As the tragedy in Japan unfolds, with thousands dead and thousands more unaccounted for, it’s easy for one’s mind to immediately jump to the quake in New Zealand earlier this year, and the one in Haiti.
And then, if one has a particular religious background, it’s easy for one’s mind to subsequently jump to prophecies and sandwich boards and revelations of apocalypse.
I’m not an End Times Rapture kind of guy (anymore), but it’s in crises like these that I can understand why so many find it comforting to seek answers in eschatological predictions. These help us feel like God is in control; that there is a plan; that we can rest-assured in a gracious outcome if we are faithful; that there is order in the midst of all this chaos and suffering.
I don’t write that with a disparaging tone here (i.e. “folks clinging to their God and their guns”) although I’m more than capable of taking that route, in general… While I was born into it, after leaving dispensationalism behind, I think I really do understand how Christians get there in the first place. These headlines are scary and hard to make sense of. Like trying to fit together six seasons of Lost.
The problem is, when we look at Japan and New Zealand and Haiti and New Orleans, and say, “Mark 13, Revelation 6: Jesus said it was going to happen, it’s all part of the plan…” we allow triumphalism to overshadow our compassion. It’s another facet of why Evangelicals seem to take such a long time to activate on issues of social justice, earthkeeping and stewardship. We let the so-called “last page” of the story override our responsibilities to the plot leading up to it.
Sometimes the headlines still scare me… like, KIRK-CAMERON-scare-me: “wars and rumors of wars…” But someone smart followed those words with, “see to it that you are not alarmed.” That same guy spent a lot of time preaching a sermon on a mountain. That sermon might be particularly instructive as we approach people in Japan and New Zealand and Haiti (and also Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth). It starts and ends with compassion. There’s a lot of work to do, and whether or not we can see the literal last page (whatever that means to you) doesn’t change what our duties are as actors in the narrative of creation