On Saturday, May 21, Harold Camping and followers were wrong. They predicted that Jesus would “rapture” his people out of this world by day’s end. It was at least the second time they were wrong in this way. The story of their anticipation moved from front page in the morning to page 43 by nightfall. Once again, Christ-followers put on display their ability to miss the point—totally. More about that in a bit.
On several counts, however, I admire our friends. First, they “knew” what they were about. Though wrong—oh so wrong—still they rigorously pursued the implications of their conviction in truly radical ways. They matched their understanding of urgent truth with appropriate, unqualified action. I mean, assuming they were right, they did things that made sense—liquidated assets and used them to share their passion; suspended most features of a life soon to be over; and relativized everything in light of the good news they embraced with their all. And, they didn’t care what nay-sayers had to say. No possession, relationship, comfort, or preference could deter them from pursuing the path God had set before them. As a matter of fact, I must confess, that the kinds of things they did (no doubt about this—they are on tape and a matter of public record) and the motivation that drove them remind me of the earliest followers of Christ who eventually turned their world “right-side-up!”
This reminder haunts me with a question: what’s our excuse? By “our” I speak particularly to and for one segment of Christ-followers, with a sense that others might benefit from considering the question as well. Seriously, what’s our excuse for passionless following after Jesus, and for discipleship that, practically speaking, stalled after we filled in the last blank on the last page of the last little “After You Believe” booklet we studied after “saying the prayer?” What’s our excuse when we have to think long and hard to recall the last thing we did, stand we took, place we went … that felt “radical” or “sacrificial?” We say with enthusiasm and fervor, especially if we think some godless people or group or government seek to deny us, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. But what’s our excuse for a following that exhausts itself on an hour or two per week meeting with others who are just like we are, content with a life-style that is far more supportive of us and ours than the priorities Jesus makes so clear that so few really argue about them, resulting in so many forgetting about them entirely? “Things” like the needs of the poor and Jesus’ relentless call to share (both in deed and word) with the most broken, enslaved, hopeless and helpless right around us. If I don’t stop, someone will think I’m just ranting, when I aim rather for confessing that could be prelude to repenting.
Our friends missed the point, Big Time, but their fault lies not in their devotion to Jesus and willingness to lay it all on the line for him. To that devotion and willingness, I say, “Yes! It surely reflects the radical responses the gospel merits.”
But our friends missed the point—Big Time. Not least, they got the direction that the gospel moves totally wrong, and in this they are hardly alone. They embrace the hope that HOPE draws them “out of this world,” that God has given up (perhaps even by implication, that God has been defeated here), and now has relocated the salvation of the world somewhere out of the world. It is as though the best God can do is snatch a remnant out of the battle and then conduct a scorched earth conclusion to the war. Given the whole biblical story that reveals, celebrates and anticipates the whole gospel for the whole world and person, they missed the point and misdirect the good news of Jesus by 180 degrees.
In fact, rather than “rapture,” a number of other R-Words can get us back on track. Here are a few.
Rupture: The present age and its sway over all God made has been penetrated with saving and judging consequence. The fabric of the way things are has been ripped and has begun unraveling until only shreds will remain. Grace and truth and life and light have penetrated in a Person and His Way, against which the present order will have no defense at the last!
Reclaim: The Creator God has never given up on what God made originally, nor on the things and persons who inhabit the world. For reasons we cannot figure totally, alien and hostile powers have claimed squatters-rights in a world not their own. That world God reclaims as rightfully his.
Repair: The once very good world has been broken and remains in profound disrepair. The squatters and their allies have trashed everything, to the near ruin of all. But only near ruin. Renewal and restoration have begun. Repair and renovation are underway. The squatters are on the run, and many of their allies will reconsider their alliance with them.
Re-creation: The once very good world will be very good once again. No, better than very good. More like new, as in re-birthed or regenerated or re-created. The hope of the whole gospel leads to new heavens and a new earth. The old—even at its best—will turn out a mere shadow of the New, in just the way that the seed is to the rose, and the limp, broken Good-Friday corpse is to the re-animated, re-invigorated, resurrected body of our Easter-Lord.
Now, imagine if our devotion to all Jesus has and will accomplish and our willingness to lay it all on the line in “the right direction” matched those of our disappointed friends!