it “named”. Thanks for that!

    Your end times comments were also very interesting. I’m reading a book on Christology by Jurgen Moltmann (Isn’t that a great name for a theologian!) He believes that a new eschatology (the theology of endings) and a new reading of Revelation was ushered in by the Cold War and by the threat of ecological disaster. He believes that this is the first time since the Patristic era (sorry, I get caught up in terminology. You probably know that the Patristics are the church fathers. The first generation of Christians) that we can actually read the NT as if we were the last generation on earth. Brings an interesting twist to the whole thing!

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