My issue with the end time is that it is 2000 years late and counting. And if I get a dollar for every time I am told that our generation is living in the end time, I will be as prosperous as a megachurch preacher by now.
You see, I grew up in the end time actually. In my early years of being a Christian, end time prophecies were the rage. It was even more popular than hello kitty and those cabbage patch dolls. If end time was a commodity sold or a collector's item to be horded, the queue for it would stretch much longer than the queue for National Day parade tickets.
I recall when I was in my late teens, my church and youth pastor would wax lyrical (or paranoia) about the end of days. We would immerse ourselves completely, almost trance-like, in that culture of tears and fears, running around like feverish, hormone-raging marsupial mice praying overnight to prepare ourselves for the final countdown. Like the virgin brides waiting for the glorious groom, we made sure our lamps had an overflow of oil. The last thing on our mind then was to be caught unprepared, unaware and thus come undone.
My recalling of those frenzy days were as glaring as a ketchup stain on a white, creaseless executive shirt. There was just an undeniably vibrant bond of trembling esprit de corp about living in your last days or last hours. Nothing spooked us more than pending doom. I have to admit that I was totally sucked into the end-time vortex and I bought it hook, line and sinker .
The camaraderie of morbidity is just infectious. Imagine a group of young hot blooded Christians coming together huddling in one corner thinking that tomorrow may very well be their last day on earth. Nothing congeals faith and quickens passion more than to embrace the end of days with a fatalistic zeal. We had literally elevated reality and surrealism to a whole new level of conviction and conflagration. Our obsession and asceticism were out of this world. We abstained from almost everything in order to be ready and worthy of our imminent savior. We just wanted to be as pure as a saint and as white as bleach.
I remember our church leader told us to go cold turkey with the world and all its worldly things. We fast everyday (at least skipping a meal or two). We avoided watching tv programs calling it "devil-vision". We stayed away from newspapers with all its negative reporting. We also attended prayer meetings, end-time seminars, went wild with spiritual gifts, and immersed ourselves in a culture of praising and worshipping with monastic fever. In short, we were totally enraptured by the pending rapture and we went to the extent of demonizing the naysayers, the faithless choruses, and the doubting Thomases. At that time, anyone not with us is against us. Sounds like the making of a sleeper terrorist cell right?
Of course, any sane observer would have concluded that we had pushed things too far. That's extremism on steroids! And that much is admittedly undeniable. I guess the extremist will never admit that he is extreme just as the deceived will never admit that he is deceived. And if ideas made this world and most of them subsequently unraveled it, then the idea of end-time made us and will soon unraveled us too.
When Jesus first said that he will return in Matthew 24, John 14:3, and the same is encapsulated in the Nicene Creed, the world since then has been waiting. We were and are all waiting for the end of the end. If the early apostles had held their breath for the Second Coming in their time, they would have fainted and awaken to find that it is just not going to happen in their lifetime. Neither would it be happening anytime in the 500 years after their demise or for that matter, the next 2000 years before the Y2K.
Of course, the scriptures have made it clear that nobody except God knows of the day and the hour. But many have come forward after the apocalyptic promise to proclaim with clear-eyed assurance that the end time will happen in their lifetime. Every generation was specifically singled out for the end-time showdown parade but only God knew when it was going to end and it was just ain't so. If a thousand days in the house of God is but one day, then Jesus' death and resurrection was just the day before yesterday in God’s IWC. I guess only Einstein and his theory of relativity truly understood the eternal concept of time and the religious fanatics are just way off by, say, a few million God-years?
Still, time and time again, the self-proclaimed favored sons and daughters of god were repeatedly proven wrong. What was deemed as absolute certainty by these end-time prophets with all the signs and wonders following turned out to be an embarrassing oversight with no apology extended (not even an "Oops! I did it again" blush). The whole drama was like a fool's rehearsal. The fateful day came and went and the crestfallen members disbanded not to be discouraged even the slightest - mind you - but strangely emboldened even more by the hope that the next time will be the right time for the end time. Go figure. And I wonder whether God was secretly chuckling or visibly frowning..mm…
The excuses given for the false alarm would have thrown a sincere seeker of truth off his logic steed but deluded members lap it up like starving dogs on a tight lease. Here is one of the excuses for your indigestion, "Because of your faithfulness, god has held back the end time." Or try this for an oversize, "it is not going to happen today because there are many who are still lost." I can imagine Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay giving somewhat similar excuses and getting away with it!
Somehow, just for religion and religion alone, the dye-in-the-wool believers give it a very wide margin of error and an never-ending stretch of tolerance. I guess the little prophetic shepherd boy who cried end-time wolf was given more than three strikes before the village idiots call his bluff. If anything, the wolf wailer escapes every time, on end-time, for all time, with credibility literally unscathed.
Then, there are the saner section of the religious population pinning for that eternal beam-me-up-scotty hope. For them, it is about the season and not the exact date. So the wait is for a season, and god forbid, a lifetime. And for them, the season is...waitforit...NOW! Their generation of course. Surprised? The strange thing is that their end-time apocalyptic clock is always counting down but unlike the New Year's celebrative countdown, this is one countdown that is perpetually counting off. I suspect it is also self-resetting too.
Again many in this group had come forward to tout and start the seasonal end-time clock and proclaimed that it is going to happen in their lifetime. Unsurprisingly, they lived and died and went quietly into the night. It was a darn long season of waiting and the only end time for them is the end of their time on earth.
And now we come to our present age. This is the age of the enlightenment and technology. It is the Internet age where everything is possible, permissible and conceivable. Ideas in our age not just make and unravel the world, it goes wild with it. My own Church is one of the frontrunners of this end-time-is-going-to-be-in-our-lifetime message. Many church leaders are also riding on the same He-is-coming-back bandwagon. Some are even telling you which national leader is the anti-Christ. They are usually the well-known celebrities like Bill Gates, Obama and Putin, and never that unknown old man running the mama shop at Ang Mo Kio block 74 or that middle-aged lady selling mee siam in Toa Payoh hawker center.
Well, since no one knows when is the end time ending soon, there is just no way one can tell for sure whether they are right or wrong. God plays no favorites on this sacred issue. Our heavenly dad is blissfully mum about it. Members would just have to keep watch and pray and also be prepared to be disappointed and then forget all about it the next day and keep watch and pray again. The strategy here is to never be the first to blink until of course your mortal end comes and you blink for eternity.
Here I can only hope that the end time will come in my generation, preferably after my kids have grown up and have kids of their own. I guess we have already waited 2000 years and what is another, well, twenty years or more? If not, I would remind my kids at my deathbed to be looking out for the end time and allow them some indulgence to have their own preferred dates for its arrival.
I would also expect for some of us out there, who are closer to their graves, to wish that the end time will arrive sooner, maybe, in a years' time. And for the fanatics, those who interpret every littlest natural disaster and political cracks as god-winking signs of the coming end time, I guess they just can't really wait for it. And given a choice, they would wish that it happens tomorrow (that is, if climate change does not wipe us all out of the face of the earth like a worldwide Noah septic-wash).
I guess if all of us had our way, the end-time would have happened at the time when the first converts of Christ roamed the earth. And if that was so, the rest of us thereafter would not have existed. This would indirectly mean that we will be blessedly spared from this endless, and sometimes mindless, debate about the coming of the end time. Cheerz.
* Image from ucg.org.