A week ago this past Wednesday I had suffered from a week packed in a few short days. Quickly, this is no complaint it is just a fact. I sat on my stool and admitted to those gathered I was not ready to discuss another chapter of Ezekiel. I asked if anyone had a question we could consider, a current event to discuss in light of our faith or something God had been doing in life.
As I recall one of the local television stations had run an evening news piece on the now postponed vote of HHBC. One of our young adults asked a question about the matter. The issue is not so easily addressed without a bit of Baptist history, theology and contextual exegesis. I really thought someone would ask about the battle raging between Israel and Syria. The constant curiosity with all things pertaining to “the end” generally get first thought when the floor is opened.
Failed cease fires and continued military actions and reactions in the Middle East keep us wondering just what is going on. This past Wednesday I was reading through The Daily Oklahoman. I generally check out the one page “Religion” that is the back page of the “Food”section. Is that lost on everyone? A Baptist reading about religion on the back page of the food section. After all we are known for “meeting and
eating.” You can look at most of us and tell this is no empty epithet. Richard N. Ostling, AP Religion Writer, provided a local pastor with “free advertisement” of a new book in the form of a “story.” The piece is something of a review with occasional explanatory commentary regarding a particular view of “the end.”
The article reads,
More important, he believes the Bible and the news tell us “the final showdown between Israel, Iran and the other Muslim nations could be very near, … It looks like the curtain could go up at any moment. Again, “the Earth appears to be on the verge of entering into its most dangerous and difficult days.”
I realize it is Ostling’s commentary but it should not be lost, “the Bible and the news tell us.” Recently debate among Southern Baptists in Oklahoma have in part been about the Bible and something else – namely Tradition (at least Baptist Tradition). Most conservatives really do not like to base anything on the “Bible and [fill in the blank with anything else].” But here, from Mr. Ostling’s vantage point the settling of this issue on one place in Ezekiel 38 would require the “Bible and [something else].” I am
not interested in debatingdispensationalismm. Paul has done a good job writing on the subject of eschatology. I simply find it interesting the places we go the minute a conflict erupts. Prior to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the various dubious “curtains”, everyone expected something from Russia or China when it came to discussing “what happens next.”
The Ostling piece closes with,
Hitchcock is convinced that their [all true believers] disappearance will produce a United States “devastated beyond comprehension.”
I confess our preoccupation with “what happens next” rather than “what God is doing” keeps the United States “devastated beyond comprehension” as we who follow Jesus fail to spend as much energy living out the life of Jesus. Yes, that does mean I would have differing view of the Kingdom of God than Pastor Hitchcock.
In the same edition of The Daily Oklahoman, the editor of the Opinion page ran a Cal Thomas piece, Armageddon again.” I recall Cal from his “Moral Majority” days. Back then there would be little doubt he would have agreed with Pastor Hitchcock. However, the piece he wrote on August 1, 2006 indicates at least a skepticism of the
consequences with a pre-occupation with “Armageddon.” He may still hold to the same view he may have had from those days gone by. However, he really draws out something of a disdain for the cottage industry that is “Left Behind” stuff. He writes,
“Authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have created an industry with their best-selling “Left Behind” book series about the Rapture and the disappearance of all Christians before the final battle of Armageddon takes place (15 titles and more than 63 million sold, which testifies to the intense interest in the subject).
So I am not accused of conflating Pastor Hitchock’s work and Thomas’ reference to Armageddon, understand both are suggesting some of these things must happen and their occurrence signal the nearness of the end. Thomas notes Jesus said, “[Jesus] warned about deceivers who would come in His Name, and claim to have knowledge about dates,m times and the end of this world.”
These two pieces belong together in the sense they offer two differing understanding of the events about which we are now reading. I find this a serendipitous moment when certainly had everyone been on the same page, these articles would not have occurred in the same edition. I opt for the closing Thomas penned for his piece,
On that authority [Jesus said he will come at an hour you do not expect him], the end isn’t yet upon us because too many expect it. But, as Tim LaHaye said on “Good Morning America” last week, it is still good to be prepared. Stop worrying about dates and times, though, unless you’re writing a book, making a movie, or delivering a speech. In those circumstances, “prophets” can make big profits with their modern equivalent of sandwich boards that proclaim the end is near.
I wonder if the interesting juxtaposition of these two pieces in The Daily Oklahoman doesn’t call out attention to a better question than “What happens next?” Should we be asking, “What is God doing in the bringing of history to completion?” The first question keeps us guessing about the Bible and the news. The latter keeps us considering the ongoing “mission of God in/to’ the world. Were that our interest, our focus may well be on how we might live out the lives of blessing and you could discern the difference
between life in the United States with active followers of Jesus and life without. Maybe a return to “salt and light.”