17 October 2005

Looking for birth pangs

My mother in law looked at me this morning and asked, "With all the earthquakes and other natural disasters lately, do you think we're in the 'End Times'?"

In the spirit of full-disclosure allow me to say that I have a Pre-Mil, Pre-Trib view of eschatology. That said, I also strongly assert that really smart, sincere Christians have been disagreeing on this topic for two-thousand years. The subject is (meaningful buzzword inbound...) a Mystery. We are given hints and clues, but I think it's hubris to claim
doctrine on eschatological matters. But again, I think it dangerous to be a Panmillenialist ("It will all pan out in the end!" ~chuckle~snort~chuckle~snort) and willfully remain ignorant of the issues. Christ says (at least) two unequivocal, important things on the matter.

One: that no man knows the day or the hour of his return - not even the angels in heaven, but only the Father (which seems to also exclude Christ Himself, but I wouldn't bet on that.) So any kind of date setting seems reckless on its face. While it would appear that His first coming and the events of Palm Sunday were predictable based on well known prophecy - perhaps even to the very day - the church age is different. The church itself (Christ in us) is a mystery and it would seem that Christ's return has been imminent since the day after Pentecost.

Two: He says that when you see these things, all the 'signs', come to pass you will know that the time is near. He compares it to seeing the new buds on an olive tree. When you see this you can be certain that Spring is right around the corner. The conclusion - and I'm certainly not the first person to conclude this - is that while we may not know the exact timing of the 'end times' we should be able to discern its approach. And I'm also reminded that Jesus holds the religious leaders of Israel accountable for NOT recognizing the timing of His first coming. It's like, "If you had only been paying attention, none of this ugliness would have had to happen."

But enough of that - I just wanted to state where I'm coming from.

The question about whether or not seemingly more frequent natural disasters was indicative of the end times or not is a complicated one. For one thing, are we really seeing a numerical increase in disasters or are we really only seeing an increase in our awareness of these events. Probably as little as 25 years ago, a big earthquake in Iran or Pakistan wouldn't really have made it to the American news - and certainly not in the detail we get today. Katrina is another, but different example of how news coverage colors
everything. Now that the actual bodies have been counted, and the hysteria dispelled, Katrina was clearly NOT the apocalyptic event it seemed to be in those early hours when we get unending reports of mayhem and anarchy and cannibalism, but in the years to come, folks will likely be left more with that panic filled impression than with the actual facts. So in short, I'd like to see statistical evidence that these events really were more common instead of just relying on an admitedly powerful impression.

But - that said - I do see other prophetically significant developments that do seem to be the slow budding of the olive tree. Most of these are political in nature though, and not environmental, and political timelines are almost impossible to predict. I think if I were alive when Israel became a  nation I would have been on my roof with a suitcase, but here we are 60 years later...and no Jesus.

So in answer to my mother in law - if I was really put on the spot I probably would offer a cautious, "Probably." to her question. Cautious because while I perceive prophetically significant progress, I don't know how far we are from the result of that progress. I also don't think that there is an alarm clock in heaven and when it strikes midnight the show is over. For my own reasons I believe the date of the end isn't actually a set-time in the way Palm Sunday was, but rather something that is inevitable and imminent. Could be today...could be many years from now...

And while it may sound like I'm just being squishy, my answer is actually based on what I see as logical, theological reasoning and not just a desire to avoid answering the question. :)


Michael said...

Amen, brother.

Thanks for a thoughtful, rational, intelligent response. Not that I expect any less from you, but there's so much of the thoughtless, irrational, unintelligent variety out there.

As I've pointed out to folks before, how could you live through the Black Plague in Europe in the late Middle Ages and not think it was the end times? Each generation before us has believed they were at the end. One generation will be right, but we've no guarantee we are that generation.

My prayer is that we would make ourselves keep a watchful eye and a prayerful heart and focus our energies on how to serve Him now, as best we can, and let Him decide His own timing.

matt said...

End Times. Hmm. I'm so glad that Jesus is God and I'm not. How can you possibly expain (in human terms and with the limitations of language) something about the "End Times" when you exist apart/above/outside of time itself? Wow, that'll blow the lid right off of the top of your head! Such a great post at such an early hour. What are they putting in your Starbucks? (wink, smile)