Have you ever heard someone say, “Jesus, come quickly”? It’s usually something Christians say when things feel particularly crazy or disordered or hopeless. The thought is that things are so messed up, and our only hope of getting them sorted out is the return of Jesus. It is a very common eschatology (the part of theology that’s concerned with what happens at the end of things). A lot of people believe that the moral timeline of history is just things getting shittier and shittier until everything falls apart… A which point, Jesus will show up with a sword on a horse, he’ll burn it all down, he’ll build a new heaven and a new earth, and that’ll be it. Some people believe this narrative so unquestionably that they are even committed to hurrying along this inevitable demise. And so they pray for the world to end…
In the Bible, it was written that when Jesus was asked about the end times, he said that there would be wars and earthquakes and famines. He said there would be tribulation, and that his followers would be persecuted. He said there would be false messiahs and false prophets who would try to deceive people, and that these things happening would be a sign that the end is near. And so, for centuries people have looked for signs. They’d see something awful happen, and they were convinced that the awfulness was just a prequel to things finally being made right.
When he was asked about how things will end, Jesus said that “at that time people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with power and glory.” Of course, at THAT time (the time Jesus said this) they didn’t think about (know about) the fact that the earth is round, and that people on the other side of the planet wouldn’t see this dramatic return in the clouds (or people 100 miles away, for that matter). And as to the WHEN of all this happening, Jesus says that no one knows… not even the Son. Only the Father. But for some reason — even though he also says he doesn’t know when it’s going down — he tells the people who are listening to him talk, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” He talks about his kingdom — The Kingdom of God — a lot.
So, to review, Jesus tells the people at that time that his return will happen before some of them die. Even Paul, the author of most of orthodox Christian theology, got it wrong. He fully expected to see Jesus return in his lifetime. He referred to the people who had died before Jesus’ return as “those who have fallen asleep in him,” and wrote that “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” And generation after generation has thought the same thing: That Jesus is coming “soon.” Be alert! Soon and VERY soon! LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT!!!
So now, when things feel crazy and unstable, people start thinking, “Is this it? Is this the BIG one??” And beyond that, when things feel like they are falling apart, people start praying for this to be the end. “Please, Jesus… Come quickly.” They’ve been praying that for 2000 years. Or “We’ve” been praying that (I’m not so sure which one it is anymore). And it’s not just conservatives who think this way… Many progressive Christians have this same mindset. They see this mess with the Congress and the impeachment and Trump and all these misled white evangelicals, and they think back to all the “false prophets” talk in the Bible, and they think, “Jesus, come quick.”
I believe this way of thinking is built on a foundation of a debilitating christian pessimism… This idea that “It’s all going to shit anyway, so what’s the point?” It’s the idea that we are incapable of anything good… that we are so totally depraved — such total garbage — that we could never hope to get anything right… And that our only hope is Jesus coming back and setting things right. And I don’t think that’s the story. But really, even if that WAS the story, does it really change how we act until end actually comes?
Imagine a bunch of people were in a water-tight room with a leaky pipe. Let’s say a plumber shows up and talks about fixing the leak… but he ends up leaving out the one door there was to the room, he locks the door behind him, and he says he’s coming back. He’s gone for a while… Longer than people expected. Meanwhile, drip, drip, drip… The water starts to pool up on the ground. Days turn into weeks… Weeks turn into months… Still no sign of The Plumber. The water is rising. Some folks start to wonder if he’s really coming back… Or if they heard him correctly. Others are like, “HE SAID HE’S COMING BACK SOON, AND I BELIEVE HIM!” People start talking about trying to fix the leak. Others are like, “We can’t fix that leak — We’re not plumbers!” People start talking about learning to swim. People start putting folks in charge of different responsibilities. People start choosing leaders. Others say, “What’s the point? The Plumber is coming back soon to open the door (though, for some reason, they believe that he’s only going to let a couple people out… But that’s another blog post).
Here’s the point: Whether The Plumber is coming back or not, wouldn’t you still try to fix the leak? Wouldn’t you still teach the kids to swim? Wouldn’t you still put responsible, good people in change of making sure things get done? And I mean, you CERTAINLY wouldn’t choose people who are so blindedly certain that The Plumber is coming back soon that they are trying to expand the leak to “hasten” his return! Whether he comes back or not, our responsibility is to take care of each other and limit the harm that is done. And if The Plumber DOES show up someday, I’d imagine he’d have some harsh words for the people who didn’t do what they could to fix the leak…
I think this idea that Jesus is coming to save us does more harm than good… It absolves people of their responsibility to fix this mess we’ve created. Just like the harmful idea that “the 2nd coming is happening soon & Jesus is going to burn it all down & give us a new earth” ends up with people using that belief to excuse & defend policies which hurt the environment and endanger future generations. You probably don’t see a whole lot of people in doomsday cults giving their kids vaccines. Who cares about “global warming” when your eschatology tells you that very soon the world’s going to end in fire, right? ESPECIALLY when it includes the narrative that that fire is what is finally going to make everything right. This is why we see “christians” promoting Middle East “peace” policies which they quietly believe are ushering in the apocalypse.
So here’s what I believe: I believe that no one knows whether or not anyone is coming to save us. I believe WE have a responsibility to try to fix the leak. We should be taking care of each other — Especially the ones who are vulnerable and oppressed. Justice is not coming on the clouds… WE are responsible for promoting and ensuring justice. If a march is needed, we are the feet of Jesus. If tables in the temple need to be flipped over, we are Jesus’s hands. We are here NOW. The kingdom of God is not simply “somewhere we are going to go when we die” — It is something we are responsible for building while we are alive. We are not simply waiting for The Kingdom to arrive… We are here to actively BUILD The Kingdom of God. Now.
This includes getting political. This includes VOTING. This includes electing leaders who are honorable and honest and moral. It matters who governs… One need look no further than the thousands of children in cages at our southern border to know that this is true. Magical thinking or praying “Jesus come quickly” has no effect on the policies that separate children from their families when they show up at our nation’s border looking for help. Hoping for a magical hand from heaven to fix this mess we’ve made is like offering a hungry person “thoughts & prayers” when what they really need is a meal.
A lot of christians say they “don’t want to get too political.” And a lot of leaders within Christianity are committed to “not taking sides” on political issues. Churches who preach a message of “God makes us rich” attract rich folks who fund things and build new wings on buildings… Churches who talk about social justice and preach the political message that God is on the side of the poor tend to struggle financially. But please hear me, here: People who are telling Christians that they shouldn’t be “political” are people who don’t like what the Bible and Jesus have to say about our responsibility to economic and social justice. People in positions of power don’t like the sound of “bringing the mountains low and raising up the valleys.” Saying things like “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” is great news for the poor, but it’s terrible news for the 1%… Who also happen to be the same ones funding political campaigns and paying for advertising time on TV.
Listen, I’m not saying that everyone has to have the same eschatologies. No one knows how things are going to end… Or even IF they’re going to end. It’s possible that Jesus might return someday. I’m not holding my breath… But whether you believe that someone is coming to save us or not, you need to vote like it’s up to us to fix things. Because it is. And that means GETTING POLITICAL. The message of Jesus is inherently political. The impact of Jesus’ message on the political powers of his day is what got him killed… Just like the politics of Martin Luther King Jr. is what got him killed. Being on the side of the poor and the oppressed makes you a target for the rich and the oppressors. It gets people killed. And maybe that’s what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Get political. VOTE. Jesus was on the side of the poor and vulnerable and oppressed… Christians need to follow him.
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