Imagine, as I did the other day, a toddler raised by an ardent, prophecy-hungry, dispensationalist mother.
The little boy runs in from the back yard, anxious to discuss some playground injustice.
Tommy: Brendon keeps throwing snails at me!
Mommy: Did you ask him to stop?
Tommy: I did! Twice!
Mommy: Well, listen, Tommy, we have to remember our little secret, don’t we?
Tommy: We get taken away?
Mommy: We do, indeed, young man.
Tommy: In the air?
Mommy: And there’s nothing that Brendon can do about that. He’ll just throw a snail, but my Tommy will be gone. And his clothes will be on the ground!
As time goes by, this ever-present expectation of the ominous end colors kitchen table conversations and vacation plans and wedding dates, and, well, just about everything..
Tom: I’m taking chemistry next semester.
Mom: If there is a next semester, Tommy.
Tom: We have to get Sheriff Tucker elected.
Mom: All of this striving and fussing about
things of this earth.
Tom: I’m thinking about applying to medical school.
Mom: Oh, my. Twelve more years of schooling. What
if the rapture comes right when you graduate?
Tom: I think Janis is the one, mom. I’m going to
pop the question.
Mom: “..woe unto them that are with child,
and to them that give suck in those days!”
For some reason, as I visualize these scenes, I hear Holly Hunter’s character in O Brother Where Art Thou insisting that her new suitor is “bona fide!” In other words, this “Dispensational Mom,” may seem something of a caricature, but I assure you she has many cousins in the modern church, of almost every conceivable denomination, education and income level. There are very sophisticated versions of this woman, some who speak Hebrew and Greek and some who shepherd churches of 3,000 or more — per service. Some of them are cheery and winsome, true believers who share an honest, happy expectation of good things to come, and others are the evangelical equivalent of horror show barkers, gathering in the tithes as they open the casket lid on the end of the world.
The consequences of dispensationalism are ever with us. I had a friend who moved his wedding date nearer on the calendar because his friends at a Calvary Chapel were quite certain the rapture was on the horizon for later in the year. One young man I know was counseled not to get married because his father saw his Jewish blood as a possible sign he was among the chosen 144,000. My own dear mother was quite certain my generation would be the last on earth, and when the grandchildren came, she charitably amended that, and then again, when there were great grandchildren in our extended clan.
As a believer who began reading the Word, and making a surface study of theology, I was surprised, some years ago to find that dispensationalism is not the teaching of the historic Christian church. Not at all. In fact, the church managed to get along for centuries just fine without John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), the father of modern rapture obsession. My heroes of the American Revolution, Sam Adams and John Witherspoon would have found prophecy parties and the rapture rumbles very odd indeed, and once they got by the novelty of a motion picture, I’m fairly certain they would get a good chuckle from the “Left Behind” series.
Most of my own early life was characterized by an ever present assumption: life on earth would soon be over, not just for me, but for everyone. These were the last days. Israel had become a modern state. We now had weapons that could blow the whole world apart. I remember the first time someone told an urban legend about a bank in Texas that would not cash your check until they read a mark on your wrist. It made the hairs on my neck spike.
It was, for me, a liberating thing to know that the church, for centuries, had seen parts of Matthew 24 fulfilled in the sack of Jerusalem. I had been taught to expect the bad scary news in the future, but the church — Christ’s comforting bride — had some beautiful news for me. Jesus broke the old system. The temple was destroyed. It was time to start building Emerald City.
I realize that a method for making Bible prophecy make sense is important to many believers, but I invite all of those who live under the cloud of perpetual bad news to remember, however clearly you think you might see the dark end of the world before you, “no man knows the day or hour,” and when He does return, He should find you working to build the kingdom. The Lord High Master of the Universe needs no help fulfilling His prophecies and when you counsel others to put down the trowel and the sword, in anticipation of the end, call your advice what it is — sloth.
And, for Heaven’s sake, give your children some healthy hope, along with the healthy fear. There are vines to plant.