Tuesday, September 21, 2010

End-Times Paradoxes and Loopholes

Fred Clark, author of the Slacktivist blog, has another well-written post regarding the paradox of End-Times believers.  In his effort to blog through the Tribulation Force novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Clark explores the themes and logical conclusions of the popular religious authors' works.  This time he touches on a topic that's all too familiar from my early life as a "Pre-Trib."

According to Christian Fundamentalist canon, the end of the world will be marked by two key events--The Rapture, when believers will be air-lifted to begin their heavenly change of residence, and the Tribulation, seven years of misery and suffering for the poor non-Christians left behind, the period when the Anti-Christ unites the world under One World Government.  At the end of the seven years of War, Famine, Plague, and Death (the four horsemen of the Apocalypse) comes Armageddon, when God's army wipes out the United Earth Army, and the planet is swept clean of any nasty, sinful humans.

All of those points are vaguely hinted, discussed, and flirted with in the Bible, but not in any clear-cut fashion, such that Christians have argued over the details for generations.  If you believe the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation, then you are Pre-Trib, as I was raised to believe.  If you believe the Rapture occurs after the Tribulation but before Armageddon, then you are a Post-Trib.  Then there's Mid-Trib, where saints are raptured at the Tribulation's mid-point. Some believe the Rapture of the Saints will occur throughout the Tribulation as Christians enter into whatever is the proper mind state to qualify to be airlifted away from the seven years of hellacious conditions on Earth.  Christians of different persuasion bash each other on the head with their favorite Bible verses supporting their position all the time--arguments that I myself used to happily engage in--and the lack of consensus causes others to call themselves Pan-Tribs, meaning they'll take whatever pans out.

LaHaye's stance in the Tribulation Force novels is a modified Pre-Trib--namely, the Rapture occurs, but the Tribulation doesn't officially start until after Israel signs a peace treaty with the Anti-Christ.  That leaves an indeterminate period of weeks or months, a post-rapture limbo in which God and the Four Horsemen are patiently waiting until certain humans do certain things. 

And as Clark notes, the idea that Israel will sign a peace treaty that leaves them in a weaker position are practically nil, as the Middle East peace process over the last several decades has shown.  In the novels, Israel does exactly that, but the plot point of the Tribulation with all the death and disease and stuff requires people in the novel to do and say things that people in the real world never would. 

Not only does that make these bad novels, as Clark has amply demonstrated over the last many months as he blogs his way through the books, but it also points out a giant real-world conundrum--LaHaye's real-world organizations have been pouring millions of dollars for decades to make this paradox happen.  In an effort to "Support Israel" conservative organizations such as Concerned Women for America have been working to ensure that Israel never signs any peace treaty.  Israel has to remain strong and united and independent so that Armageddon can have a flash point--in which Israel gets destroyed for not accepting Jesus as their Messiah.

Growing up, I was always fascinated with End-Times studies in the same manner that people are interested in disaster movies--it's fun to watch the destruction of the familiar while secure in the knowledge that none of the pain and suffering will actually happen to you.  One key principle that was hammered into us over and over was "Watch."  Be ready for the Rapture, because it will come at a time when you least expect it.  But here's another paradox--the more we study the End Times prophecies, the more we will be prepared for it.  Hal Lindsey's best-selling books spelled out all the details (as he interpreted them from the Bible) warning us of Communism and the Mark of the Beast and the dangers of the One World Government.  Thus, the more Christians are forewarned about the coming events, the less likely those events will come about.  As Clark writes:
The Left Behind series offers a depiction of what the authors insist is a guaranteed prediction. But for that prediction to come to pass as depicted -- for their prophecies to come true -- the vast majority of people in the post-Rapture world would have to be ignorant of what they're predicting. The popularity of the books thus suggests that those prediction won't and can't come true.

And yet another paradox:
Premillennial pessimism and fatalism are ascendant in American evangelicalism. This is a view that, explicitly, teaches that heroism is for suckers and any attempt to change the world is futile. And yet these premillennial believers are more politically active than previous generations of evangelicals and fundamentalists.

The only explanation I can offer for this is that their convoluted theology confuses them even more than it confuses me.

1 comment:

JOE said...

Their confusion comes from their refusal to take the Bible, Jesus and his apostles seriously. Once you believe in Bible inerrancy and the Holy Spirit's inspiration you have 100's of verses that also have been ignored or sidestepped. Such as all the ones that say "this generation" "soon", "at hand", "at the door" and the ones that have the Greek word Mello in them but the word gets missing in our English translations Mello is of course " TO BE, ABOUT TO BE" occurs many times but TOTALLY missing in our texts

It is clear there is NO end of time. Even this phrase is a distortion of the phrase "time of the end" see Daniel etc. If you don't know what the end is of, you'll never understand it's "time".

Of course the appointed time of the end is of the temple and Mosaic Judiasim! To this very day the Jewish folks I know refer to the "temple as "heaven & earth" as kinda a nickname. This changes everything!