May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The End is Near, and It Always Has Been

I grew up in a variety of Protestant faith traditions, but during my early adolescence my family attended a church that is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which builds much of its mission on the doctrine, "go ye into all the world and preach the gospel." We worked to support missionaries abroad and I can remember the excitement when missionaries would come to our church to share their personal stories and raise money to support their work. They were bringing people to Christ and improving the lives of people all over the world.

Another central tenet of the CMA, like most evangelical Protestant churches, is about the "end times," which they believe is foretold in the Bible through many signs. These end times will be heralded by political turmoil and natural disasters before the faithful are caught up in the "rapture" followed by the "Tribulation" during which time the world will be led by an evil Antichrist. These teachings were always strongly disturbing to me. Although I had been "born again" and baptized by full immersion according to the traditions of the CMA, I was terrified of the rapture. We were shown films that only reinforced my terror. Since then, there has been a tremendously popular series of "Left Behind" books and movies (starring Kirk Cameron) built around these ideas.

One of my most vivid childhood memories was a Saturday afternoon when, as usual, I was dawdling about getting ready to go somewhere with my family. Tired of waiting on me to paint my nails, my family went outside, saying, "we'll be in the car." Several minutes later, I finally felt presentable and dashed out the door to join them. But they were gone. The car was there, but my family was nowhere. In fact, I could not see anyone anywhere. I did not even hear any car in the neighborhood. I was CERTAIN that I had been left behind. I repented and cried, panicked and called out for my mother and for God. I don't know how much time elapsed. An eternity, at least. Then, I heard my parents laughing--at the neighbor's house!

The trauma of that moment has always troubled me.

I imagine that I behaved very well and prayed more than usual for a long time after that, but eventually these ideas about the rapture and tribulation began to to make less sense to me. Over the years, I heard many preachers and others confidently predict the end of the world, and yet it never ended.

When I began to explore Catholicism, I realized that not all Christians have the same beliefs about the end of the world. I had always wondered how anyone could believe the the Book of Revelation was a literal outline of things to come. Rather, the Catholic Church believe that it is apocalyptic literature. Likewise, I had been puzzled by the idea that every word of the Bible is literally true, when parts of the Bible contradict other parts of it. How could we say that we must literally follow the Ten Commandments but not the Mosaic dietary restrictions of Leviticus?

Once I understood that the Catholic Church does not interpret the Bible literally, it all made more sense and my faith was no longer troubled by such inconsistencies.

So, what does the Catholic Church believe about the "end times." First, the Church teaches that no one knows or can predict when the actual end of the world will come. Jesus says this in Matthew 24:36--this is one of those things that literal readers seem to ignore when they are telling us about the signs of the times and setting forth deadlines for Christ's return.

Second, the Catholic Church says that we have been in the end times since Christ's Ascension. Although the Bible refers to a thousand years, Catholics understand that a "millennium" meant a really long time to the Hebrews, not actually and precisely 1,000 revolutions around the sun.

Third, less formally, Catholics are told that the end of THE world should not be more important to us than the end of OUR world. For, our temporal existence will certainly end whether Christ returns during our lifetime or not. We must always be in a state of spiritual readiness, because we cannot know when we will be called from this world.

Finally, like the members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, we are called to support, promote and participate in evangelization. This has been a particularly strong and recurrent message from the current Pope Francis.

For more about Catholic beliefs regarding the end times:

End Times, Millennium, Rapture on
End Times will bring greater persecution to Christians, says Pope on
What Do Catholics Believe about End Times? on

No comments:

Post a Comment