Monday, December 1, 2008

A Faith that Scares

In the midst of the thrill of Christmas decorations which dominate Manhattan, this church season is primarily one of preparation for the end of things and the new creation.

Matthew 24 includes this obviously good news:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The less obviously good news from that same chapter:

21 For then there will be great distress, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.


28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Vultures! Put that next to the description by commentator Tucker Carlson, on his usual Sunday church experience:

"You'll never meet nicer people. If you needed someone to hold your wallet, or if you were lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood and had to duck into a stranger's house to use the bathroom, you could do a whole lot worse...No one has better manners. And that may be the problem. There's a notable lack of urgency...Jesus may have promised he'd come back someday, but in [my church] you don't get the feeling he really meant it. Nor do you hear a lot about sin. Lust, hatred, gluttony, pride, envy -- those are dramatic emotions. ...

The typical sermon leaves the impression that all would be well in this world if only people could manage to be reasonable with each other. Gentlemanly. Thoughtful.

There's nothing necessarily bad about any of this. (I remain [a member], with no plans to change.) But every once in a while, as I shift in my pew listening to one of our unusually well-educated preachers expand on the Aramaic understanding of discipleship, I do wish Jesus would come back, preferably in a massive ball of fire through the ceiling of the church. Spiritually, I'm nowhere near ready to face something like that. But it'd be worth it for the shock value....Dead religions don't give people the creeps...But Christianity still does. What a relief. It's nice to see that our faith still scares people."

(source:, Dec 7th, 2005 “The Situation” television show w/T Carlson)

It's possible on the one hand to look at whacky predictions of the parousia (fancy term for the Second Coming) involving Soviet tanks a generation ago, or whatever today's equivalent might be. Or on the other hand to seek to distill the essence of all religions in the form of timeless moral teaching. But Christianity as found in the Bible speaks of Jesus entering history. As a baby. To live the perfect life, and to seek and save the lost, giving his life as a ransom for many. And then to return again in glory, as judge. That touches our lives, because we live in history. It is a faith that scares because everything will be wrapped up by him. You and I aren't in charge. Scary or reassuring? What do you think?

(video link -- click on post title: I thought it was neat when the Terminator show used a Johnny Cash song)