…or is it?
Between the recent global news stories of earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear threats, civil wars, and what seems like increasing persecution of Christians, it doesn’t take long before a conversation heads in the direction of wondering whether we’re getting really close to the second coming of Jesus. Frankly, it’s a little strange that intelligent, Bible-reading Christians spend so much time speculating about this. Jesus says in Mark 13 that these things are going to happen, but that they are not the harbinger of the end of everything. He refers to them as the beginning of birth pains, and the world has been experiencing these pains for millennia. Moreover, Jesus explicitly tells us not to try figuring out the day and hour of His return. He does tell us to keep watch and to be good stewards of what’s been entrusted to us – including the Gospel. But attempting to figure out exactly when our patient, hope-filled watching will turn into seeing Him in the clouds is something to avoid.
Once we put away our end-time calculators every time there’s a major seismic event (whether geological or political or otherwise), I think our time will be better spent responding in love to the disasters in question however we can. Maybe it means making a donation. Maybe it means being better informed and not just assuming that the mainstream media reports give us the full picture. Maybe it means, as one wise Christian I know suggests, having conversations about the wisdom (or lack thereof) in using nuclear power for electricity or building homes on flood plains and where tsunamis are threats.
Of course, those can be time consuming, costly, and hard things to do. It may just be easier to spend time speculating whether the end is truly nigh.
In a Jules Feiffer cartoon (which I couldn’t find online – otherwise I’d show it, not tell it), a man is looking up in the sky when another asks him what he is doing. The first man responds, “I am waiting for Him to come back, that’s what I’m doing.”
The second man responds, “But that’s silly; He won’t come back from up there. You can find Him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbour, doing good to those whose hate you, in suffering for the truth.”
The first man replies, “Did you say suffering for the truth?”
The last panel of the cartoon shows them both looking up into the sky, and the first man says, “I find this position more comfortable.”
Our speculating and sky-gazing may indeed be easier and more comfortable than responding in costly love towards those affected by the events we’re plotting on our end times calculators, but I think there’s still more to it than that. At this past week’s Mark Bible study at Telkwa CRC, someone made this most insightful comment: Perhaps we prefer to make end time calculations because it gives us the feeling that we’re in control.
No one knows when Jesus is returning. As people with Google at our fingertips, we don’t like not knowing things. We feel out of the loop and even powerless. So we mistakenly think that our speculations will give us knowledge, and that our knowledge will give us a sense of control. Unfortunately, by analyzing world events, looking for clues to God’s end-time plans, we are in a sense trying to be God instead of simply trusting in God’s good timing.
I don’t think I need spell out which Jesus would commend.
But I will repeat what Jesus does: In these times as in all times, keep watch. And keep living and sharing the Gospel in all circumstances.
David E. Garland describes the Jules Feiffer cartoon in his commentary on Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 510.