Another Day, Another Doomsday Prediction

Harold Camping Billboard
Photo via the <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2011/1019/Harold-Camping-predicts-the-end-of-the-world.-Again.">Christian Science Monitor</a>

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Friends, don’t ignore the fact that for Jesus, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is only a day. Jesus isn’t putting off making good on his promise as some say. On the contrary, he’s patiently waiting for you to get your act together and change your lives rather than have you die. But the day of Jesus’ return will come like a thief. The sky will fall with a terrible bang, and the very elements will dissolve back into pure energy, and the earth and everything that’s happened on it will be laid bare.

So given that everything will be dissolved this way, what sort of people are you going to be? Shouldn’t you be religious and godly? Shouldn’t you wait for it, and meanwhile do everything you can to make it come sooner? Because that day the sky will burn down and everything solid will melt in flame. Even so, according to Jesus’ promise, we wait for a new heaven and earth where justice is the norm.

So, friends, while you are waiting for all this to happen, make an effort so that when he comes he’ll find you at peace, without any bad spots or rot. And think of Jesus’ delay as your opportunity to be saved.

This passage was written only a couple generations after Jesus to explain why the end of the world had not yet come, and to reassure the faithful that it would. By now according to this reckoning, we’re just into day 3. Still, it’s a long time and we haven’t yet got our act together. Between this early attempt to warn people of the imminent return of Jesus and this advent season, there have been hundreds of predictions and warnings. Two of them made the news in the past year alone. And we still have to get through another next month (December 21).

Sure, nothing lasts forever. But more often than not, and even in this early example, the threat of the end comes off as a desperate manipulation of desperate people’s fear. Even the promise of a new creation in which “justice is the norm” begs the question, “Whose justice?” And the coming of that “justice” with violence, and the encouragement that believers ought to do what they can to hasten it easily leads to a “kill ’em all and let God sort it out” attitude. A far cry from Jesus’ teaching.

2000 years later, it’s not too late to change your life. But please, do it because its the right thing to do. Not because you’re afraid of getting caught with your pants down when the divine SWAT team shows up at 3 am.

Don’t Be Afraid Just Because They Say So

fear
Photo credit: ShandiLee

2 Peter 1:12-21

My intention is to keep reminding you of all this, even though you already know it and are convinced of its truth. So long as I’m alive, it’s the right thing for me to keep it fresh in your minds. And, since Jesus has told me that I won’t be around much longer, I’m doing my best to make sure you’ll keep remembering it after I’m gone.

When we told you about Jesus’ return to power we weren’t just perpetuate clever myths. We’d seen his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God when the voice came to him from great glory saying, “This is my son, and I’m proud of him.” We heard the voice ourselves on the sacred mountain. Our word is truly reliable, and you’d best pay attention to it. It’s your light in a dark place, until daylight dawns and your hearts discern the morning star.

So first, get this: no truth of scripture is open to individual interpretation because no truth ever came from human effort. Rather, men and women spoke what God’s spirit moved them to speak.

From God’s lips to our ears. Simple as Ross Perot. Either you believe it or you don’t. Black or white, darkness or light. And there’s no room for any shades of gray. And certainly no minority report.

Except that the whole Bible is full of minority reports. Really, the whole Bible is a minority report.

But the best evidence that this particular passage is not what it claims to be is that it’s whole premise is fear. Do as we say, or you’ll be sorry. And it’s appeal to guilt. I’m going to die soon, so listen to a pathetic old man. Either Peter toward the end of his life still didn’t get the “fear not, you are forgiven” message Jesus was talking about, or (which is the most likely case) it’s not Peter writing. But it is among the origins of Christian fundamentalism.

Today insecure guilt-ridden people with no tolerance for dissent still co-opt the memory of Jesus to build their own empires. Sad, that they dupe so many people. But, always just as recognizable. Just look for fear and guilt.

I wish I could find something positive to say about it. I can’t. But I do have some advice. If you’re living in a community that holds Jesus and God over you to make you afraid and prohibits your consideration of any opinion other than it’s own, you don’t have to live that way. It’s not Jesus. It’s abuse.

Heaven Is Where You Make It

"Heaven visited me"
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley

2 Peter 1:1-11

A letter from Simon Peter, a follower and messenger of Jesus.

To those whose commitment to God’s justice and to Jesus our savior equals ours, may grace and peace be fully yours by knowing God and following Jesus. Jesus’ godly power gives us everything we need to live and to live well. Knowing he called us out of his sheer goodness is sufficient. Out of that goodness, he’s given us a rare and wonderful gift: the chance to be divine, to escape the degrading grind and greed of the world.

Because of this opportunity, you must make every effort, not just to be faithful, but also to be good. And to be avid learners. And to control yourselves. And to be persistent. And to live well. And to take care of others. And to love. If you do these things, and you’re getting better at them, you’ll never be wasting time or be unproductive, knowing Jesus. But lacking these things, you’re left shortsighted to the future and blind to the errors of the past.

So, friends, eagerly fulfill your chosen calling. Do it and you’ll never go wrong. Do it and Jesus will welcome you into heaven with open arms.

Most Biblical scholars worth their salt will agree that 2 Peter has nothing to do with the disciple except the name. It’s what they call a pseudonymous letter: written in the name of some great figure to claim a greater authority.

Knowing this, the question is why it continues to be kept in the New Testament as representative of the apostolic line of thought. The answer Bible scholars generally give is that perhaps it’s by a student or follower of Peter, or someone in the church community that formed around Peter. But truly, the answer is: because it’s always been there.

If anything, the letter shows how within one, perhaps two, generations the “here and now” movement of Jesus had been morphed into a “hereafter and beyond” religion of pie in the sky. Instead of doing the right thing because it’s the right thing, this writer urges us to do the right thing as a way to buy a stairway to heaven.

Jesus would say that every day is another opportunity to make every effort, not just to be faithful, but also be good, learn something, to exercise self-discipline, be persistent and live well, to take care of others and to love. Only Jesus would say that to do so makes us children of God here and now.

Wherever and whenever you do these things, that’s where and when Jesus says heaven happens: “The kingdom of God is among you,” not in the hereafter. So for the love of Jesus, do them for the joy of living now, not in the “degrading grind” of punching the clock waiting for an escape to the eternal.