Editor’s note: This is the first Friday installment about the End Times. We’ll be visiting this subject every Friday for awhile.
The end of an age is pressing in upon us, and I honestly don’t know whether I am of the Pre-Tribulation Sect or the Post-Tribulation Sect. I don’t know if I believe in the Rapture. I would like to think so but I’m highly suspect of my own convictions on the matter. I have not read, nor am I ever likely to read the Left Behind novels which have shaped popular theology for many.
When it comes to the End Times I fear I may have lost my way along the path that does not stray. I’m totally discombobulated, which is why I simply didn’t know what to say when the woman at Pawleys Island, South Carolina, leaned close to me and asked “Do you think these are the End Times?”
The woman had just returned to Pawleys following her first trip to the Holy Land. “Our guide knew so much history and was able to relate it to the Bible in a way that made perfect sense,” she said. “I mean the way he spoke and all it sure looks like it might be the End Times.”
I answered her the best way I knew how: “I don’t know whether these are the last days or not, but these are your last days.”
You would have thought I’d thrown cold water in her face the way that woman gasped and reared back. Then she burst into a gale of laughter. “You’re right!”
Revelation was the first book of the Bible that I studied. I was 14. It was the book our youth pastor picked for a light summer’s read. It scared the pork-and-beans outta of me, which, of course, was the whole point.
A study of Revelation is the Christian version of the Scared Straight Program. You know, that idea that if you parade earlier offenders around a prison cell, introduce them to real killers, they’ll get scared straight and quit their petty thievery and juvenile delinquency. Only in the Revelation version of Scared Straight, people are introduced to The Great Avenger God. This God is suffering from a mood disorder, and he’s got more fury and firepower than a Stryker Brigade.
The book of Revelation often reads like the Helter-Skelter ramblings of Charles Manson:
12I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.15Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
If you take it seriously—and Believers do—it’ll scare you straight into the arms of Jesus. Once you’re in those arms, however, you’re supposed to find comfort and refuge. But far too many of us get so focused on figuring out the Last Days we forget to live in the present time. Then before you know, we wake up one morning and realize, quite surprisingly, that “Oh, yeah. These are my last days.”
Mama taught me that. I’d gone to her after one particularly scary study session – the one where the Locust come in droves and eat the clothes and flesh off the farmers in the field and the lady leaning out the window at Starbucks.
“What’s the matter?” Mama asked. “You’re pale as those people in the morgue.”
“Do you think these are the End Times?” I asked. “My youth pastor says these are the last days. I’m never going to get married. Have babies. Grow up like you.” I didn’t tell Mama what I was really thinking – I would die a celestial virgin.
Mama took a drag of her cigarette and blew the smoke up over her beehive hairdo. “Oh, good grief, Karen. People been saying that these are the End Times ever since the Disciples were on earth.” She walked out of the room, waving me off. Mama was never one to tolerate foolishness of any sort. That woman at Pawleys could have used a woman like Mama in her life.
I’m curious about the End Times in the way I once was about the five-legged cow a carny reject kept locked up in a stall not far from the entrance to the trailer park where I spent too many of my most formative years.
People could stare unabashed at the freaky cow for a mere 25 cents. (Contrary to how you may have been raised, it’s not considered rude to stare as long as you pay for it in advance.) That fifth leg hung from the cow’s hindquarters useless as the dead arm that hung from Grandpa’s shoulder.
Grandpa Harve before the stroke with his sons: Roy, Charles, Tub, Carl & Woody.
A bad stroke left Grandpa Harve with a Raggedy-Andy arm. Gravity yanked at it over the years, giving his right arm the appearance of taffy stretched too thin. A dozen or more times throughout the day, Grandpa would take hold of his dead arm and fling it this way or that, whicheverway suited his purpose. He might be trying to rise up out of a chair or maybe he’d be reaching over for his pack of Pall Malls. He might be watching a Braves game and shaking his cane at us kids to “Hush up, now.”
Sometimes I’d glance over at that arm and wonder if Grandpa ever wished the doctors had just cut it off. Wouldn’t it be better to not have an arm at all than to have one that just kept getting in the way of everyday living?