Saturday, March 27, 2010

Living in the End Times, Etc,.

Well, it has been quite some time since I have blogged -- sorry about that. I'm going to start doing more of that and hope that it can be a blessing, at least in some small way, to some . . . Below is the start of a discussion which I have had online at the Wittenberg Trail site with a man who had questions about end times stuff. Perhaps his questions are yours and perhaps my answers will help you, too. Feel free to comment or ask more questions below. His questions are in red. My answers are in purple (a nice, Lenten color) . . . /s/ ajw

They say that when we look back on the "Good Old Days", they weren't really as good as we might remember them. We may repress bad memories, focusing on our successes while seemingly forgetting our failures.

In Bible Study, most members seem to have the idea that things are getting worse and worse as time progresses. Some have leaned toward premillennialism, and see this pessimism in light of the end times. Another member is more optimistic and sees that some things have gotten better. She does not go along with the view that things are always getting worse.

If we were to look at specific things that have gotten worse, some may be legitimate (increased violence in schools) whereas some may not, as crimes and troubles are better reported today than in the past.

Scripture tells us that before Jesus returns again, things will be just like in the days of Noah. Pastor, it is true we can have great joy about the imminent return of Jesus, but regarding the sin that is rampant in the world, is it right to see each generation as more evil than the one before it, or is this a faulty look at the world, theologically? What is a healthy, Christian view of the overview of human existence on the earth over the centuries?

Dear __:

Neither pessimism nor optimism, as such, is in order for the Christian. We live by faith. To be sure, we know that in all things God works together for good with those who love Him (Romans 8:28); in other words, God will most certainly take care of us Christians. This is, in part, the Gospel teaching of election (do NOT fall prey to the false doctrine of double predestination). Herman Sasse, has a great quote about pessimism and optimism: "Only this faith in the living Lord poises us properly for our tasks. He guards us from the two great sins of Christianity of our times. The terrible sin of pessimism doubts the possibility that the church can accomplish anything, because it no longer takes seriously the confession of the present Christ. Such pessimism does not take it seriously that to Christ also today all power is given in heaven and on earth, and He is just as near to us as to Christianity of the beginning. He guards us too from the terrible sin of optimism, which overlooks the fearful reality of sin in the world, and knows nothing of the fact that the power of evil works most wretchedly where it destroys the community [Gemeinde] of Jesus. Pessimism and optimism are human emotions. Where they rule, faith is falsified. For faith has nothing to do with emotions. It is the unshakable trust in the unbreakable promises of God."

Will things get worse? Sure. The "signs of the end" are always intensifying. They have been in place all along but they continue to intensify as the world groans under the weight of sin (Rom. 8:18ff.). But we Christians have the reassurance of the Lord Christ Himself that He will preserve us safe. For the Lord's own discussion of the signs of the end AND His promise to preserve us, look closely at Matthew 25 -- in particular, note the changes in verb tenses in v. 22-25.

The book of Revelation indicates that there will be a "little season" of great trouble right before the End - Rev. 20:3. Of course, the church of every age has asked the question, "are we in the 'little season' now?" since it always seems as though it can get no worse -- at least to each succeeding generation. So we keep on crying out "How long?" AND we keep being fed with Word and Sacraments so that our faith may be kept alive during the trying times of our lives -- incidentally, I am right now working my way through a little book titled "Handbook of Consolations" written by Johann Gerhard -- in his book, he suggests that we all do quite well to closely contemplate death since death will come upon all of us, sooner or later (most American Christians, in my experience, hate to consider this b/c we seem to think that admitting to our mortality is somehow sinful (?)). Gerhard's book is an excellent devotional tool, in my opinion.

Is your friend wrong who thinks that things are getting better? Well, overall, yes. To be sure, we get to see some wonderful technological advances (the internet, for one -- well, mostly, although we have heard what pornographers and others have done with it, too). However, the world is wearing out: just as our bodies which are not perfect and are more and more subject to age and disease and will eventually succumb to them, so this wretched world which we think we know and love so well, will also betray us and will wear out.

Our hope is Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebr. 13:8)

Helpful? Want to unpack some of the stuff referenced above? :)

Then the gentleman asked this followup question:

Yes, this helps some. I shouldn't have really used the words "pessimism" and "optimism"--I knew as Christians we have a real, solid hope in Christ, who is able to do all things, who conquered the grave. "God desires all men to be saved..." This clearly doesn't leave room for pessimism. African-Americans are treated better today than they were over a hundred years ago. We have been given people with smart minds who have made all kinds of inventions, vastly improved transportation, and all kinds of convenience (yet while these conveniences have helped save time, much of the time they saved is now wasted, IMO). For decades, the Cold War dragged on, and in God's good time communism fell, the Berlin Wall came down, Poland and other satellite nations found new freedom. Yet today our country seems less of a democracy than in the past, and Roe v. Wade has not yet been overturned, socialized medicine is making inroads, replacing freedoms with governmental demands. Many needed jobs are still overseas, and uncontrolled immigration is still not solved, as U.S. citizens can no longer count on unity of language. Public schools are required to proselytize our children with a God-less form of universalism which demands tolerance yet is quite intolerant of Christianity. The government was only called to make sure all children had access to a good education, yet the government monopolizes education, and when budget cuts are inevitable, we sacrifice our children's exposure to art and music, even though some may be going into these fields. But even if I could only see the positives, optimism is not the way of the Christian, as we know the realities of Satan (who lurks as a lion, seeking whom he may devour) and his demons, their craftiness, and the world's blindness to their existence. St. Paul is quite clear about the evil in "the ways of the world", and how Christians are not to conform to this. Clearly, we are told that no matter how bad things get (or appear to get), God is still in control, Satan was defeated, death is dead, and God loves His people. The gospel has transformed us, taking us from the prison of spiritual death to new life and freedom, and we have been trusted to carry this Great News forward to others who dwell in darkness. But, overall, will the wickedness of future years, decades and centuries get more and more evil (unprecedented), and will persecution of God's people become as it was in the first century (a.D.) or worse? How could you explain this to us in relation to Amillennialism, to a generation who has largely been exposed to Premillennialism? Some talk of a required implanted chip with health records as if it were the "mark of the beast." Some seek to stockpile food to prepare for a period of unprecedented persecution. Amillennialists recognize that Christ could come back ANY day, and that nothing more needs to be fulfilled before the parousia. Could you please further explain this, contrasting Biblical eschatology to the dominant eschatology of the day, rampant in much of 21st century Protestantism, helped along by Hal Lindsey, the Left Behind books & movies, etc.? I appreciate your help here. You wrote, "Will things get worse? Sure. The "signs of the end" are always intensifying." I remember being told the world was going into another ice age, yet some herald "global warming" as a threat to our coastlands, and arctic habitats! I understand that there is to be an increase in natural disasters, but how will things get worse in other ways? When I was growing up, the thought of a one-world government was pure science-fiction, yet there are many who push for just that. Christians should not expect material prosperity beyond God providing for our daily bread. But how bad could persecutions really get here? And please return us to the comfort of God in Christ.

Dear __: How will things get worse? Your guess is surely at least as good as mine. But Holy Scripture makes abundantly clear that the world is not "curing" her problems -- not by a long shot. One of the big problems is that we all tend to think that we know so much about time AND eternity based on our relatively insignificant span of time. Example: So I live to be 100 years old (highly doubtful). What difference does my one life make in the greater scheme of things? I live, I sin, I am forgiven (by God's grace in Christ), and then I die. What changed? The only ways in which i might influence the future is by the faithful witness of faith in Christ which God may use to influence (an)other(s) -- so that the whole concept of Christian vocation becomes a central theme of my existence. Sure, every so often some bright shining star bursts upon the scene for a short lifetime and that person's life leaves a lasting influence (Luther for one) -- but in truth, unless that bright shining star changes things for eternity (as did Luther b/c he spoke, preached, taught and wrote of the things which are eternal), it has only changed things, at the most, for the short time of this world, a world which will come to an end. Some passages to contemplate in this regard: Romans 8:18ff. and 2 Cor. 5:1ff. There are others, but if you try to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these very plain scriptures, they will remind you (and me) of how very frail our short existence is. I suppose that, speaking for myself, whenever I imagine what a difference my life ought to make in the greater scheme of things, I am being a bit (OK, a lot) vain. The global warming, new ice age, and blah blah blah debate is a classic example. People think that WE are such a big influence on the life of the planet. But those who closely study history note that the planet tends to cycle through things, or at least that seems to be the indication of science (I'm not a scientist so I cannot speak with the authority with which others speak). Who knows what will come? My grandparents (3 of whom I never ever met but at whose graves, in Lutheran cemeteries, I have stood) could not imagine just my mp3 player on which I listen to Issues, Etc. and other great stuff -- shoot, I didn't imagine such a thing 30+ years ago when I was admitted to the Pastoral Ministry (and I remember a secretary who REALLY did not want to give up her typewriter for 'one of those new computers' when i told her that it was the future -- that was a little over just 20 years ago). Imagine what else will change! I am as concerned as the next guy (probably more b/c I tend to worry -- may Christ continue to forgive me for that) about what governmental changes are coming to us and to our children and grandchildren, but even a cursory reading of especially the minor prophets will demonstrate how God picks up one nation and uses it to punish another, and how He changes the whole course of world history in the blink of an eye. I share some of the concerns of the Christians who get all worked up about chips being implanted. BUT, I also like 'plastic money" (debit cards) even though some fundamentalist Christians have warned against it for years (and likely will continue). I remember, in the very early '80's, when attending the MO. State Fair (at Sedalia in case you care), being behind fundies who had a hissy when the guy tried to rubber stamp their hand so they could be readmitted if they returned to the parking lot during the day ("Oh, God, it's the mark of the beast...."). All of that to say that i don't know altogether what to worry about b/c it seems like there's new stuff coming along all of the time -- and deadly serious stuff, but there are issues which remain the same: sins against the 10 Commandments, including adultery, a generally low regard for marriage, abortion (THE great moral failing of our age!), homosexuality, abusing our neighbors, turning our backs on God and His word, false doctrine, etc., etc. The premillenialists and postmillenialists and dispensationalists all misread Holy Scripture which is truly amillenialistic as that term is commonly understood. The 1,000 year reign of the gospel is a perfect number (10 x 10 x 10, aka 10 to the third power) and is the rule of the Gospel era -- not necessarily a literalistic 1000 year reign. Rather, at the end of time (as we know it), Christ will visibly return on the clouds of glory, the time of grace will be over, He will send His angels to gather the elect, and we will be with Him in the new heaven and new earth (whatever that will be like). I've heard some pastors try to describe the new heaven and the new earth as being in (a) new dimension(s) -- that seems plausible to my incredibly puny, finite mind. So I am driven back, again, to the things which do not change: God's mercy in Christ (but be sure to read 2 Cor. 6:1ff. lest you or I think that the day of grace will never end); Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebr. 13:8); God stands above time (2 Peter 3:1-13 is EXCELLENT commentary -- and note how succinctly the psalmist affirmed it in Psalm 90:2 and other psalms). In fact, in all of my contemplation, I try not to wander from these truths (alas, but I sometimes do) which do not change, for they are the truth of my salvation in Christ my Lord. I'm pretty sure that you already know this stuff but would just like to hear a pastor reaffirm it for you -- I'm delighted, frankly, to do so for you or anyone else. I think that a lot of Lutherans and other Christians have these kinds of questions but they never get around to asking them -- I wish they would so that they could be comforted and learn to live out their lives in humble faith in Christ, being fed by Him in His Word and Sacraments, and serving Him by serving their neighbors humbly. The Lord bless you and yours for Holy Week and bring you with humble joy to blessed Easter and the culmination of all our hopes! Again, I pray that this is helpful to you . . . .