The hopes and fears of all the years


During this time of year, when our breath is full of the longing, “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” I cannot help but remember what those words meant to me as a child.

Growing up as a conservative evangelical, we didn’t talk about Jesus coming back much during Advent. And I couldn’t be happier about that fact. You see, there was a year-round sense that Jesus was going to come at any moment. But this time, Jesus was all grown up and furious. He was returning to judge with that double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. The end of the world was drawing near; the thousand-year gloaming would begin, as the sun would grow as black as ashes, and the moon would be full of blood.

These disturbing images haunted me for eleven months of the year. They grew up inside of me along with the news of nuclear bombs, the cold war, and arms races. The apocalyptic visions made too much sense as our country was learning about the long-term effects of radiation. I was actually pretty happy to get a break from them during December, when we would sing carols and talk about the first time Jesus came, as a baby in a manger.

For the rest of the year, I never understood the glee that the preacher had when he talked about the second coming. He couldn’t wait for the day–the dispensation when Satan would roam and rule the earth. Of course, there was a good chance that we would be raptured, taken up into heaven before all of the destruction. That way we could gloat. We could watch all the suffering from our cloudy pillows, and finally get some payback for all the persecution that had been heaped upon us.

That was a tenuous “we,” because from the preacher’s calculations, there were only about a handful of people who were going to be taken up. There weren’t a whole lot of people who were saved enough. I always felt like I was in limbo. Strangely, the rapture option seemed even worse to me than living with all the wars.

Every few years, someone would come up with an actual date when all of this would occur. I always tried to laugh it off. But I’d be scared. To calm myself, I would ask, “What will I say to Jesus when I see him?” And then I’d try to imagine a Jesus without the white hair and fire eyes.

Of course, my experience was probably unique. I was growing up in the South, in a very conservative, religious family. But, then again, I can’t be the only one with these childhood fears cooked up in my congregation.

I couldn’t help but notice how the Left Behind series sold millions. Jerry Jenkins was the writer in residence at Moody Bible Institute when I was there. When I was in Louisiana, some members of my congregation couldn’t get enough of the books. LaHaye and Jenkins obviously tapped into a very vast stream of fear and thrill in our country.

For me, the prayer “Come, Lord Jesus” is scarier than just about anything I can imagine. Of course, I’ve reconstructed my view of the Kingdom of God, tapping into the hope of Moltmann and the inspiration of Rauschenbusch. But, even as I write, as a grown woman, I have that same fear growing up from my belly and clenching my throat. It has become a part of my emotional intelligence. And it makes me wonder: How many people in our congregations had this experience?

The photo’s of a Japanese clock that was melted by a WWII nuclear bomb, taken by maebmij

8 thoughts on “The hopes and fears of all the years

  1. well…you don’t have to be from the south that’s for sure to have that sort of experience. I remember a few times, as a good mid-western boy, getting lost in a store, panicking to find my parents, and thinking the rapture had occurred and that I’d been “left behind.”

    Pretty frightening stuff that’s for sure, but it sure served to keep me in line, at least most of the time!!

  2. One time during my first year at seminary I awoke from a nap after an exam. I went outside and saw no one around. There were cars and stuff. I walked around campus and saw no one.

    I saw these lights floating around the creek…I went to investigate. I sat on a bench near the creek in a haze. I tried to call my brother, no answer. I tried to call my father, no answer. IO tried to call my now fiancé, no answer. I call everyone I can think of that I am sure of that would have made it to heaven. No Answer. I now call those folks I will be spending the eschaton with, no answer.

    I sit there really fearful that I got left behind. This was 10 years removed from the brimstone teachings of my fundamentalist days in California. This was with the Presby knowledge of Cindy Rigby.

    Just as I was praying that God help me through this mess. In the middle of my seeking answers why I was not taken up with the rest.

    Mere calls me and asks me what I am doing? I relieved to know the eschaton did not happen.

    I replied, nothing. Then I shared with here what was going on. She listened and then giggled and replied, “didn’t we just take an exam on this today?”

    Sweet Jesus I am still waiting for your arrival, please come prior to finals. AMEN

  3. Tribal Church —
    WoW, did this short article ever bring back memories!! I have never read the Left-Behind series, although I heard a radio dramatization of part of it. From that, it sounded like much of the same apocalyptic tall-tales that I heard when I was a kid. In the early 1970s, I was a kid being raised in a hippie commune / Pentacostal cult-like environment in rural New Mexico. When Hal Lindsay began comparing Vietnam era warfare to the various plagues in Revelation, we all got serious apocalyptic fever!! Scads of books and novels came out during that time (Left Behind is nothing new, as I am sure you know). I even remember a few comic books in which Archie and Jughead type characters were raptured into Heaven where they could witness the destruction down on Earth. Really weird stuff.

    I even remember several occasions where parents left some of my friends home from school, because they felt it was more important to hole up in their houses, bunker down and pray for the Rapture. Some of my friends were home for a week or more at a time because the parents were convinced that the Rapture would happen ‘at any time now’! I guess the cares of the world just got so overwhelming that they wanted their Savior to take them away from it all!

    I guess that need for a fresh start, and the wishful removal of worldly stress are part of the problem. Just last year, I sat through a Sunday evening exposition of Ezekiel 38&39, where the pastor outlined a future scenario of who will attack whom, with what weapons, and under what motivations and time constraints like an enthusiastic military strategist. I heard those same messages when I was a kid — it scared me then, but now I think it is an interesting sociological phenomenon. Reading Daniel in one hand and the newspaper with the other is exciting for some because they see their faith active in shaping and moving world events like pieces on a chessboard. I guess this makes apocalyptic believers feel relevant and empowered.

    I must have gotten cynical with age. The thought of Jesus returning in judgement scares me too, but I see no reason to think it is really going to happen. I must be the fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:4, eh?

  4. I did not grow up in a conservative evangelical home. We’re Lutheran, and my pastor in confirmation actively debunked the “left behind” series of the era, which was Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth. We had the book, and my dad read it, and part of me feared it was true, but I was happy to believe what my pastor said.

    Who wants the world to end when you are in the 8th grade? I had a lot of things I wanted to do!

  5. HIS,

    I love thinking about all the people who were the Anti-Christ when I was growing up.

    The social phenomenon aspect is interesting. Why would these apocalyptic messages gain so much ground? Is it like Jim said, it keeps the kids in line? Or is it the empowerment and relevancy? We do need our faith to be relevant…. Or is it just the plain hope that people will be lifted out of misery? It’s one way they can get out of their credit card debt.

    I actually know people who base their politics on these theories… That’s when we’ve got to hope they don’t become too relevant or powerful.

  6. “…We do need our faith to be relevant…”

    Perhaps ‘relevant’ was the wrong word on my part, because I also think faith should be relevant but in other, more practical ways.

    Maybe a better way of saying this is that seeing the apparant fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, to see world events line up in a way one thinks the Bible predicts, legitimizes one’s faith. We all long to see a real God moving and acting in this world, and to some, this is the way they think they see God acting. In this way, they feel that their faith in Biblical prophecy is relevant to world events.

    I also think it is no coincidence that most of the people I have met who love reading and interpreting Biblical prophecy to match current events are also huge fans of political thrillers, books and movies. Go figure.

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