My first job after leaving University was working for a Christian film distributor. This was at a time when churches were showing 16mm films as main attractions for local communities – who doesn’t love a good film night?!
Without a doubt, the most popular film we rented out was A Thief in the Night. Made in the early 70’s, as I recall, the film tells the story of Patty, an ordinary young woman living in an American town. Patty goes to church listening to boring sermons from an “intellectual” preacher and reads her Bible from time to time. She’s pretty, she’s married and has a good social life, but she doesn’t really take her faith too seriously.
Sprinkled through the film are references to the “Rapture” – i.e. the first half of Christ’s coming, when all his people are physically taken out of the world. It precedes the seven year “Great Tribulation” when the world is turned upside down by satanic forces, only to be defeated when Christ makes his full appearance to usher in his millennial rule on earth. (If you are interested you can follow this sequence in the two sequels, A Distant Thunder and Image of the Beast. Please note, this is not to be read as a recommendation.)
The final scene of the film shows Patty waking up from a massive nightmare where the Rapture has occurred and she is left behind. In her dream, the world she lives in has suddenly become chaotic and dangerous. To her relief, this was only a dream…but as she wakes, her husband’s side of her bed is empty and she becomes aware of a radio report recounting untold instances of missing people – people have literally vanished from the face of the earth. We are left with the fading image of Patty on her bed, her face contorted with terror crying out in fear. Her worst nightmare is reality!
While I’ve always struggled to read the latter part of 1 Thessalonians 4 and parts of Revelation as supporting this (in some circles) popular idea of Christ’s return, I can’t help but think about the impact this kind of eschatology (i.e. teaching on the last things) has had on the church. For instance, over a lot of years I’ve lost count of how Christians would tell me that the world is just getting worse and worse. Even if people wouldn’t pull out the old Rapture card, the world was usually a sinking ship, a doomed planet or a place that’s going to just “burn up” one day.
So, apart from saving people from a shipwreck, what else is a Christian to do?!
Sadly, looking back over my own journey, I too have had my fair share of defeatist thinking about the present age. A little verse from my youthful days was often repeated to me:
“Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
While I love the sentiment behind it, I also wonder if my zeal for change in this world has been dampened because of a deeper attitude that God will eventually throw out this world like I throw out the evening garbage?
This leads me to the question, which Tim Keller asks in Center Church, “Should we be pessimistic or optimistic about the possibility for cultural change?*” - a good question indeed!
Our work is a gift from God and should be valued as such. Our personal talents, opportunities, capacity and situation should all be carefully considered in affirming what Paul said to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. For all its desperate troubles, should I not see this world as the context in which I am called to give 100% to see change for good?... change that reflects something of God’s glory in a broken world?
When the Lord returns, I wonder what will he will affirm in my life?
*Cultural renewal is a major part of the Gotham program. To learn more about this, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org