The earthquake near Mexico City this week has been devastating especially since they just had one a couple of weeks ago, in the southern part of the country. The death count continues to rise as more of the rubble is being cleared away.
When I was a young minister in my first congregation years ago, people in my conservative rural church would have seen this, and frankly, all of the hurricanes and other natural disasters happening so frequently, as a sign of what was called “the end times.”
Back then, I would speak about the “Rapture,” when Jesus will supposedly appear in the sky and magically, mysteriously, all true Christians will disappear from earth, ascend, invisibly, to meet him in the sky and then be transported to heaven while everyone else left here will suffer unbearable torment and eventually die and go to hell.
My congregation loved this stuff and I have to say there was a sort of excitement in telling them all of the incredible details of this dramatic event, which I mostly got from fundamentalist paperback books and from the sermons of older conservative ministers. But truthfully, I had no idea what I was talking about. None of it really made any sense to me, but I thought it was my duty to warn people anyway. It became a part of the, I’m afraid to say, nonsense, that as a young minister I felt obligated to buy into.
A few years later I stopped speaking about all of that and focused more on real-life issues. There were members of my congregation dealing with enormous personal problems—mental illness, physical disabilities, loss, divorce, chronic illness, and death. They did not need some fantastic drama they might see in a science fiction movie to help them escape their problems. They needed tangible comfort and care.
I realized along the years that the idea that God was always going to somehow rescue Christians out of their messes, keep them from suffering, make them well and successful, was mostly baloney. I finally realized that following the life of Jesus and keeping him as an example of real human compassion and living, was not a way to escape problems but a way to face and deal with them honestly, courageously, with intelligence and understanding.
There’s no real mystery to that, just common sense. No having Jesus inside you running your life for you. No divine protection from all of life’s disasters and heartaches. No waiting around for a spectacular event that transports you out the real world into a fabrication formed in the mind of J.N. Darby, a 19th century Irish clergyman who created elaborate charts of the timeline of the Rapture and who by the way believed the invention of the telegraph was a sign of the end of the world.
Darby and other more modern end time ministers and authors led the Rapture cause and left a lot of young ministers like myself bewildered trying to interpret their puzzling details about how the world would end and how Christians would be spared any danger or distress.
I don’t keep up with what’s going on in the church these days. I suspect there are still some out there, most likely TV preachers, who still promote this stuff. Ministers who still use fear and fantasy to keep people coming and giving, and who declare believers exempt from any of the horrors of “the last days.”
For many in Mexico, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Keys, Houston and elsewhere, the end has already come. There was no rescue and no protection for the godly. There was no heavenly Rapture, no escape into glory from the chaos below. Ironically, the devoted were all gathered up into the whirlwind just like everyone else, and afterward, left to bury their dead and clean up what was left of their shattered lives.
This is not cynicism or atheism. This is just helping us see that whatever faith we may profess in whatever God or gods, whatever religious group we may belong to, whatever sacred book we read and honor, none of that spare us from life’s harsh realities. Christians, believers of all kinds, even children, and babies, perished in the violence of Harvey and Irma, and in the collapsing buildings in Mexico. Those who got out alive were simply fortunate, not divinely privileged.
There is a nameless character in David Levithan’s fascinating book, “Every Day,” who says, “If you stare at the center of the universe, there is coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other.”
I don’t know if you call that religion or what, but it certainly is human. And that is what is needed in times of disaster and terror. Taking care of one another.
© 2017 Timothy Moody