Tag Archives: Judgement Day

21 May 2011, Judgment Day?

I was asked the other day what I thought about 21 May 2011 as the biblically-foretold date of Christ’s judgement.  I’m a bit slow and had to confess that I had heard but not read anything about it.  I started to make up for my lack.

The end of the world, or rather the Second Coming of Jesus, is confidently believed by those in the know to be on the way next month.  Forget 21 December 2012, you have seven weeks to get your act together.  The declaration is based on a whole host of confident pronouncements about the age of the world, the date of the flood, etc., all multiplied by certain “significant” numbers and usually multiplied in turn by 1000.  Equally confident predictions have been made for other dates, of course, all of them refer to 2 Peter 3:6, “…one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”  I have irreverent visions of St Peter bashing his head on the Pearly Gates and moaning, “Why did I write that?”

Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to do with this amazing insight.  Am I frantically to rush about, thumping everyone on the head with a Bible (apparently it has to be a King James Bible) shouting, “Jesus is Coming”?  Or perhaps I should wear a sandwich board in the centre of town, “The end is nigh”?  Will that bring people into the Kingdom?  I seriously doubt it. 

One of the problems I have with this numerological approach to the Bible is that it makes the content or story of the Bible irrelevant; it is simply a tool in which to hide the numbers.  It’s very clever, make no mistake (which is maybe why it’s taken two thousand years before anyone worked it out).  And when it’s revealed you can, if you are so inclined, sit back and wonder at our amazing God.  But what do we learn about God?  Is he no more than a clever arithmetician?  Which stories tell us about God and which are simply hiding places for the ‘real’ message concealed in the numbers?

Our local newspaper carried its usual April Fools’ story on 1 April this year.  It was good enough, I thought, but not great.  It was certainly topical.  Our municipality is struggling with service-delivery failure in a number of departments, and fixing potholes is apparently way down the list.  The front-page story told us that the Municipality had decided to outsource the fixing of potholes…to us!  Each business and house that fronted onto a public road would be responsible for fixing potholes in its section of the road.  Do-it-yourself kits would be available (at a price) and we would be fined for failure to repair ‘our’ potholes!

It was fun and topical, but it was a little too obvious for me and lacked the ‘Wow’ factor that makes for a great April Fools’ joke.  However, the real April Fools’ joke was revealed the next day.  And it wasn’t the content of the story but the message hidden in its construction.  The joke was on me because I missed the fact that there were 17 sentences and the first letter of each one together spelt, “APRIL FOOL WE GOT YOU”.  They sure did.  Suddenly one saw that the story itself wasn’t important, it was the construction that was brilliant; and I was certainly “got”.

Is that how we are to view the Bible?  The people in it, God’s interaction with his creation, his intervention in history, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, are all of these irrelevant?  Is it all about the numbers?  If that is true, then how do we know how to get ready for 21 May 2011?  How do we even know what or who awaits us?  Is he a God of mercy or a God of destruction?  How can we trust the content of any of the Bible stories?  How do we know that this one or that is not just another numerologicaly-rich tale we haven’t yet deciphered?

Me?  I’ll take my chances with the 21st of May and trust in the plain truth of scripture and of the God who reveals himself there.  However incredible the story of a creator who loves his creatures unconditionally, and who would (and did) rather die than lose them, countless millions (including the biblical writers) have experienced this God at work in their lives.

There is more than enough mystery in the plain words of scripture to keep us all hard at work interpreting it and living it out for another few thousand years, if that’s what God wants.  But, hey, if it is to be 21 May 2011, great!  Will someone please tell my boss that I won’t be finishing that project we’re working on.

Fortunately our salvation doesn’t depend on our knowing the numbers or understanding hidden truths.  Our place in God’s family is a gift of God’s grace brought to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus (an event strangely missing from the 21 May literature).  Now that’s something worth getting excited about.

The final word belongs, I think, to a New England politician faced with the arrival of Judgement Day, also in May, 231 years ago.  It was 19 May 1780 in Hartford, Connecticut:

“At noon the skies turned from blue to grey and by mid-afternoon had blackened over so densely that…men fell on their knees and begged a final blessing before the end came.  The Connecticut House of Representatives was in session.  And as some men fell down and others clamoured for an immediate adjournment, the Speaker of the House, one Colonel Davenport, came to his feet.  He silenced them and said these words: ‘The Day of Judgement is either approaching or it is not.  If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment.  If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.  I wish, therefore, that candles be brought.’”

(Told by Alastair Cooke in Letter from America (11 September 1953)

Related Articles:
WikiLeaks: Judgement and Hope (wonderingpreacher.wordpress.com)


Filed under Odds & Ends

WikiLeaks: Judgement and Hope

Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

WikiLeaks and their public face, Julian Assange, are the news. I’m not qualified to debate the morality or otherwise of the leaks, but the theology of it all intrigues me no end.

While America is angry and embarrassed, the rest of the world is just too glad it isn’t their diplomatic communication hanging up on the washing lines of world media. And I’m very grateful that I’m far too unimportant to have my inmost thoughts, first impressions, and dubious actions, splashed around the world. Imagine having all one’s thoughts visible for everyone to see.

Hang on. What was that? What did Matthew say?

“You can be sure that on the Judgment Day you will have to give account of every useless word you have ever spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)

And Paul?

“Final judgment must wait until the Lord comes; he will bring to light the dark secrets and expose the hidden purposes of people’s minds. And then all will receive from God the praise they deserve.” (1 Corinthians 4:5),
and again,
“For all of us must appear before Christ, to be judged by him. We will each receive what we deserve, according to everything we have done, good or bad, in our bodily life.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

 The Last Judgement. Every thought, every deed, every failure to act, every motive will be examined. I doubt that WikiLeaks is what the Bible has in mind but it does make one furiously to think.
Last Judgement by Stephan Lochner, panel paint...

Image via Wikipedia

Some think of the Last Judgement as an enormous court case, with every single person in the dock and actual books open, containing our every thought, word, and deed—a celestial WikiLeaks. Others think of it less literally. But, whether at the end of time or right now in the present, God is the silent watcher over all we do, the confidant of all our thoughts and motives.

But if fear of the Last Judgement is what keeps us honest, we are poor indeed. We will tend towards dishonest niceties instead of honest candour. We will do as the Pharisee’s did, polish the outside of the filthy cup and fail to deal with the horror within.

The Psalms suggest a way. Their candour is directed towards God. God is the only one who can take our fears and foolishness, our hatred and prejudice—all those things that destroy us and our relationships—and transform them and us into treasures of his kingdom.

Throughout the Psalms we find depths of despair (and even, at times, raw hatred) along with exquisite praise to God, a God who receives it all in love and understanding with a desire to heal, to strengthen, and to make whole. Psalm 130 is a good example. In eight verses the Psalmist takes us swiftly through what was probably a long and difficult struggle, from despair, through confession, to hope and trust, and on to proclamation. In verse three he makes reference to God’s WikiLeaks: “If you kept a record of our sins, who could escape being condemned.” (This is far more serious than a modern diplomat asking if Julian Assange has a record of his transgressions!) His openness bears fruit. God is able to deal with the failures, the sins, the weaknesses, because they are on the table; nothing is hidden. God ensures that our worst thoughts and motives are examined in his love and grace, and forgiven at the Cross. He gives us a new perspective on ourselves, our friends and our enemies, on our work, and on God’s purposes for our future. It is in that openness and honesty that the healing work of the Spirit of God is done. He brings the Psalmist out of his despair over his own wickedness, to where he can proclaim God’s love and forgiveness to his people.

Don’t wait for your WikiLeak—celestial or otherwise. You can start with God today.


Filed under Odds & Ends, The News