The End Times. I have spent a lot of years submerged in evangelical Christian culture. I never actually wore a t-shirt that said, “Get right or get left,” but I saw them. I read the popular books about the End Times. As a teenager, I saw the movie that was designed to terrify everyone at the thought of not being raptured. During the special music on Sunday morning, I tapped my feet along to Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”
For most of my life, I’ve been told that we’re probably in the end times because of how awful things are in the world. Of course, as I studied the Bible for myself, I saw that the very first Christians thought the exact same thing. So much so that some of them stopped working and were just idly waiting for Jesus to come back.
In all the warnings about the End Times, one thing I never heard (until around 10 years ago from a progressive Christian) was Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 24. Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, and his disciples came and asked him to give them the signs of the end of the age. So Jesus spoke about a false Christ and wars and rumors of wars and famines and earthquakes. Jesus warned them about the persecution of believers. He told his disciples that when persecution came, many would turn away from the faith and betray each other and hate each other and false prophets would rise up and deceive people. Then in verses 12 and 13, Jesus said, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Oh, I heard all about the wars and rumors of wars and the famines and the earthquakes and the persecution of Christians. That’s always been common preaching in evangelical circles about the End Times. Usually, this preaching is loud and frightening and directed toward scaring the literal Hell out of unbelievers.
What I never heard much of was the warning to believers about how easy it would be to let fear and hatred take over and cause our love to grow cold.
Jesus knows us so well. How many times, when he walked on earth, did he look straight into a person’s soul and address the heart issues? He knows us. He knows how quickly fear and stressful situations cause us to turn on each other. He knows that when the poop hits the fan, our nature is to protect ourselves, even if it means turning on everyone around us. As wickedness and evil increase around us, our natural (sinful) inclination to protect ourselves will cause our love for self to increase and our love for others to grow cold.
Some conservative, evangelical Christians believe we are in the End Times right now. I can sure see why they might think that. Scary leaders are amassing nuclear capabilities and weapons. Icebergs are breaking apart and floating dangerously close to towns. Volcanoes are erupting. Conflict continues to escalate in the Middle East. Earthquakes and floods and wildfires and famines fill our news each week.
And in the midst of all this, evangelicals are feeling threatened. Though I believe these are manufactured claims of persecution, many believers in this country feel their loss of political power within the last ten to fifteen years equals persecution. My thoughts and theories about this could be an entirely separate blog post, so I won’t go down that entire rabbit trail right now. But whether real or imagined, Christians in the United States feel as if they are being persecuted. And the response to that persecution is exactly the response Jesus warned against in Matthew 24!
For the past couple months, I have seen and heard people who claim to be followers of Jesus say the most horrible and anti-Jesusy things about immigrants at our borders. Within the past year, I’ve seen and heard people who claim to be followers of Jesus defend our President’s policy to cut humanitarian aid to Palestinian women and children. Within the past two years, I’ve seen and heard people who claim to be followers of Jesus insist we shouldn’t accept refugees from Syria. I’ve heard or read words spoken with exactly zero compassion. With no attempt to put themselves in the shoes of the ones they refuse aid to.
Over and over, these professing evangelical Christians show complete disregard for Jesus’ command to love others as we love ourselves, to love and help our neighbor, to love and pray for our enemy.
Even more, professing evangelical Christians are defending President Trump as he de-humanizes others, calling them animals and speaking of their “infesting” our country. Rather than speaking out against his dangerous semantics and reinforcing the truth that all human beings are made in God’s image and, as such, have value, too many evangelicals are being influenced by these word choices. I’ve seen it and heard it so many heartbreaking times — evangelical Christians speaking about immigrants or refugees as if they are soul-less, face-less groups of Other, rather than living, breathing human beings formed in the very image of God.
As frightening things happen around the planet, too many professing Christians are giving themselves over to fear and the idol of self-preservation. And in doing so, they are ignoring Jesus’ words and allowing the very thing he warned about to happen — the love of most is growing cold.