My heart sank when I learned in my twenties that I ought to believe that one day the righteous, the group to which I aspired to belong, were one day to suddenly be removed from Earth to some other place to be with the Lord. Not fair, I thought–all those righteous deeds, including being a good steward of this beautiful earth, and the cleansing of the blood of the Messiah and all, and we’d have to leave it to the damned evil doers? I was to picture flames and destruction consuming the earth, transforming it into some kind of hell, good farmers and women grinding grain taken to heaven just in time, evil farmers and evil women grinding grain left behind. “One taken and the other left,” (Matt 24:40-41) with no warning.
Then I became suspicious. Despite the raging success of such popular Christian fiction as the Left Behind books and movie series (which, to be fair, I probably should read), there were rumors that maybe they had it backwards. Very quiet rumors, very hopeful but apparently subversive. Never from the pulpit. There was only the debate about whether the righteous would escape the tribulation beforehand (pre-tribulation rapture) or have to endure some shortened version of it (post-trib). But technically there were fifty-fifty odds of it being the righteous or the wicked that would be taken (didn’t say which), and maybe the Bible didn’t actually teach the former. Maybe someone who had no sense of responsibility toward the earth, no qualms about humans exploiting it to within an inch of its sustainable life, just assumed we would want to, and get to, start fresh somewhere nice.
(I will say that none of the congregations to which I have belonged over the years made any fuss about such things in my presence, but it is a rather intriguing subject, and not so straightforward as some make it out to be.)
In C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle (Narnia Chronicles), there is a beautiful vision of the kind of ending I hope to see one day. Have you read it? Beforehand there is tribulation, and judgment (separation of those who have served the good, life-giving Aslan, knowingly or unknowingly, and those who have served the devouring, violent god Tash–each goes to be with their god), and then the servants of the king pass through to a restored Narnia which is somehow more real, more Narnia, more true, pure, and in harmony with its inhabitants. The old Narnia, the precursor to the real, perishes in fire and water at the end of time. There is a sense of new, interesting life and purpose in the new Narnia, not quiet, musical retirement. Those who have entered have restored health and strength, and opportunity to be useful, to keep on becoming better and more worthy of close fellowship with the king.
There’s a lot more to the story that also rings true, and I hope you are young enough or old enough to read it if you haven’t already (I don’t think Hollywood will be able to deal with these deeper aspects of the story, any more than it did with the elves or Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings). Such a vision seems a possibility more worthy of the creator who cares for every sparrow than an abandonment of the creation as if it were somehow just a backdrop to the story of humanity.
No doubt someone will eventually comment on my faulty End Times theology, my tendency to believe only what makes sense to me and resonates with my experience instead of taking the Bible literally and trusting certain authoritative leaders to do the interpreting for me. Maybe someone will warn me of the spiritual danger I am in, exhort me to accept true doctrine once again and attend an approved End Times seminar series as soon as possible, so I can be ready for the Rapture. I do want to be ready, but since Jesus said no one will know the day and the hour and that the best I can do is be about his business doing good, making sure the vines are pruned and the servants have fair wages and so on, I’ll aim for that.
I close with one of my favorite psalms. I love the part about the wagon tracks.
(English Standard Version)
For the choir director: A song. A psalm of David.
Praise is due to you,O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.