It’s soon. Very soon. A Not-Kidding-So-You-Better-Get-Ready kind of soon. And if you don’t believe me, just ask any one of the tens of millions of evangelical Christians worshipping in America today: These are the End Times, they say, and Jesus may come at any moment. Every single headline is proof positive that the age is drawing to a close.
I have a habit (maybe good, maybe bad) when I’m around those who geyser their apocalyptica in the midst of congregations where I worship. I quickly point out that Christ may indeed come tomorrow … or that He may hold off until 2937 A.D. I point out that I am always ready for Him to return sooner, but that I’m fine with His returning centuries or millennia after my death. It’s His universe. His return is His Father’s call.
The reactions to my assertion are disturbingly similar, incident after incident. I’m questioned about my faith, the unspoken implication being that I might not really be saved. Then I have current events and headlines repeated to me more slowly, as if I might be a little too dim to understand that the only interpretation of an earthquake in Haiti, of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or of a one-vote Democratic majority in Congress is that Jesus is coming long before my 401(k) investments pay off. And finally, I get some variation on this tidbit of condescension: “You’re entitled to your opinion, Cosmic, but all the signs are definitely in place, you know.”
Did the title of this blog concern you, make you worry about what I would write here? Did it strike you as borderline unChristian of me to suggest the end might be far off? Then hello again – you may be one of the people I’ve had the above conversation with.
Here’s my concern for my End Is Nigh-ish brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m more than ready for the Lord to return in 2011. Or 2010. Or next Tuesday, around lunch. But are they ready for Him not to return until 2937 or beyond?
Being Ready for the Long Haul
Recall the parable of the ten virgins. Better still, give it a read once again:
1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2. And five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
3. For the foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them:
4. but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5. Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6. But at midnight there is a cry, Behold, the bridegroom! Come ye forth to meet him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are going out.
9. But the wise answered, saying, Peradventure there will not be enough for us and you: go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10. And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast: and the door was shut.
11. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
13. Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour.
Time and again, I've heard this parable of Christ’s used to encourage us always to be ready for the End Times. And I agree, that’s certainly one of its messages. But a common misunderstanding seems to be that the foolish virgins weren’t watching for the signs of the End Times, and therefore missed out on the Bridegroom’s arrival.
None of the virgins was watching for the Bridegroom. Verse 5 makes it clear that all of them slumbered and slept, every single one, foolish and wise alike.
The issue was that the foolish virgins hadn’t been ready for such a delay. They'd said to themselves, “The end is nigh, the Bridegroom comes immediately!” And because they expected no wait, they were caught with insufficient supplies. Not enough oil. Too little light. “We expected Him sooner! It wasn’t supposed to be this long! Help us, give us what you have so we can make it to the end!”
Make no mistake. It was the fools, and only the fools, who demanded the Bridegroom arrive hastily. The wise virgins were the ones who were well stocked and ready for the long haul. Even without staying awake to watch longingly for the arrival, they were provisioned for the long delay and still ready when He came.
This is the point in the discussion (and I’ve had it numerous times with numerous brothers and sisters) that I have to kick a bunch of “Yeah, but …” protests out of the way:
· “Yeah, but there are more earthquakes now than ever before in history!” [No, there really aren’t. Check the US Geological Survey web site if you doubt me on that.]
· “Yeah, but there are wars and rumors of wars!” [Yes, and if you check the Word for what comes after that line, you’ll find “but the end is not yet.”]
· “Yeah, but things are more horrible now than ever before in all of human history!” [Those who lived through the Black Death, the Holocaust, Mongol horde invasions, the Third Reich, the Spanish Inquisition, and any number of other horrific epochs of human history might disagree.]
· “Yeah, but … well, gosh, if you don’t believe these are the End Times, you might not have what it takes to survive the hardships! I’m worried for you! You might be lost!”
That last one is always, and I mean always, at the heart of the discussion. And it saddens me when I hear it. I can never bring myself to say what I need to say – that I fear for them more than they fear for me. That I worry they don’t have enough oil for the long haul. That they may not have the staying power of faith that carries them through a lifetime. That they are coming too close to aligning their fates to those of the five foolish virgins who couldn’t outlast the tarrying of the Bridegroom.
Tracking End Times prophecy is fun. I admit that. And I don’t mean to degrade it by calling it fun (any true End Times devotee will know what I mean when I say it’s fun, downright exhilarating, to weigh and measure the signs of the season).
But all fun aside for a second … this Christian life is serious business, and requires a lot more staying power than our longing, escapist hearts desire.
So I ask if you’re ready. Are you ready for the end not to be nigh?