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Signs of the Time

“And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

-       Luke 18:7-8

 

Recently, several well-educated Christian young adults with backgrounds in science have made sundry observations about creation and Christianity in communications with me. In one exchange, there was less discussion and more simple observation. On the verge of the total solar eclipse spanning across the U.S., the question was posed, “I wonder what ancient people thought when they saw things like eclipses?” I’m not entirely sure how the speculation was meant, and therefore, my response was not particularly insightful.

 

Our generation does look backward and draw all sorts of conclusions about what ancient people thought when they saw natural phenomenon they couldn’t explain, especially those events about which we now have knowledge, such as eclipses. The general opinion is that our long-ago ancestors believed such events were signs from the gods, which became the bases for many pantheistic religious beliefs in antiquity and as far back as prehistoric eras. The sun was a god; the moon was a god; night and darkness were gods; animals were gods, and so on. Several Egyptian gods had cat heads, which had the effect of giving cats a great deal of status as far back as 4,000 years ago. Frankly, I’m not sure cats have ever gotten past the expectation of human worship, but that’s just my opinion.

 

Storms, hurricanes, lightning and thunder, earthquakes, fires, and volcanoes, all were attributed to the activity of the gods. Today, because we know a great deal about the conditions and causes, we do not see divine activity in any of the natural events around us. In fact, because science explains these phenomena, religious belief is believed to have been debunked by science, the assumption being science will explain everything just given enough time.

 

If Christians stop and think about that, we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. If science proves God is not active in creation, that He doesn’t have authority over creation, how are we to think about such events as Jesus walking on water, calming storms, or multiplying fishes and loaves? In fact, if we think a bit harder, we run up against such events as the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. Those required a great deal of divine involvement in the physical world, but so did such actions as healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons. Realize that the entirety of our faith is based upon the union of the spiritual and physical in God-Man Who is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

 

All of this should give us pause to wonder… Is knowing how an event happens the same thing as an explanation? Does the knowledge of orbits and gravity tell us why there are galaxies? And who decided how ancient peoples understood anything? We see through the lens of today, but I’m not sure our current lens is all that clear. In fact, I have a suspicion that the lens that filters information today is a bit smudged, maybe a lot smudged.

 

Just because we possess a degree of knowledge does not mean we possess understanding. One might even make the argument that, while our ancient ancestors did not possess as much knowledge about how an event occurred, their understanding of what occurred may far exceed our own. To understand a thing as it truly is requires that we seek to understand why God created the thing. Who actually possesses the greater wisdom? The peoples who believed the spiritual realm included and interacted with our material world or contemporary peoples who believe there is no spiritual realm at all?

 

A friend sent a snapshot of the sign in front of a fast-food establishment that read: “It’s an eclipse, not the apocalypse.” I thought that was quite witty. Recent events, natural and manmade, have certainly stirred up discussion of the apocalypse and Christ’s imminent return. Do we even understand what the apocalypse is? The word has taken on about 7,452 variations of interpretations in our day. Most of those begin with what Jesus said in Matthew 24 about the signs of the time – wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and so on. But note that Jesus told His disciples not to worry because the end was “not yet.”

 

The word apocalypse is a Greek word meaning revealed, made known, or manifested. In other words, the apocalypse is the revelation – the revealing – shown to St. John on the Island of Patmos, known to us as the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ that is the last book of the Bible. Much like a curtain being drawn back enabling us to look out a window, what is revealed to the Apostle John is the spiritual battle being waged between the host of heaven and the Lamb of God against the spiritual forces of evil. As sophisticated as the Greek language was, John is trying to use human words and concepts to explain an incomprehensible spiritual reality. If we think we have figured out the Revelation, we are wrong. As in Creation in the beginning, the actions of God far exceed our intellect, so also do the actions of God in the end. What the Bible describes are words written by finite minds trying to express an infinite reality.

 

What we can say about the Revelation is that it is an ongoing battle in every generation among every nation and tribe. Jesus told us He would be with us always, and He said He would be present whenever two or more are gathered together. We can find Him in the breaking of the Bread and drinking of the Cup. Jesus isn’t gone just because we cannot see Him – or do not know how to look for Him. The Revelation is contemporaneous, not merely an account of some unfathomable final Armageddon. Moreover, that is how all Christians can and should understand every aspect of life and creation – as caught up in battle between good and evil. Life is good. Death is evil. All of creation is subject to our Father and to His purposes.

 

Why aren’t eclipses the revelation of God’s perfect imagination and planning for creation? That seems to me to be the far more likely understanding than the fact that there are orbits and gravity. Yes, of course, there are orbits and gravity. But for what purpose? What bothers me is that we as Christians have allowed ourselves to be intellectually seduced by philosophers and scientists into believing our God is inconsequential when the opposite is true. The Author of all that exists – which encompasses more than we can begin to imagine – has called you into being and redeemed your life for your blessing.

 

Cataclysmic events and international wars are not signs of Christ’s return. Those things will happen, but “the end is not yet.” I think the clue to the end, whenever it happens and whatever that looks like, is found in Jesus’ question above, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Will He find people who believe He is the Son of God? Will He find people who live in the ongoing Pentecost that redeems creation and gives new life?

 

If the condition of Christ’s return is an absence of genuine faith, I suspect we may be getting close. The question isn’t whether we believe but what we believe. Just as there are far too many speculative interpretations of the Revelation, there is far too much confidence in the knowledge of philosophers, academics, scientists, and medical research. Some of the knowledge we have is good, but if we do not know God, we do not possess the wisdom to use our knowledge well. Knowledge without wisdom is akin to a child running around the house with a sharp knife in hand. Maybe nothing bad will happen, but the odds aren’t good.

 

What I want us to grasp is how high and wide and deep is our God, how vast He is beyond our expectations and understanding. We are trained to think that “real” knowledge comes from the realm of human thought and experimentation, but that will prove – indeed, has already proven – to be dangerous to the human race. In contrast, every good thing comes from our Father.

 

We do not want to miss the wonder, the beauty, the splendor and majesty of our God because our vision of His works is blinded by our limited knowledge. We’re counting leaves on a tree instead of looking up and seeing an endless forest before us.

 

I’ve said it as many ways as I can, mixing metaphors to find a way to open our minds to that which greater. What we see is not the measure of what is. As surely as this life matters, it matters primarily to the extent that we meet God here in preparation to experience there. One day, we will discover that “there” is here, but changed, transformed into a place and an existence of unimaginable beauty and joy. For that day, we are to live this day. Every day.

 

In Christ –

 

Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

© 2024


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