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The Armageddonists

I took the teenagers to the movie theater to see “An Inconvenient Truth,” the presentation Al Gore has been doing around the world on global warming. We walked the mile and a half to the theater in 110-degree Oklahoma heat to help make the experience a bit more visceral.

Watching this movie fits, in a roundabout way, into a series we’ve been doing this summer on “end-times” and the return of Christ. The Christian scriptures point to a purposeful beginning to history and its eventual end. (We all caught “The Omen” when it came out and will be viewing “The Omen II” to stir up our discussions on the Anti-Christ mythology). <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
I’ve stumbled across a term in my reading of late–Armageddonist. It’s a moniker that encompasses those Christians who believe that the end of history will culminate in a battle between authentic Christians, led by a glorified Christ, against pagan and non-believers.
 
The popular Armageddonists–like John Hagee, Jack Van Impe, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell–read the signs of the times in such a way as to suggest that this final conflict is on its way soon. The horrible exchange of missiles between <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah could be the kind of “sign” that would suggest this battle between Jews/Christians and Muslims/pagans is nigh upon us.
 
So in light of this imminent doom, why care for our environment, or the earth? Why care that ice caps are melting and large gaps in the ozone are being created? Why be concerned that the earth’s population has tripled in size in the last 80 years compared with its steady hold the previous 6,000 years of recorded human history?
 
Jesus is going to return and end history as we know it, claim Jews and Christians, and condemn the rest of creation to eternal damnation.
 
And since the world does find itself shrinking, and the climate is changing, and the threat of nuclear war grows more unpredictable, doesn’t it seem to be fluent with this line of reasoning? The planet is winding down for the return of Jesus, right? What’s the need to reform our life style? It’s all part of the plan, so don’t worry about it.
 
I have some answers to these questions, but I admit they aren’t as “sexy” as the idea that we’re gearing up for the final battle:
 
–Stewardship.
–Self Denial.
–Concern for the poor (those most adversely effected by the imbalance of wealth).
 
Christ and the prophets before him all cared a great deal about these things. In fact, you couldn’t shut them up about it. And economic justice translates somewhat automatically into issues of clean air, water, fair trade and wages.
 
God created us with intention, and in spite of our brokenness, still expects us to care for the whole of creation.
 
Even if the Armageddonists have the notion of the final battle worked out correctly (and the religious establishment botched Christ’s first visit up pretty good, I don’t know why we think we’re any better equipped to understand his second coming any better), I don’t see why, in light of the prophets and the model of Jesus, unlimited hording of resources constitutes a Christian ethos, selfishly biding our time until Jesus comes and cleans things up for us.
 
Seems to me if we aren’t trying to live the Kingdom of God along the way then we aren’t going to be very happy about living in it when God forces it on us.
 
Two thousand years is a long time. Jesus hasn’t come back yet. The apostles thought he would return in their lifetime. Do you suppose it could be another 2,000 years before he returns? Or more?
 
Jesus said the kingdom of God is among you. Don’t look for it “here” or “there.” Might that be his way of saying go ahead and get started trying to shape the world in the image of the Kingdom of God?
 
My friend Greg Horton has an aphorism that captures the Kingdom of God ethic: “This is who we shall be, so this is who we must be.”

Tim Sean Youmans is minister to youth at First Baptist Church in Shawnee, Okla. This column appeared previously at the Mainstream Baptists blog.