Posted by: smstrouse | May 25, 2011

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

So the world didn’t end on Saturday. I hesitate to add to all the commentary already written about the Harold Camping phenomenon. Let those poor people who bought into it try to put their lives back  together. But Camping is not done.  The new story is that the ‘Rapture’ will happen on October 21 (4 days after my birthday – some present!). The reality is that these ‘end of the world’ predictions are not new. Camping isn’t the first; he’ll likely not be the last. The sad part of it, first of all, is the number of people who follow their misbegotten theology.

The other sad part is that traditional Christian theology sets the stage for these fanatics. Progressive Christians don’t like to talk about eschatology, the ‘end times.’  But right there in parts of our worship liturgies, scripture readings, hymns and prayers is the vision of the ‘Second Coming.’ OK, that’s not the same as the ‘Rapture,’ but still, we cry “Come, Lord Jesus!” and are advised to “Keep awake, for you do not know on what day Jesus is coming” and other apocalyptic passages.

It’s this aspect of our tradition that sets the stage for the Campings of the world. Inherent in our traditional ‘heaven and hell’ theology is a view that this world is a bad place where bad things happen, and we need to rescued from it. This theology says that only certain kinds of people will be ‘saved.’  This theology is behavior modification that threatens evildoers with hell and rewards the righteous with heaven.  Taken to extremes, it becomes a blight that feeds on people’s despair and fear and leads them down a dangerous path. Thank God many Christians are moving away from that kind of theology and toward a practice that (among other things):

understands Jesus as the embodiment of the compassion of God
takes the Bible seriously, but not literally
follows the boundary-crossing, inclusiveness of Jesus
celebrates living in the realm of God here and now
works for justice for all people
cares for the world that God created and takes responsibility for its well-being

So as much as we want to make fun of Harold Camping and his ilk, I think we could better spend our time doing away with our own ‘end times’ theology. Maybe the world will end on October 21; maybe it will end tomorrow. Frankly, I believe that if it does, it will more than likely be because of our own actions and inactions.
In an old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin asks “Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man.”  And Hobbes answers, “I’m not sure that man needs the help.”  That’s a little off subject, but the point is the same. Let’s worry about the hells of our own making. And let’s allow God to be God – with compassion, challenge, and always the lure into creativity and transformational life.
Yikes, this is getting way too sermonic, so I’ll quit.  I think I’m going to go watch Oprah’s last show – now that’s the end of the world as we know it!


  1. Dear Pastor Susan, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about end times. I am not in total agreement about removing end times talk from dialog, but I sure appreciated your thoughts about a compassionate God revealed in Jesus Christ. I believe you are wise to say, “Let’s worry about the hells of our own making.” With more compassion toward one another the world is becoming a more beautiful place. Peace, Chris Benson


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