Sunday, September 04, 2005

"Nobody told me there'd be days like these"

An acquaintance and I were talking over coffee about -- what else -- the hurricane, and she said, "You know, from all that's happening, I just have to believe that Jesus is coming back soon."

I reminded her that starvation and violence and catastrophe have happened every day, somewhere on the planet, since the beginning of time. This evening, I heard on the news that a typhoon hit China this week and displaced one million people. They just had their own Katrina, but it was barely a blip on our radar screen.

With all due respect to my friend (who conceded that I had a point), I get annoyed with the hubris of American Christianity and its assumption that catastrophe here is a herald of the Tribulation but catastrophe elsewhere is just business as usual. What, God is going to spare America from the machinations of nature and the forces of evil until the clock is about to run out?

Like everyone else who believes in historic, orthodox Christianity, I concur that Jesus Christ "sitteth upon the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead." Beyond that, I part ways with many of my evangelical compatriots.

Beginning with Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s and most recently with the Left Behind series, evangelical end-times theology has centered around America as a sort of final staging ground of the end of days. In other words, it'll get bad here before the Tribulation, then we'll all disappear before the really, REALLY bad stuff starts happening.

Tell that to the Christians in China. Or North Korea. Or Sudan. Or just Google "persecution against Christians" to find some stories that'll give you nightmares.

Now, Lindsey has a Web site called "Hal Lindsey" Oracle. What, he's a prophet? Does this bother anyone else besides me? Lindsey has been predicting for nearly 40 years that the return of Christ is imminent, and I mean within-the-next-five-to-ten-years imminent. I wonder how many people made professions of faith based on that spurious (and now, obviously discounted) claim and have since drifted away.

(Oh ... Lindsey's site also features a collection of silly and trivial "witnessing" mugs and T-shirts, including one that shows John 3:16 and the words "FIRE INSURANCE." Makes me want to hurl.)

I'd rather take the position that my own pastor did this morning: Hurricane Katrina is just the latest in a long line of evidence that we live in a fallen world. When catastrophe gives birth to depravity and death, we really shouldn't be surprised. Appalled, yes. Compassionate, yes. But surprised?

When Christ warned about "wars and rumors of war" and natural disasters, I think he was saying that this would be the condition of the world until he returned.

And no one is exempt.