The Last Judgement, by Peter Paul Rubens (1617)
I saw this in the Huffpo the other day:
Sorry, Maya. Just when peculiar apocalyptic interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar were about to thrust you into the media frenzy sure to come in 2012, some knuckleheads cut in front of you by predicting the return of Jesus on May 21, 2011.It's a reference to a bold prediction by Harold Camping, described in Wikipedia as the May 21, 2011 Doomsday scenario.
I hope I have a chance to finish my cake and ice cream first. Even more importantly, I hope my wife isn't raptured up if we're in the midst of canoodling. If there's anything to this Millerite or Darbyite reading of scripture, she has a better chance of getting raptured than I do. It would be just my luck...
Joking aside, where lies hope? Christians are supposed to be hopeful people by definition, but just what is it that we are supposed to be hopeful for? In his autobiography Just As I Am, the celebrated evangelist Billy Graham described a meeting he had with German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer shortly after the end of World War II, as Berlin still lay in ruins. Graham picks up the story as he stands waiting in the man's office as Adenauer gazes out of his window at the shattered city below.
Even more memorable was German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. One time when I was preaching in Germany, he invited me to his office. Coffee was served, but before my first sip, he started in.I don't know if he ever made good on that conviction or not, but I do know that Adenauer, a devout Catholic, skillfully led the rebuilding of Germany from out of the ashes with his Christian Democratic Union Party, which has dominated German politics almost up to the present day. After the war, Prussia lay behind the Iron Curtain. As a result, Catholics from the south and the west were quite influential in leading the way towards building a society and a body-politic in West Germany that was heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching and the principles of social justice. Germany became a highly prosperous and efficient social democracy, respecting both the rights of capital and labor (union members sit on corporate boards and consult with management at every level), while providing universal health care and affordable education to its citizens. Even today, despite having high labor costs, it is a creditor nation, a net exporter of goods, and has even been able to bail out struggling neighbors after having successfully absorbed and re-integrated a failed socialist state. Perhaps in all this, they've been too successful. In parallel with this lofty and enviable level of security and equality, the practice of faith in Germany has fallen through the floor in a manner that surely would have distressed Konrad Adenaur.
“Young man, do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?”
“I most certainly do,” I replied.
“So do I. If Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, there is not one glimmer of hope for the human race. When I leave office, I’m going to spend the rest of my life studying and writing about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the most important event in human history.”
On the other hand, in a land with far less security, equality and public trust, Billy Graham's son Franklin has been parlaying a less hopeful message about what lies ahead for mankind to the benefit of his own success (examples here and here) in a manner his father probably never would have.
So who's right?
Ironically, to borrow the German term of "schadenfreude," many so-called evangelists in the USA have been doing very well for themselves presenting a vindictive vision in which their enemies - the secularists, the unbelievers, the liberals, the skeptics, the scoffers - will suffer their just deserts at the hands of a wrathful God, while they themselves are whisked away from the awful tribulation beforehand.
This represents no small fringe movement in the USA. Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth was one of the biggest selling books of the 1970s and 1980s, and the books in Tim Lahaye & Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind Series have been some of the biggest sellers of the 1990s and 2000s. There are even video games based on them.
Earlier this week on Drudge there was a big hoopla about a CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) report that the clerics in Iran are saying that recent world events point to the imminent arrival of the Mahdi (also known as the "Twelfth Imam") and a series of apocalyptic events to shortly follow.