If you are reading this, one of two truths are in play. Either the world did not end on May 21st, or the rapture occurred, but you didn't make the cut. Welcome to 7 years of pestilence in which reading my musings and observations may be considered the first few rings of hell.
Where I live, everyone is a guest of the federal government. As such, there are plenty of subjects, which rise to the level of conversation. It is no small matter to be sitting at lunch or dinner and have an entire table debating and discussing the possible end of the world and all associated matters. What is it about this concept of the world ending which causes so many to talk for so long about so little?
In Christian scripture, discussion about the end times comes under the title of the "perusia". We are not plowing new territory here in 2011. After the resurrection, early Christian communities were obsessed with the "end times" and the second coming of Jesus. They believed the world would end next week. St. Paul says not to marry, spend time in prayer and don’t get distracted by worldly things or you will miss it. There was urgency to the spreading of the "good news" as no one knew when Jesus would return and they wanted to save as many as they could. Eventually, after the apostles and disciples die, the world goes on and these religious communities had to reset their expectations.
There have been plenty of examples of "prophets” announcing they know when the end times will occur and calling for their followers to prepare. People sold all their worldly possessions, fled to the mountains and waited, only to be disappointed time after time. Despite a 2000-year track record of failure, these apostles of doom and Armageddon are still able to attract followers. How is that possible?
Death scares the hell out of us that's how. Americans spend billions of dollars each year trying to forestall the inevitable. 90% of health care costs are incurred in the last 10% of people's lives. Death is the great equalizer and no one can avoid it. Those who preach the end of the world are selling certainty in a sea of doubt and fear. You don't have to wonder. You don't have to worry. You know exactly when it's going to happen. The uncertainty, and the anxiety and angst which co-exist with it, is what really sets people off. Knowing when death will appear can be very appealing to some.
An additional wrinkle is added when you proclaim to know when the end will happen and you announce there will be a privileged few who will be taken directly to heaven to bask in God's glory. The "rapture" is a way to propagate an exclusive club where members go directly to paradise, do not pass Go and don't have to worry about collecting $200. Being part of the rapture is the ultimate cosmic razz berry, taking aim not only at death, but also at the secondary fear about what will happen to you after you die. The rapture is a supernatural velvet rope. If your name is on the list, open the pearly gates. If not, you get left behind to suffer everything from war and pestilence to the rising of the anti-Christ who will torment human kind for eons to come (sort of like an being required to watch a never ending loop of Jersey Shore). Most traditional raptures say 144,000 souls will be saved. Talk about exclusive.
In the last couple of weeks, you may have joked with friends about the end of the world, seen billboards proclaiming its arrival, watched CNN parse and chew on the subject and, if you are honest, gave the slightest of serious thought to what if its true. Why? Death is always on our minds.
There is nothing in scripture to support a physical ending of the world. There are plenty of references to Jesus' return, the end time and lots of spooky stuff in the Book of Revelation, but none of it is about existence ending. If you think about it, why would God continue to create only to bring all life to an abrupt and untimely end? She would have no motive. If you believe God created each of us on purpose and to love and be loved in return; a sudden world ending makes no sense. If you imagine a loving God who creates for tens of thousands of years, billions of souls, only to save 144,000 you have a better imagination than me; and besides, your God is not one I would want to have anything to do with anyway.
There are hints in Christian and Hebrew scripture about what the "end of the world" could mean. Perhaps no clearer insight comes from Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount. As you listen, you first conclude He must have been on some serious drugs that day. Peacemakers are not blessed and the meek won't inherit anything. No one can look at this world and say the poor will be blessed and rewarded and being persecuted for righteousness just gets you killed. These are the harsh realities of the world. Yet, Jesus persisted. He imagined a world where peacemakers are blessed because we are all committed to peace. The meek will be blessed because we will all be meek of heart towards each other. The poor will inherit the kingdom because when you let go of "stuff” you can live and care for each other...even the least of your brothers and sisters. The "end of the world", in Jesus' view, is the end of the world as we know it...replaced by a world where the rich and poor and peacemakers et. al. reign supreme.
All of this talk about the world ending is fun because death doesn't scare me anymore. It did. I was obsessed with it most of my life. I ruined my 50th year of life because I was devastated to realize most of my life was over and I would die. However, after you lose everything, get your ego crushed, get embarrassed and humiliated in front of the world, have friends abandon you, wake up to all the ways you have blown it and know all the pain you have caused those you love and who love you, the only thing left to do is spend time in reflection until you have that epiphany and realize what is really of value in your life. What could death have in store for me that is worse than my own fine choices to screw up my time in this world?
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, "...I come to bring you life and life to its fullest." He isn't concerned about what comes next. His kingdom is now. His values are about now. His wisdom is about living a full life now. If, like me, you were lost or had your priorities messed up...if you bought the message He who dies with the most "stuff" wins...if all you can imagine is the pleasure and perks you enjoy and hope to acquire more...then death has to be a very frightening specter hanging over your shoulder. However, if you can forgive when you are hurt, love without reservation or condition...if you can pursue a full and abundant life...if you are grateful everyday for all you have been given and realize all life is a gift...if you are meek of heart, committed to peace and willing to witness to what is right...your life will be full and loving and warm and death will not be something to fear.
So, to those of you who were lucky enough to be in raptured, congratulations. The rest of us will muddle along, trying to improve the world, love our family and friends, reach out to our enemies and hope for a full life. I leave it up to you to decide which group is for you. I've made up my mind.