Bar Jester Chronicles 13: What to Do When the World Doesn’t EndBy Jason Peters for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC
Rock Island, IL
The latest Late Great Date of Human Fate has come and gone, and it would appear that the really good God-fearing devil-hating people are still here on earth, which is also still here.
Whew! That was a close one. I even saw someone at a sporting event holding up a placard that read, “For God so hated the world that he gave it his best ass-whooping on May 21, 2011.”
Now that’s strict theology!
But, between you and me, I think God realized which 200 million people he’d be spending eternity with and changed his mind like a woman–fast! Think about it. Would you want some guy walking around the streets of gold, harp in hand, telling everyone about how he’d dipped into his retirement so he could make two trips a day from Long Island to NYC, driving a hundred miles each cycle and spending fifteen bucks a trip, in hopes that people, seeing the “ominous lighted sign” on his car, would take the day off because the ultimate off-day was at hand?
That story would get old quicker than the in-laws at Christmas. (Christmas, you may recall, is a feast day that commemorates the Incarnation, which implicitly sanctions the flesh and the material world that John Nelson Darby’s God now seems bent on obliterating.)
And then there’s the Prophet Himself, the learned ex-civil engineer cum biblical scholar, The Right Reverend Harold Camping, who, knowing the end was at hand, couldn’t even be bothered to do as his Personal Savior instructed the rich young ruler to do. And even given the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Late Great Date of Human Fate (October 21, 2011), he still has no plans to give away all his possessions.
“I still have to live in a house, I still have to drive a car,” he said. “What would be the value of [giving them away]? If it is Judgment Day why would I give it away?”
Granted, I’m not the exegete that Rev. Camping is, but I can think of at least one reason: if the end of the world starts somewhere near Australia and, as the world turns, slowly makes its way here, there is time to help at least a few destitute sinners, men and women made in the image of God who could benefit from the extra stuff and maybe even, because of the gratitude it ignites in them, come to Jesus in the nick of time. (Because, really, all you have to do is agree with John 3:16 before the bus runs you over or the heaven-flung meteor hits. Do that and you’re golden.)
Think of it: Two hundred million and twelve! O how the angelic hosts would sing! I can almost hear the cherubim and seraphim in mournfully joyous refrain intoning a triumphant version in six-part harmony (one for each wing) of “I Come to the Garden Alone” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers!”
There wouldn’t be a dry eye from the Pearly Gates to the Right Hand of the Father, where sit Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the Chief of the Left-Behinders, sharing under their left and right behinds a soft golden cushion. Behold how they munch saltine crackers and toast with raised glasses of Welch’s grape juice their great good fortune! What most of us wouldn’t give to lick the crumbs from their table (or pinch some scratch from their highly lucrative rapture industry).
Well, at any rate, it appears May 21 was only the “spiritual” judgment day. The physical one, the one on which the creation that God declared “very good” and later died for gets blasted to Kingdom Come, won’t arrive until October. So there’s still time to party our asses off and go to confession. (Those of you who did a little last-second shriving just in case might wish to make a follow-up appointment with your confessor and de-emphasize some of the things you were really keen on. Maybe you haven’t indulged quite so much “chocolate” as you owned up to.)
And the good news for you who routinely tune in to Krustian radio is that from now on Rev. Camping’s radio network will leave off announcing the Revised Late Great Date of Human Fate and “just play Christian music and programs until the final end on Oct. 21.”
(Christian music: how the thought of it sets the teeth on edge!)
“We’ve always said May 21 was the day, but we didn’t understand altogether the spiritual meaning,” [Camping] said. “The fact is there is only one kind of people who will ascend into heaven … if God has saved them they’re going to be caught up.”
“Caught up.” Aye. There’s the rub. “One kind of people” we’ve long understood to be those who admit of only two kinds of evil, abortion and homosexuality. But “caught up” is what it’s always been about (if by “always” you mean less than two hundred years).
Okay. I admit that this is all too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel or making teenagers depressed. But Jesus! This stuff deserves a rigorous send-up. Caught up in the air? The six-day creation, sustained all this time by divine love, suddenly immolated?
It isn’t enough to say that rapture theology is a grotesque aberration of something fairly complicated and beautiful, which it most assuredly is. No. Someone should ask these knuckleheads a serious question or two. For example: Who could love such a God as the one you’ve posited? Who could find worthy of adoration a God who summarily dispenses of almost everyone and everything? Who could believe that a compilation of disparate texts—an enduring and stunningly provocative collection of poems, stories, myths, legends, histories, songs, letters, and visions (among other things)—adds up to the pinpointing of a single day in the 21st century when the maker of heaven and earth throws a major temper tantrum? Lear, beholding Edgar in the storm, asked, “is man no more than this?” We could do worse than ask, “is the Bible no more than this?”
On top of which, on the 22nd I helped graduate a boatload of college seniors, all of whom would have been sorely pissed to see the world end before they got the diplomas they’d bought and paid for. It would have made no difference whether they were outfitted with pitchforks and looking up from the bad place or endowed with harps and looking down from the locum refrigerii. Graduating from college the day after the world ends is a raw deal. I regard graduating from college the rough equivalent of waking up on Tuesday, and even I agree that that would be a raw deal.
My ten-year-old told me the other day that he is reading the Apocalypse of St. John. I said, “Buddy, I think that’s a mistake.”
And a colleague, a fairly well-read fellow, once admitted to me that he had only recently read it for the first time. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “I think we’d all be a lot better off if that book had never been written.”
I can think of one guy who might have put a lot fewer miles on his car, and spent a lot less of his retirement, had he not rushed in where angels fear to tread.
On October 21st the world will probably be worse than it is right now, but it ain’t gonna end. Not in 2011, not in 2012. This is the saecula saeculorum we’re dealing with here, the εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων. And if I can make it to the FPR conference in September, I’m going to part with a joke about the alleged rapture that I think will draw at least a few chuckles from those with callouses on their eardrums. (Others may wish to plug their ears, pull their skirts down over their knees, dismiss themselves, or head for the hills, depending on their sensibilities.)
But what to do on October 21st? My advice is, begin with Psalm 104 (Coverdale). But mind you, October 21st is a Friday. If God kicks the shit out of the same world that he died for on a Friday–while I’m eating a boca burger–I’m going to be really pissed off, and there will be hell to pay, I assure you. The Bar Jester will be answered.
The author wishes to acknowledge that the phrase “late great date of human fate” is stolen from Calvin Miller’s The Philippian Fragment, which the author first read when he was nineteen years old. It seemed then a worthy send-up in its own right, but he confesses he hasn’t looked at it since.