For spiritual warfare, see artists and poets

Better hold on to your hats: According to a Christian radio station in California, the end of the world–Judgment Day–will be next Saturday, May 21.

With the onslaught of last month’s tornadoes, I can understand why people might fear the end of the world.  Even my father, who called to check on me and my family’s well being, opined that the storm was a sign of the times.

For many Christians, this apocalyptic prediction brings to mind a struggle between good and evil, immorality versus faithful piety.  For others, it means stocking up on food to weather a tribulation fraught with antichrists, oppressive governments, and bedlam en mass.

For the most radical among us, war is the first thing that comes to mind: The Left Behind fictional books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, for instance, tell of a small band of Christians who form a militia group to fight against a hostile government.

Chuck Colson, one-time Nixon adviser turned prison preacher, has established a $1,000 per student price tag program, the Centurion Project, to combat the secularism juggernaut, invoking the ancient centurions who defended the Roman empire.

Such militaristic fanfare is based on the graphic images found in the book of Revelation.  In the book, written by a Christian in exile who foretells the downfall of the Roman empire and civilization as we know it, angels unleash plagues upon society.  God’s wrath ignites a slaughter in which “blood flowed … as high as the horse’s bridle” (14:29).  God exiles Satan into an abyss of eternal fire.

Yet, the book of Revelation is not primarily about war for war’s sake; rather, it is a book of worship designed to assure a persecuted community that God is still in charge of all creation.  God will bring justice to empires that abuse the balance of power over the oppressed and marginalized.

Revelation does give us snapshots of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen in the spiritual realm (the Greek word for revelation also means unveiling).  Much of this includes the ongoing conflicts between good and evil, angels and demons.  But the book also asks Christians to respond, not in fearful violence, but in proclamation and worship.

Nowhere in Revelation do God’s people take up arms.  Instead, they “patiently endure” and “conquer” evil by bearing testimony to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  God’s people are not called warriors; they are called witnesses (the same Greek word for martyrs).

Revelation points out that worship and proclamation are a declaration of war against evil and injustice: In Revelation 15:2-3, for instance, the saints have harps and sing a “new song” reminiscent of the song Moses sang after God saved the Israelite from Egypt.  It seems that musicians and poets, preachers and storytellers, artists and artisans are the very agents that wage subversive rebellion–nonviolent resistance–against the “principalities and powers of this age” (Ephesians 6:2).

Revelation makes clear that we have lived in the end times ever since Jesus rose from the dead.  Satan’s days are numbered, and it’s only a matter of time before Jesus comes back with a “new heaven” and “new earth” in tow.  Christians should not balk in fear and take up arms when doomsday preachers pontificate; rather, they should imitate those saints in Revelation by doing what Christians do best: worship, obey, and preach that repentance is the ultimate answer for end-time salvation.

Call me a skeptic, but I’m sure that we will still be around on May 21.  Instead of hunkering down, start singing a “new song” by supporting Family Promise of Newrock, who will be hosting a benefit concert on that day.  The concert will feature the Chris Coleman band, at the Olde Town Pavilion at 5 PM.  Tickets are $10 at the door.

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