Sunday, March 13, 2011

Apocalyptic Anxiety

A few days ago one of my wife’s buddies asked her if all the wars, volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes might be the biblical signs of the end times.  I liked how she answered.  All of these things, and more, have been going on for thousands of years, but because we see them now in our own time, they appear to us as if uniquely ours.  We can be tempted to read into them more than they deserve.  
Many of the churches in our region thrive on the apocalypse.  In the scary language of B horror movie promotions, they hype out of town prophets coming (for one night only) to tell us the true meaning of scripture and warn us of what’s to come.  Routine sermons are rich with the threatening imminence of the last day and final judgment.  Some local pastors seek battalions of prayer warriors to stand in the breach between the Devil and the God’s people on That Day.  No wonder some folks are stoked with anxiety, ready to see the end approaching in every headline and breaking news interruption.
It’s great theater, lousy theology and fully understandable.  This kind of religious thinking, with its accompanying social anxiety (even hysteria), has ebbed and flowed throughout history.  I suspect that it reaches its high points under three conditions.  First, the political and natural world seems out of control.  Second, there is a critical mass of individuals who believe that their personal lives are also out of control and in serious jeopardy of losing life continued in comfort and safety.  Third, and oddly enough, these conditions, however catastrophic they may be somewhere, are not catastrophic in the lives of those anxious about the apocalyptic end of time.  
I doubt that persons living through the London Blitz, Japanese earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, Gettysburg, or similar catastrophic events, give much thought to the apocalypse or hysterical prophecies.  They are too busy surviving.  The same may be true in times of great national striving in times of urgent need.  For apocalyptic anxiety to find its moment there must be a certain distance from which unfolding events can be observed and interpreted according to whatever prophecies have had time to be raised to awareness.  
I wouldn’t mind so much if those convinced of the imminent end of time would also use their remaining days to live in peace with one another, seek reconciliation for injustices done, and be agents of God’s love throughout the community.  So far I haven’t seen much evidence of that.  More often it takes the form of crowing about the salvation of some over the well deserved damnation of others, or hiding from any social engagement, or stockpiling for survival. 
When is that last day?  For my friend Helen it was about three hours ago.  For thousands in Japan it was a few days ago.  For millions around the globe it’s an everyday occurrence.   

4 comments:

rob culhane said...

Your post has been a little oasis in the midst of my chaotic morning. Here at All Saints, Clayton, Melbourne,a few even this morning during Morning Prayer have been voicing similar concerns that the earthquakes in New Zealand and now Japan are harbingers of the 'Last Days'. Trying to settle down the restless sheep when the 'overnight' prophet who sensationalises everything is one of the most frustrating parts of being in ministry. Well written. Rob

Geezer Dude said...

I am expecting the end of the world to arrive within the next 35 years. It will be 45 years at the most, and it could be tonight. My children probably have a further horizon. You probably understand my point.

In the meantime, what shall we do? Some of my current readings suggest that the question should be, "What, who, how shall we be?"

In the meantime, I'll probably stockpile food to last for a few days, money to last a few years, and stuff to outlast the end of the world as I will meet it. Oh! I also plan to stockpile love, memories, and experiences to last beyond the end of the world as I experience it.

Country Parson said...

Rob,
Thanks much. As He said, feed my sheep and tend my flock. Maybe we should be ordaining sheep dogs.
CP

Geezer,
Good comment, but you live such an easy life down there on the Piney Creek. What could possibly go wrong? I mean other than tornadoes, hurricanes, rattle snakes and heavily armed wayward Texans.
CP

SUNRISE SISTER said...

I like this post and I especially like the comments from Rob and Geezer!