This is the Way The World Ends

May 26th, 2011 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Probably most of us weren’t surprised when the world didn’t end on May 21 at 6 p.m. I watched the Rapture chatter prior to Saturday with bemusement. Facebook featured everything from jokes about people whose spouses hadn’t been seen in a while, to the “post-Rapture looting” event scheduled for an hour later, to the slightly more serious post from one friend who said, “I’m amazed at all the people who are making fun of the May 21 rapture who believe the Rapture actually will happen someday.”

I have to admit, I have my own doubts about the Rapture ever happening. I am tired of it being used as a plot device for salvation narratives. Films and books like “Left Behind” and “Thief in the Night” are overused. Fear as a basis for salvation is just not appealing.

One the other hand, maybe it’s the idea of judgment that really gives me pause. I am significantly less cynical about world-wide apocalyptic destruction than I am about the Rapture. Eschatology deals specifically with divine judgment and the destruction of evil. An apocalyptic scenario, however, does not assume God-driven action, but sees it caused by humanity or the natural world. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wars, greed for oil and environmental crises seem close at hand. Most of us don’t equate any of these things with the judgment of God. As my friend Amy (who wrote her dissertation on the rhetoric of dystopias and post-apocalyptic literature) says, we can rationalize the end of the world much easier than we can rationalize God’s judgment of the world. Our technological culture does not like things we can’t rationalize.

But it does make me wonder – how do we recognize God’s judgment? Perhaps the Rapture is an obvious sign of God’s action, which may be why people like Harold Camping hold on to it so tightly. But is that any worse than what I do, which is to deny God’s judgment of the world? Is my own ambiguity about God’s ability and willingness to judge humanity any less limiting than the conviction that the Rapture will happen?

My tendency to imagine a human or environmental apocalypse and yet deny divine judgment means that my image of God is limited to those “nice” qualities I like about God– love, peace, etc. And yet, that is not the entire biblical witness of God’s existence. Belief in the Rapture and in God’s ultimate power to judge humanity, stretches my image of God beyond my rational box. Perhaps that is the real test of my faith and understanding of salvation. Why should not an all-encompassing God include the ability to destroy evil in the world?

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Searching for the God I wish I knew

May 17th, 2011 – by Emily Hedrick

Lately I’ve been thinking about the God I wish I knew.

Growing up in the church, I’ve been told about the God who saved me, the God who washes me clean, the God who completes me, the God who has plans for my life, the God who wants me to live for him. But none of these are the God I wish I knew.

Is it blasphemous for me to say that I don’t want God to save me? What if I don’t want to be washed clean? What if I want to celebrate my humanness? Am I a horrible person if I admit that I have no interest in being “used by God” even if it is in “a mighty way?” What if I want to live my life with God instead of for God?

Maybe it seems a bit self-centered for me to think about a God I wish I knew. Shouldn’t I, after all, be searching for the God who is Truth? Perhaps. Though, it seems dangerous to look for the God who is Truth because that God is virtually impossible to find. I have seen people searching for this God. It is an exhausting endeavor. Many give up and end up creating their own god who is Truth. They cling to their man-made god regardless of the consequences, just so they don’t have to begin the search again.  Often they cling so tightly that they accuse people of being unacceptable to God when they don’t fit the mold or live in some predetermined way.

I have had my own experiences with man-made gods. The temptation in my childhood was to ignore the parts of myself that didn’t match up with what I was told. The urgent certainty of it all caused me to forget myself. Sometimes it still does, but every time I think about the God I wish I knew, I am reminded that I am simply me. I am the way I am for some profoundly good, though often unknown reasons. Those reasons are why the God I wish I knew is often so different from the gods I am presented with.

As I ponder the God I wish I knew, I need to silence all that I have been told about God. As I listen to the deepest longings within my soul, I can hear myself pleading ever so quietly, “Please exist. You don’t need to save me, or make me feel loved, or tell me what to do. Just exist. Just be with me as I am in this moment.”

Truly, this is what I want most: to know that I am not alone, to have a God who will be with me as I experience what is – not what is supposed to be. As I look back at my life, searching for the God I wish I knew, I can acknowledge that I have not received salvation through being magically made pure and learning how to live just right. For me salvation is being able to say, “This is how I am at the moment, and it is okay.”

That is not to say that we should not hold ourselves accountable. Paying attention to our actions and our lifestyle is vitally important. However, if we devote ourselves to seeing and accepting what is, we will discover an underlying current deep within our world and ourselves that drives us toward wholeness and health. I believe we need to accept ourselves in order to find that current. By choosing to see what is, we allow ourselves to be swept up in the current instead of fighting it to try to fit what is supposed to be.

That is why I’ve been thinking about the God I wish I knew. I am searching for a way to acknowledge the validity of where I am right now, and to acknowledge that where I am is okay. It keeps me from clinging to a god that isn’t real, even though the temptation to hold on to certainty, and ignore my own experiences, is real.

Who is the God you wish you knew?

Emily Hedrick is a junior Music and Bible and Religion major at Goshen College. She’s been fascinated with practical theology ever since she started making post-rapture survival plans at the age of nine. Seeing as she hasn’t needed to pull those out yet, she’s been spending most of her time pondering how the church can be a healthier, more life-giving place. She also enjoys thought-provoking questions and good stories.

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Bizarro Easter

May 10th, 2011 – by Mark Schloneger

Two weeks ago, we celebrated Easter.
In the name of Jesus,
we gave greetings of life.
In the name of Jesus,
we decorated the cross with life.
In the name of Jesus,
we sang anthems of life,
we preached about life,
we prayed for life,
we marched outside with life,
we praised the God of life,
we proclaimed life:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

The one who was dead is now alive,
that was our message on Easter Sunday
and that is our message every Sunday.
In a world captivated with death,
we proclaim the gospel of life.

Jesus shared in our humanity,
in order to destroy the one who holds the power of death,
that is, the devil – and to free those
who are held in slavery by their fear of death.  (Hebrews 2:14-15)

I couldn’t help but think of our Easter Sunday celebration two weeks ago,
when I witnessed the celebration that began last Sunday evening.
This celebration continued throughout the week and goes on today.
It’s the opposite of Easter — it’s Bizarro Easter.
It’s a celebration of death, not life,
and it carries it’s own message:

Our enemy is dead!
He is dead indeed!

This was the “good news” that President Obama proclaimed last Sunday evening,
and this is how it’s celebrated:
we spontaneously cheer at a baseball game at the news of his death;
we dance in the streets outside the White House happy about his death;
we sing anthems and deliver speeches giving meaning to his death,
we hail the nation and its heroes who delivered us his death;
we declare that justice has been served with death;
we tell our friends the news, we contact our family with the news,
we post on Facebook the news –
the news of our enemy’s death;
we search out articles to read about the details of his death.
And like bizarro Doubting Thomases,
we clamor to view our enemy’s wounds
just to make sure that he’s really dead.
Can’t we see the video, or at least some bloody photos,
to prove that the one who once was alive is now dead?

Because he died, we can face tomorrow.
Because he died, our fear is gone.
Because we know he threatened our future,
life is safe for living just because he died.

Does this disturb you?  I hope so.
I understand that the death that sparked these Bizarro Easter celebrations
was of a person who sowed hatred and suffering and death
to many, many people during his life.
I am glad that he will not be able to continue to work towards those evil ends.
But as followers of a Messiah who died for his enemies,
there is no nuance that depends upon the evil actions of our enemies.

The answer to evil is found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
For followers of Jesus, death is not a cause for celebration;
it’s a reminder to seek out the God who created us for life,
redeemed us for life, and sustains us for life.
Rejoicing in death is the opposite of Easter.
It’s anti-Christ.

Thankfully, the world has not been left with a succession of Bizarro Easters,
celebrating the deaths of evil people until the next one takes his place.
Jesus reigns victorious over the death-dealing forces of evil.
His kingdom has come, is coming, and will come.
Through the Holy Spirit,
God has called us to life for life,
celebrating and proclaiming and living the good news of Easter.

May God’s kingdom come,
God’s will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Mark Schloneger is a 2005 graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and the pastor at Springdale Mennonite Church, Waynesboro, Va. This post was originally published on his blog drip, drip, drip on May 9, 2011.

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