Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Embarrassing Last Days

Oddly, I find that I am a bit embarrassed writing this post.

Why I should be so is a bit unclear, but I think it is because I am about to write about a topic that has become something of an embarassment within some branches of the Christian community, including my own.

Let me give an example.

My Bible study group recently finished studying the book of Zephaniah, which is filled with doom-and-gloom about the destruction of ancient Israel, but also of Israel in the last days.

A friend - commenting, I think, on the current situation in the Mideast - suggested that, as in the time of Zephaniah, Israel might go through yet another time of exile.

I replied that I supposed that was possible, but asked why we were refusing to even consider that the last days - mentioned rather prominently by Zephaniah - might be on the horizon instead of another round of exile and restoration?

A woman said (if I remember correctly), "Well, you know why that is! Back when we were growing up there was a lot of talk about the last days happening in the 1980s."

And she hit the nail on the head.

We don't talk about it and pastors don't preach about it because it is embarassing to bring up because people were at least partly wrong about it before.

But that is lousy logic! We should consider the evidence, not whether someone came to the wrong conclusion about it before. If someone does a subtraction problem and comes up with the wrong answer, do we stop doing subtraction problems?

So why am I thinking about this topic?

Well, back in the 1970s (wrong though they were about the dates) I think Christians were right to take note of the rebirth of Israel. The fact that Israel exists again today after almost two millennia of Jews being scattered across the globe is one of the most stunning developments in the last century, and without an Israel none of the end-time prophesies make sense. The occurrance of two world wars shows that worldwide war is not beyond belief. Atomic weapons - and their proliferation - suggest that global destruction cannot by ruled out.

And more recently, I got to thinking again about the last days when a missionary challenged me to give a talk at his mission agency about "Missions in the Last Days," which I did, and you can see here. I asked him if he thought the last days were at hand and he said, "Ummm, maybe within the next 30 years."

Other things that have made me think about this:

Russia, which looked as if it would be a friendly state after the fall of communism - is not, and seems particularly hostile to Israel. The leadership of Iran (I'm not talking about the people, who seem quite reasonable) is extremely hostile to Israel and within reach of obtaining nuclear weapons, which it is apparently ready to use to destroy Israel. Turkey, which has been friendly to Israel, seems to be increasingly hostile to Israel. Anti-semitism is on the rise in Europe and even the leadership of the United States seems lukewarm or even hostile to Israel. Increasingly, Israel seems to be standing alone, in a state of quasi-peace at the moment, perhaps, but increasingly shorn of allies ... except God.

I don't mean to suggest that we get all breathless and stand on a chair and yell out that the end is coming, though maybe a few people doing that would jerk us out of our lethargy, but can't we at least take a sober look at what is happening in the world and at what the Bible describes and give a measured assessment? For the most part, except for a few end-times novelists, it seems we are just shutting our eyes.

For my part, I've decided to study the end-times passages of the Bible, and to read what others have written. (One book I recently read and can recommend is a book called "Epicenter," by Joel Rosenberg. I'm not 100 percent convinced by him, but I am about 95 percent convinced, and it's well researched and not bombastic.)

One final thought. Some will object that we shouldn't focus on this topic; that there is work to be done here and now, things like community development and evangelism.

True! I don't want to "focus" on this. There is work to be done. But I don't think we should ignore it either. If I was to tell you to that a violent storm was coming would that be opposed to what you are doing? Wouldn't you stockpile some food and medical supplies and learn first aid so you could help your neighbors when it happened? And if the huge storm didn't come and just the normal storms came, wouldn't your preparations be all for the best anyway?