The sooner the world goes to hell, the sooner I go to heaven… Ugh!!

I hesitate using this phrase as a subject, as it is something that I so strongly disagree with, I can barely stand it. I have had a number of conversations over the last few days regarding eschatology (to use an “insider” word), or the study of the last things. After reading chapter 18 in Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren, a number of thoughts came to mind that seem to be worth putting down. This idea of “the sooner the world goes to hell, the sooner I go to heaven” is not necessarily something that people would come right out and say, but as I think about how our actions show what’s going on inside, and what some Christians really think about God, this message does come across.

There are some Christians who tend to focus so strongly on the end times and what is going to happen when Jesus comes back to administer God’s final judgment and wrath on a sinful world. They get much of their theology from the John’s book, Revelation, and they read so literally all these ideas that John seems to have written with such strong analogy and imagery. I hear reference to words and phrases like, “this world is not my own,” “tribulation,” “rapture,” “the second coming of Jesus (a phrase that is not actually in the Bible),” “judgment,” “wrath,” “humans’ dominion over creation,” “just war,” and others, and my red flags go up right away. Each of these is not in and of themselves a terrible thing, if they can be clarified and explained. But the sum total often tends to imply my point from the title. We must follow things out to their logical conclusion.

Pardon the long quotation, but I can’t say this better than Brian does:

If we believe that Jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn’t his “real” and decisive coming – it was just a kind of warm up for the real-thing – then we leave the door open to envisioning a second coming that will be characerized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture. This vision reflects a deconversion, a return to trust in the power of Pilate, not the unarmed truth that stood before Pilate, refusing to fight. This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one shold be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly.

If we remain charmed by this kind of eschatology, we will be forced to see the nonviolence of the Jesus of the Gospels as a kind of strategic fake-out, like a feigned retreat in war, to be followed up by a crushing blow of so called redemptive violenc in the end. the gentle Jesus of the first coming becomes a kind of trick Jesus, a fake-me-out Messiah, to be replaced by the true jihadist Jesus of a violent second coming…

The Jesus of one reading of the Apocalypse brings us to a grim resignation: the world will get worse and worse, and finally this jihadist Jesus will return to use force, domination, violence, and even torture – the ultimate imperial tools – to vanquish evil and bring peace. But exactly what kind of victory and peace are we left with when domination, violence, and torture have won the day? This version of Jesus brings us to a kind of fatalism that sees the future predetermined and our actions incapable of altering the divinely preset outcome. And it sees domination, violence, and torture as the eternal legacy of God’s creative project.

The Jesus of the emerging [perspective] tells us the opposite: that good will prevail by peace, love, truth, faithfulness, and courageous endurance of suffering, and that domination, violence, and torture are among the things that will be overcome. In this view, no good deed will be forgotten or wasted, so we should start doing the next good thing now, faithfully continue, and never give up until the dream comes true. Eve if doing so will cost us our life, we must press on, because death is not the end, and even death itself cannot stop the advance of the peace and love of God.

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