Introduction: The Last Things Are Coming
The disciples asked Jesus:
"Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Jesus said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons . . .. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . . . (Acts 1:6-8)
Introduction: The Last Things Are Coming
There are two experiences that I would like to share with you. You may recognize in them some of your own.
Pittsburg, 1972 or '73: I am invited by two members of the church my husband serves as pastor to hear a well-known evangelist -- well-known to them. I respect and am fond of the two women who invite me, but disagree with them on many things.
The church is large, the building lovely and in excellent condition; the decoration appeals to me less than the architecture does. This is a weekday afternoon and the sanctuary is almost full.
After the service I walk out in a daze. The women introduce me to Dr. Bob (or Bill or Dick, I cannot recall), who was the great preacher. He smiles, he is polite and human-sized. Everybody smiles, lots of small talk goes on, but I am almost in shock. Did I conjure up the words I heard? Did these smiling people hear what I heard? They did not, or they would not be smiling. I certainly am not. I do not want to have tea with the women, I want to get home. Later I try to talk it out of my system.
"It was the most cruel, inhuman thing to say; the anti-Semitism was utterly shocking, I say later." The preacher was speaking of the "last things," of war and judgment. He quoted a lot of Scripture, prophets and others, without regard to context or the message of the writer. He used single verses, or parts of verses, as if they proved what he was saying, though they did not. The end is coming, we are closer and closer to it. He dwelt at length on the horrors to come. The Jews will die by the millions. He repeated: by the millions. "It will be nothing, just nothing what Hitler did to them when compared to what God is going to do on that day." When he said that, I looked around in the church. People were listening attentively. I was shocked, but no one seemed to have shared my state.
A few days later I had to check out my sanity with the two women. Oh yes, that is what Dr. Bob -- or Bill or Dick -- said. Did I not know that God will destroy all the unbelieving Jews at the end? I was a Presbyterian minister and did not know that?
A more recent memory: a motel room in Cincinnati, 1983:
A youngish, energetic man is preaching. I am not familiar with TV preachers and do not know who he is. Before I switch in search of something else, he catches my attention.
"You think about the weapons we are piling up. The bombs and missiles stored, more and more produced each year. You ask questions: Do we need these? Are they not dangerous?" No wonder I stayed with the channel. Here was a serious TV preacher. He walked up and down, asking probing questions.
Then came the punch line that left me reeling. "You are believers, therefore you have nothing to fear." We have twice as many weapons as a few years ago, and will have twice this many again in a few more years. One day we will use them, he went on. The day of the final battle is not too far off. But the war, when it comes, will be God's war. This earth will become a ball of fire, but just before that happens the Lord will claim his own. We will be raptured out of danger, every one of us. Therefore there is nothing to fear. The unbelievers will perish, but we will be with the Lord.
I was shaken by the monumental irresponsibility of the preacher. If your conscience troubles you, just tell it that you will be safe. Make all the weapons or all the profit from it -- you are safe. You need not worry about unbelieving family and friends, or the life of humanity. You are safe. What else could matter?
The main issues, the threads and connections of recent teachings about the "last times," were present in these two experiences. As I listened to the two preachers I was aware of the issues, but only now do I see the connections, the significance and relationship of the themes and the scale of their influence on American society today.
First, there is the bone-chilling anti-Semitism which no one protested -- neither church members nor Jews. The bloody imagination of slaughtering most of the Jews seems not to matter as Jerry FaIwell, one of the chief proponents of such views, receives the key to the city of Jerusalem on his visit with Israeli leaders.
Then there is the "theological" support for an inflated military budget, weapons development, even destruction of life on earth. All this is presented as being on God's side -- taking God's side in the final battle to destroy God's creation.
All of us who care about peacemaking and alternatives to a nuclear holocaust -- those of us who still believe that God loves the world God created and expects us to do all we can to preserve and enhance life on earth -- have a responsibility to pay attention not only to what these preachers are saying but also to what our own tradition teaches about "the last things.