Bar Jester Chronicles 13: What to Do When the World Doesn’t End

by Jason Peters on May 25, 2011 · 12 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low

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?”

Indeed!

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.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John Gorentz May 25, 2011 at 12:37 am

Now they tell us. You seem to be implying that the world didn’t come to an end last weekend, after all.

This is the problem with not listening to any broadcast news, period, and reading the printed news a few days late. I’m always the last to know.

avatar Zach May 25, 2011 at 6:08 am

I like the Revelation. But please, people, apply Reason! If people would accept that they don’t really understand all the symbolic imagery and would avoid making conclusions based on error, it would be fine. But I guess that’s asking them to stop being people.

avatar Bart May 25, 2011 at 9:02 am

We are “caught up” with Christ every week. Of course, try to convince a the bulk of evangelicals to accept sacramentalism. It is always interesting how the descendants of Zwingli and the other memorialists try to fill in for the gap they’ve made by rejecting the true nature of Communion. In some Reformed circles, the sermon holds the keystone/high point. Generally, after the Second Great Awakening, there is a desire to fill in for the emotional void made by a lack of sacramental participation. The contemporary church has answered with enthusiasm. Some treat praise songs as the ultimate experience of the divine; others demand a “second baptism of the Spirit.” Special experiences, unique emotional highs–this is what is demanded by Zwingli’s theology.

avatar Monica May 25, 2011 at 9:58 am

“…changed his mind like a woman–fast!” Grow up, Jason. This is the first time I’ve ever dropped one of your columns cold halfway through. Attempt at Joke = Fail. You can use your brain cells better than that if you try.

avatar Roger S. May 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Very humerous essay but I think the author enjoyed a bit too much. When I see Christians who are making fools of themsleves, who have gotten themselves out on a limb, run a head of God and put their faith in their own puny but prideful brains instead of God, I feel sorry for them. Whether its the leaders who should have known better or the common, pehaps not too reasonable or logical folks that listened to them, I would only say in their defense that they at least seem to know that our lives are more than just about ourselves, that there is something more to life than a flat screen tv and an opportunity to make a buck. I m hard put to make fun of them for the simple reason that I don t think God would like it.

avatar CMadden May 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

Roger – I do see that you’re in favor of the ‘tread softly’ approach, which I can’t totally disagree with; however, let me point out that I think the concern is that many of these Rapture-mentalists are convinced that one can have the flat screen TV, make more than a few bucks and still be ship-shape. The author points out the utter, and essentially irreconcilable, contradiction of the prophet insisting that he “still has to live in a house…and…drive a car…What would be the value of [giving them away]? If it is Judgment Day why would I give it away?” This is the sheer nonsense we’re dealing with: paring the ancient Faith down to simplified, bad exegesis. And I think this is the issue that might be taken as upsetting, or at least humorous. If you’re going to ignore history, produce bogus (or no) theology, and enshrine yourself as the “elect”, then have at it; call it ‘hocus pocus’, call it ‘Rapturism’, but don’t call it Christianity because that name is taken already.

Bart: Thank you for the Zwingli notes. You’ve pinned that spiritual matter down, which can be a hazy task if you get my drift.

avatar Zac May 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm

The only difference between these fanatics and fanatics like Jesus and Muhammad is 2000 years of unthinking deference. The true mark of an elitist is a willingness to believe something ridiculous so long as it is sufficiently complex and inaccessible.

avatar Roger S. May 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

CMADDEN
You are right that I am one who treads softely when it comes to folks who declare themselves to be Christians. I do so primarily because I remember how often various denominations have made salvation a matter of process, sprinkle or immerse, break the bread or serve it perferated, drink wine from a cup vs sanitary plastic thingies, play a piano, dont play a piano, speak latin, dont speak latin, and on and on.
It seems as though their is always someone who wants to add a requirement to salvation. Moreover, it was either C.S. Lewis or Chesterton that spoke to the futulity of defining who is a Christian and who isnt. I suppose my point is how we handle those who declare themselves Chrsitians and who are missing the boat, maybe, as in this case even the ocean. Whether these guys are sincere, whether they are hypocrites, whether they are in it soley for money is beyond me but I do know there are plenty of non Christians out there who will do the bashing and make fun of them. I m just a little shy on doing it myself and again, I cant help but feel sorry for the followers of these folks.

ZAC I havent the least idea what you are talking about.

avatar Sam M May 26, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Monica:

I read the quip as more of a compliment to women than a dig. It’s God realizing that he doesn’t actually want to spend eternity with this cast of characters and correcting his course mid-stream. Only a man would stick to a bad decision upon a full consideration of the evidence. That’s what all those jokes about men getting lost are about, right?

As an aside, isn’t changing your mind about the article mid-stream evidence of this intellectual flexibility at work?

avatar Matt May 31, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I don’t know that anyone who sincerely believes in the inspired nature of the Scriptures would be quick to call call them “disparate.”

It’s my personal tendency to focus on the differences between faith groups more so than the similarities. Still, I can’t help but feel as though we’re fundamentally a bit closer to the Millerites than most people on FPR are comfortable admitting…

FPR seems to me to have become a bit more of an “us vs. them” sort of place than it was once upon a time…a place where we go to bite our thumbs at people who aren’t quite so fortunate as to be rooted and formed in tradition. With all due respect, Dr. Peters, I think that most everything you write is part of that trend.

avatar RiverC June 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm

@Monica

It is arguable that you changed your mind fast,

Which perhaps makes that line prophetic?

Just sayin’. Gotta think about these things a moment.

avatar Marion Miner June 14, 2011 at 8:18 am

I’ll second RiverC’s comment.

Take it easy.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: