The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

[Originally posted May 20, 2011]

According to a group of conservative Christians, tomorrow is the beginning of the end of the world.  Media sources have incorrectly been calling this the end of the world, which according to this group, is actually October 21.  According to this group, tomorrow is the beginning of the end, when Christians are raptured – physically taken up into heaven to be with God – and the rest of the world is left to, literally, go to hell in the final 5 months.

In my opinion, as you might guess, there are several problems with this.  The first problem is from within the purview of Biblical literature, the source documents from which Christians who believe in a literal second coming are informed about the details.  (Please note that not all Christians believe in a literal second coming.  Of course, those who believe Saturday is the end of their time on earth would probably not accept these non-literalist folks as true Christians.)

The first problem is, according to the Gospels, the words of Jesus himself: no one knows the day or hour.  It is hard to understand how those who claim to take the Bible literally can ignore this statement.  Jesus also described “that day” coming as a thief in the night, catching many unprepared.  So the first problem is found in the words of Jesus, himself.

A second problem is in how the date was discerned to be the day that Jesus comes for the faithful and the end begins.  The math is done on this May 18 post on the group’s website:  Basically, it is a numerological interpretation of the date, 21 May 2011.  Now certainly the Bible uses a variety of symbolism, but this is a purely numerological interpretation of the date, i.e., applying a supposed meaning for different numbers.  For example, “The number 5 equals ‘atonement’, the number 10 equals ‘completeness’, and the number 17 equals ‘heaven.'”  The math goes on and gets considerably more complicated, but this should give you an idea.

Numerology has been used many times before to interpret Biblical passages, by mystics and fundamentalists alike.  But this is not a literal meaning of the passages relating to the end of the world in the Bible.  This is an interpretive device used to seemingly get around the fact that the Bible is pretty sparse on actual details of when this end will happen.  And that is if you take a literal view of such things.

To me, there is yet another problem.  I admit that this is based on my understanding of Scripture, which seeks to understand the literal meaning of Biblical passages, but in no way tries to make all the portions of Scripture conform to one another.  Put another way, the only way to interpret a passage of Scripture is to seek it’s literal, original meaning.  This involves allowing for nuances in the original language, historical background and meanings, etc.  It does not assume that the literal meaning of any passage will be historically, scientifically, philosophically true.  It gives us a sense of what the original author meant to convey.

What is most important to me from a variety of Scriptures is that God is with us, and nothing can undo that relationship.  I love the passage in Psalm 139.  That passage  describes how intimately God knows us, even what we are going to say before we know it.  It describes how one cannot run from God because God is already anywhere we could possibly run, so running from God only results in our running into God.  And it talks, in very intimate terms, of how God knit us together, personally making each of us.

To me, God is that close to each of us; God has made us and is in the very warp and woof of the fabric of our makeup.  It is God who made us and holds us together.  No one needs to be “taken up” to be closer to the divine.   The divine is part of our very being, making each of us and literally holding our existence, and all of existence, together.

Too bad that those who think tomorrow is the beginning of the end don’t seem to understand just how close we are to the divine.  They certainly don’t believe that God is that close to all of us.  But when we realize that God is that close to all of us, we have simply come to the end of the beginning.  The beginning of an appreciation for how pervasive God is in the world around us, in each of our lives, and in the lives of every living creature.  To me, that is a worthy beginning.

(C) 2011, 2016 by Ron L. Clayton

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