When I read today’s gospel passage, Jesus’ teaching on the end times, my first thought was how uncomfortable I remain with the entire notion of eschatology. And I wondered why this was so.
What first occurs is that the church in which I was raised established for me the basis for how I came to know God, framing the Word, Worship, and my Christian life in a grace-driven, resurrection, hopeful theology. And within that framework and in my very personal and local experience with the church, subjects like end times, false prophets, doom and gloom and even ‘second coming’ weren’t spoken of much and dare I say, not taken seriously? In fact, at some point along my faith formation journey I concluded that anyone who proclaimed the good news from an eschatological point-of-view was an extremist – one of those crazy Jesus-freaks I could hardly identify with let alone locate in ‘my church.’ And in so objectifying them, I dismissed as radical and beyond belief almost entirely biblical passages the so-named Jesus-freaks referenced to make their point. And when I did come across such Scripture in the lectionary readings or a bible study, I would look to the context of particular passages for a more rational explanation of the dire warnings and be satisfied that a literal interpretation of Jesus’ teaching was naïve.
I approached my understanding of Satan in the same way for many years. Though Jesus certainly believed Satan to be real, I would defer to the contextual, non-literal, metaphoric, symbolic meaning of Satan I had gleaned from the church’s teaching and personally, preferred.
End times. False prophets. Destruction. Hell. Satan. Many such subjects and teachings found in the Gospel were just not dealt with at any depth during my formative years in the church. They were skipped over in deference to a more welcoming, warm, grace driven, resurrection, good news, theology. Not denied, but ignored in the way that ignorance denies.
My theology changed over the years as I took more personal ownership (engagement, really, not ‘ownership’ – when I moved along the Christian formation continuum from what some have called a ‘church goer’ to a disciple – a follower of Jesus) of what I believed God reveals to us in the Word and in Creation, and not so much what the church – or creeds, for that matter – say that I believe.
And yet, what again surfaces when I encounter teachings on eschatology, is a lingering suspicion and uncomfortableness. And I can almost feel myself saying, ‘pshaw’ and the self-righteous attitude I had acquired in an earlier season of my faith journey nearly trumps what the Spirit is saying.
I suppose what is different today than in other times, is that I am able to pause long enough to know I can’t just skip over this part of God’s revelation. In fact, today, when I read the passage, my second thought was, “I wonder how or if my church (the corporate body, not a local parish) speaks to the things Jesus lists in the Matthew passage as indications of the end times,” and I turned to our catechism for a refresher.
And what I was reminded of was that my perception of what I was taught does not align with what the church professes to teach. My church does speak to end times, does look forward with hope to the second coming, does teach that Jesus is the only Son of God, does know that Satan is real. But my perception was the reality. My specific experience with the local church teachers was one in which the catechism was stated, but not realized and unpacked. That is, the local manifestation of the church, the context, made all the difference in my learning that end times, Satan, final judgment, the Book of Revelation, even, that all these uncomfortable teachings were symbolic and metaphoric and far from literal.
So, at the end of this reflection, I hear the Spirit saying something about context and location, and about how our theologies are so informed and how very hard it is to adjust the lenses through which we read the Word.
To read the Word through the same lens with which we first came to Christ – in my case through the lens of my church – is like traveling to the Grand Canyon year after year and experiencing it from just one and the same vantage point. So very much is impossible to see. One flight over the expanse and you realize you’ve only glimpsed its majesty.
And so with Him and the Word and its majesty. Adjusting the lens and viewing from a different vantage point and the Spirit will speak.