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The Thoughtful Pastor: 'End times prophecy' is unhelpful and possibly destructive theology

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The Rev. Christy Thomas, Commentary

Dear Thoughtful Pastor:  How do you view the natural disasters, economic problems and increased persecution of people today with the predictions of what we will see in the "end times prophecy" in the Bible?

Christy Thomas
Christy Thomas

The Thoughtful Pastor: The contention that there is going to be a specified end to the earth and universe as we know it comes from the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Christian Bible. It presents horrible scenarios, full of death, blood, wrath and judgment. It was probably written in the late first century and most likely by the Apostle John.

There are two primary interpretations of this work:

One: These words are prophetic in the sense that they predict a future event, culminating in a complete end to the created world as we know it. A recreation, centered on a glorious, jewel-studded Jerusalem in the center, follows. Adherents to this view affirm the powerful triumph of God and God's specially chosen ones over the powers of evil.

Two: These words are prophetic in the sense that John used code words describing the horrors that Rome was currently inflicting on the known world, especially Jerusalem. He calls beleaguered believers to stay the course, to stand on the hope that eventually, good will overthrow the evil of Roman oppression.

I was nurtured as a young Christian on Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth. His insistence that the end of the world was around the corner (option one), helped to engineer a culture of urgency about Christian evangelism.

If true believers didn't quickly get others saved, those poor souls would spend an eternity screaming in agony in the lake of fire. I would, naturally, be one of the lucky ones, strumming my harp in heaven. I had said the right words and "accepted Jesus into my heart." I was safe from the truly nasty and utterly destructive wrath of God.

In 1948, the United Nations recognized Israel as a sovereign state, giving a Jewish homeland. Lindsey believed that God was now ready to see how many people would get mercilessly tortured in the days of wrath.

Oh, and yeah, there were a lot of earthquakes going on. And floods. And tornadoes. And volcanoes. And tyrants.

The problem: there have always been earthquakes. And volcanoes. And tornadoes. And hurricanes. And murdering, torturing tyrants.

The world has always been fragile economically, with times of prosperity punctuated with famines, wars, plagues and desperate poverty.

What we haven't had, until recently, is 24/7 news sources keeping the latest tragedies and atrocities right in front of our faces.

An earthquake in China burying many school children? We know in hours.

A tsunami in Japan that resulted in massive radioactive leaks when the waves hit a nuclear power facility? It slaps us up the side of our collective faces five minutes later.

A bloody military coup in some small country no one can pronounce correctly? Within a day, the news feeds burn horrific images onto our brains.

At best, this kind of information would have taken months to work its way around the world before. So, of course, there appear to be more earthquakes now as well as more economic instability and more persecution.

Yes, economic injustice permeates the world. It always has. From the beginning of recorded history, we find cruel and exclusive ruling classes supported by the often unpaid, backbreaking slave labor of underlings. Nothing new here.

Yes, the earth's climate is undergoing change. The sheer number of humans, the crazy amount of concrete we've poured and the massive toxins we pump into the atmosphere have accelerated that change.

Even so, there have always been massive warming/cooling climate changes. Long before humans came along, many of the now arid parts of Texas were once damp, dank swampland. Icebergs retreat and advance. Earthquakes and volcanoes still shape our continents, all of which constantly move and shift shapes.

We exist, tenuously, on a living planet.

Most who preach an imminent "end times" appear ignorant of the geological history of the earth or don't think the physical sciences ought to inform their worldviews.

Furthermore, some religious groups base their existence on the absolute surety that God is about to bring an end to the world. Certain they are the chosen ones, they make preparation for the end. A deteriorating world proves they are right.

To these, the earth, as a living entity, has no particular value. The quicker they facilitate the destruction, the sooner they bring about a new heaven and earth.

The world is indeed fragile. But this is not the imminent destruction that Revelation may, but probably does not, imply. We just know more. Plus, there is a larger population to oppress and more effective tools for bringing damage to others.

I find it an unhelpful and possibly destructive theology. But many totally disagree with me here.

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