Over the past weekend I have had R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the world as we know it” stuck in my head, and I think the reason is somewhat clear! The airwaves have been full of opinions about the recent failed prediction of the end of the world. From ridicule and mockery to condolences and sympathy, everyone seems to have an opinion about what these people did wrong. Was it a false prophet or a misguided shepherd? Were the followers stupid, or just unaware of the deception taking place? Were they well intentioned, or purposefully deceitful?
Part of me wonders, however, where the actual root of their error is. Is the problem with the effort to know the date and time of Christ’s return, or is the problem more centered in the escapist attitude by which these people and so many other Christians live?
Many of us live with this worldview that states that we are just to put up with all that is wrong and bad in this world, because the end goal is life with Jesus in heaven. Because of this we hedge ourselves into our Christian communities, ignoring the world on the outside because, after all, it’s all going to hell anyway.
The problem with this is that I don’t think it reflects the message of Jesus. I believe, following the lead of people like N.T. Wright, that when Jesus declared that the Kingdom was at hand, he was not saying that it’s coming soon and we must get ready to go there. Instead I believe that Jesus meant it’s close in proximity. In other words, instead of being close in time, it’s close in space. It’s something that we can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste now, in the present. It isn’t something we wait on; it’s something we live in the present.
I do think there is some future date when this will be made decisively so, when the kingdoms of this world are overcome by the Kingdom of peace and love that Jesus proclaimed. But the biblical witness is clear that it isn’t Jesus taking us away to heaven, but it is Jesus bringing heaven to earth. So the way we prepare for that is not worrying about dates and times, and it’s not by sequestering ourselves into our pure, Christian communities. The way we prepare for Kingdom Come, is by working to bring the Kingdom here where we are. Through living lives of love, justice, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. By proclaiming peace in the midst of war. By declaring acceptance in the midst of cultural division. That way, when Jesus does come decisively planting his Kingdom on all the earth, he will recognize those of us who are living and operating his outposts in the world today. But these aren’t outposts of seclusion, but places where we are bent on transforming the world around us by driving out the darkness with the light of Christ.
So maybe this time should mark the “end of the world as we know it,” not in that the world implodes on itself, but instead in that we Christians decide that enough is enough, and we are going to live the Kingdom of God on earth, transforming the world we know into the Kingdom we are awaiting.