Like many of you, I grew up as an end-times believer.
I mean pre-tribulation rapture, antichrist, battle of Armageddon, and the whole nine yards.
While other kids were thinking about where they were going to go to college, I was worried that the rapture would come before I had sex.
Or worse, that I would actually have sex but that the rapture would happen while I was having sex… and well, that would certainly be disappointing and awkward all at the same time.
Thankfully, none of that happened. Even better is the fact that it’s not going to, because the rapture is a hoax.
Walking away from a belief in the “end times” and all the baggage that comes with it wasn’t easy. Strangely enough, it was actually quite frightening to let go of such a pessimistic view of the future in lieu of a healthy, optimistic, eschatology. You’d think such a trade would be easy, but it wasn’t.
Back in 2007, my wife took me on a weekend get-away to Boston because she wanted me to meet her friend Joe who had done two master’s at Gordon-Conwell and was getting ready to do his PhD in Theology at the University of Aberdeen. She was hoping that introducing us would gently prod me into going to seminary, but at least temporarily, the plan backfired.
The conversation with Joe went great, until he started talking about the rapture being a joke. I still remember walking back to the car when we left dinner, telling my wife what a heretic the guy was… shocked that she would have friends like that. I mean, he was only a theologian who went to one of the top seminaries in the world, and I was a punk who went to Word of Life and Liberty University… so what did he know? (flash forward: he’s now one of my best mates)
The world was ending and the rapture was imminent, I steadfastly believed.
Until I didn’t anymore.
When I ended up in seminary, no less than a week went by before I realized that end-times believers were actually the minority in Christianity and believed an entire worldview that wasn’t in the Bible (go look– there’s no falling planes, no taxi cabs going off the road, no scenes where millions of people missing… it’s NOT there. I can’t even refute a passage about it, because there aren’t any passages to refute.)
Ultimately, I realized that while everyone else had been busy improving the world, I had wasted my time worrying that Jesus was going to walk in on me having sex.
It was so disappointing to find out I had been duped all those years.
I felt like I had just found out there was no Santa Clause, no Easter Bunny, and got kicked in the groin, all in the same day.
It was horrible.
But beautiful too, because it led me to a healthy, optimistic, Biblical world-view. Not the crap that had been fed into my mind by fundamentalist preachers, but the real-deal biblical message of hope.
I discovered that the entire end-times movement was new on the scene of Christianity, something created by John Nelson Darby in the 1800’s. He invented the concept of a rapture, that the world was getting progressively worse, and even taught his followers that it was biblical to be pessimistic about the future– admonishing an entire generation who were busy improving society.
And, it worked. Until he arrived on the scene, Christians were incredibly optimistic and were busy trying to make the world the kind of place that Jesus would actually want to come back to. They fought against slavery, poverty, and were engaged in long-term quests to improve the fabric of society.
Until they eventually bought into the idea that the world was ending, so why bother? With the first World War, the pessimistic teachings of Darby started to make sense- the second Word War sealed the deal. A man named Scofield picked up Darby’s teachings and published the Scofield Study Bible with the teachings of Darby mixed into the pages in such a way that the teachings of scripture and teachings of Darby became indistinguishable.
Combine this with the fact that “Bible Schools” began to crop up all around the US for the express purpose of spreading Darby’s teachings throughout the world, the game was over. Darby and Scofield had (or have) single handedly become responsible for creating mulit-generations of American Christians who think the world is ending and act accordingly.
Well, it’s not, and you shouldn’t.
Yes, Jesus is coming back some day- but not in a hail of gunfire. In Matthew 24 Jesus promised his disciples that the tribulation they would experience prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 would be the worst in all of human history– that from there, things would always be better. He promised Peter that as we built the church, not even the gates of hell would ever be able to stop us.
But, much of my tribe lives as if that’s untrue and would rather plan for Armageddon than work for healthcare or immigration reform.
While the Bible doesn’t teach that the world is going to end in a hail of gunfire, end-times believers actually might make that come to a reality all on their own.
Ironically, end-times believers might actually trigger the “end times”.
What my former community has failed to realize (among 9,172 other things according to my records) is that eschatology impacts your worldview, worldview impacts your behavior, and behavior determines the future.
The things we believe deep inside (even if we don’t realize we believe them) drive our behavior in the here-and-now, and our behavior in the here-and-now has great bearing on future events.
If one chooses to believe in their heart that they are unlovable, they eventually assimilate to that core belief and start behaving in accordance with it– they start behaving as someone who isn’t easy to love, and end up alienated in relationships.
If we believe that a certain situation will never work out the way we would like, eventually we start behaving as if the situation has already failed– and thus, snatch failure from the jaws of success.
Core beliefs drive our behavior, even when we don’t realize it. Behavior simply points to the core belief and gives us a clue as to it’s identity. Behavior is merely a symptom of a deeper disease.
This is where end times fanaticism gets ironic enough for an Alanis Morissette song.
If we believe the world is getting progressively worse until the end comes, we will be a people who start behaving that way. If we start behaving that way, we’ll stop investing into long-term multi-generational ways to improve society. If we stop investing into the future and capitulate to our own crappy theology, well…
We might see our belief come true.
We might see Climate Change creep in and begin to destroy our planet.
We might shrug our shoulders at the thought of melting icecaps, drowning polar bears, and decimated ecosystems- chalking it up to some liberal hoax.
If we believe that more war is necessary before Jesus returns, we might just be a people who- at best- welcome war, and at worst, become gleeful and bloodthirsty with every skirmish in the middle east.
If we believe society will move in the path of deterioration instead of wholeness, we might find ourselves acting like separatists, arming our homes like they are military compounds, and disengaging from culture at large.
If we believe that the end is near, well… we might just start acting like it.
This is why end-times theology is so dangerous- it creates underlying belief systems that are contrary to what Jesus teaches us in scripture, and we begin acting upon them instead of following Jesus.
Our forefathers created a mess with this theology, and many of them got rich from peddling it.
We need to return people to the beautiful, hopeful message of Jesus.
We need to be investing in the future as if there is a tomorrow.
We need to be caring for creation as if it were God’s original mandate to humanity (news flash: it was).
We need to work tirelessly as peace makers, believing that we can actually move closer and closer to that realization.
This false theology has hindered the Jesus Revolution in the same way that our false beliefs about ourselves hinder our daily relationships.
It’s time to let go of the pessimism, and embrace an optimistic God.
If we don’t, we just might usher in the end of civilization.
And wouldn’t that be more ironic than anything Alanis sang about?