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A Challenge to Advent Thinking
Let's suppose that you had children trapped in a miserable situation where they were suffering and dying, and you have the ability to not only communicate with them but to come and rescue them. But you do neither. Even if you had something more important to do−hard to fathom−wouldn't you at least explain to them why you couldn't come? Would you leave them in the dark struggling to understand and have faith in you? Wouldn't that be unthinkable?
Yet that is the situation that most Christians think that prevails between God and the world. After 2000 years, you would think that there would be a major movement to revisit and challenge this prevailing eschatology, that being of a grandstand "second coming" in the sky and its long delay.
Some Christian believers think that over time the organized "church" will triumph and "finish the work" of separating the whole world of humanity into adequate believers−the "sealed"−and those that have totally rejected the truth and will be condemned and lost. This final and total polarization will then trigger the return of the "Lord" and his powerful activity to resolve the evil human condition..
It is hard to judge which one of these scenarios−a dramatic "coming again" by God to clean up this mess, or the triumph of organized Christendom−is the most preposterous! We should not be waiting for god to come again, or even to inaugurate some dramatic development, or for any formal organization to prevail, because God is waiting for us to follow his instructions and honor his prayer for unity.
Why 2000 Years of Nothing?
The following—original in red, reply to the reply in blue—is part of an email discussion having taken place in early 2013:
In regard to the challenge posed to the current paradigm or theology, what has Christian belief amounted to otherwise, though? NOTHING MUCH in the last 2000 years!!!!!!!!! Unfortunately merely believing Jesus is the savior of the world is NOT ENOUGH, for everyone who knew him apparently is long dead, and the human race has continued to suffer and die ever since.
One way to relate to this is to take the position that dying and then being resurrected to “glory" isn't so bad, especially if you are one of the privileged, advantaged and a good competitor in this world. We can always do the typical evaluation and compare ourselves to others less fortunate or successful. And parts of life can be good, there is the drama of it all, and the aging process can be handled with dignity, humor and stoicism, and no matter how bad it gets, it is only temporary. Besides, can we really think that we have a real, tangible alternative?
How does anyone reconcile another 2000+years of suffering and death with what Jesus said and did..... How can they believe it is HIS WILL for this abomination to continue?!?!
I will endeavor to be as sympathetic as I can be in my answer here so that we can understand the best possible approach. There are lots of people that have lost their “faith” and many more that are troubled by the 2000+ years of “nothing”. The majority of Christians are stuck being adventists, meaning that they expect the Lord to come back in the clouds at the end of time for this world, and thUS are stuck primarily just WAITING.
There are some various answers to why the “Lord” is delaying, including some really asinine ones like, “for God, a thousand years is like a day.” I used to ask them if the “Lord”, doesn't realize that it doesn't work that way for us? The bottom line though is that they believe it is all in the “Lord's” hands. Some believe that the church will prevail and they just invest their faith and efforts in "the church". A few believe that it is partly in our hands because we are to be working to “preach the gospel to all nations” and then the Lord will come, so the non-clergy go to mass or church, give their tithes and offerings and leave it in the hands of the denominational officials and leaders. The clergy are busy doing what they are sure is the Lord's work, doing good things on many levels: managing, overseeing, planning, preaching, keeping the faith alive, and tending to the flock in various ways. They have warm feelings for those that support the program and take this to be a sign that they have the love of God in their hearts.
After giving the context of suffering and woe for 2000 years and getting our minds into it, when I ask dedicated Christians whether we are waiting for the “Lord” to do something or he is waiting for us to do something, they will say that he is waiting for us. If some time in months goes by and the context is not revisited and refreshed, when asked they will usually give the opposite answer to the question.
What has happened here? There are many ways to characterize it, but they are standing on the shifting sand of traditional Christian dogma and doctrine and are confused. For them to accept the idea that the true conception of Jesus and his message never got off the ground is monstrous. Their minds immediately blanche at the idea that the disciples didn't understand the message of Jesus, the Good News, and that the growth of Christianity into the world's largest religion is not total validation. Their minds also go to thinking that if this idea is so, then the truth is too obscure and arcane, hard to understand as in “narrow is the way and few there are that find it.” The disciples got to talk personally with Jesus and personally witness the miracles, and if they didn't get it, well... And wouldn't this mean that the Bible couldn't be the word of God, and that all of Christianity is false to a significant degree. Generally, way too much to contemplate, much less swallow.
Most recoil from this line of thinking for many reasons, not the least of which would be the spiritual vertigo of not knowing where they are, not knowing up from down, and that to accept these conclusions would put them totally outside the bounds of the norm in their society, including their family and friends. Secondarily, they would be overwhelmed to stand on their own and undertake a rethink or rebuild when there are voices in their head telling them that such a thing would be megalomaniacal and arrogant.
The task to sort out all the issues would be overwhelmingly daunting, and they are not theologians, not trained in ancient languages nor even in rigorous or critical thinking. Where would they start? If no one has done this in the last 2000 years, surely God would not require or even expect THEM to do this! If God doesn't have a program besides them undertaking learning “all the truth”, what good is he? And what does learning the truth have to do with Christian growth? And becoming a more loving person? What's more, this whole idea violates the message that Paul gives in 1 Cor 13 concerning doctrine versus love.
And if someone else undertook this massive challenge how could they succeed? Even if such a person did exist, how would they find and recognize that person? How could they possibly trust this maverick? Wouldn't they be putting themselves on dangerous ground even listening to such extreme ideas? Can salvation really be a joint venture? Would that even be fair? Even if you buy the concept that Christianity has missed the mark, isn't there the overwhelming danger of being sucked down the rabbit hole again by some new paradigm or line of thinking? If someone did succeed in developing an alternative theology, even one that was true, wouldn't that person become sort of a new pope, a new superior with them being left inferior? Or a new leader of a new movement or quasi-religion?
Wouldn’t they look crazy to their friends and family in joining? Or wouldn't they become megalomaniacal if they succeeded? Wouldn't they be troubled along the way? Wouldn’t some of the things or ideas that they were floating sound extreme or outrageous? How would the new way be really better? Wouldn't the new way require just a different set of excruciating tests, sacrifices and risks? Isn't it really all so unfair and unreasonable?
On the other hand, what if it is ALL a pipedream and misunderstanding, and there is NO SUBSTANCE to the Jesus incident? What if there really is no GOD, but just a creator deity who doesn't really care that much?
Meanwhile there is “life” to be dealt with, jobs and careers to further and protect, money to be made, personal, family, community, national, cultural problems to be solved, and the future of aged debilitation for which to plan and prepare. The usual thinking is: Better to believe "it is in the hands of the Lord", and to “trust in the Lord” and wait for developments whatever they be.
All of the above concerns, worries and doubts come to exist in the face of not understanding the promises of Jesus. One of his most important claims is that "The truth will set you free." His description of the role of the Holy Spirit or God attitude is, "That one will teach you all things" and "That one will lead you into all the truth." One thing that is not understood well at all is that most of his promises to us concern our seeking the truth and not other blessings, developments, or accomplishments. Promises such as, "Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." It doesn't matter how disadvantaged we are in the normal way of evaluation as to academic acumen. When we are truly seeking the truth we will be led to success, one way or another.
There are others that call themselves Christian but that have blended a huge amount of mysticism in with it. They go so far to say that this is all an illusion, that salvation is always a totally personal thing and that by overcoming the illusion and false guilt in their own mind, all will be perfect and suffering will end. Oh, they are willing to say that behaving properly helps and we can help each other to do this, but they treat Jesus as just metaphorical, a symbol of the ultimate human virtues: love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, equality, etc. They don't even need him to be historical, because these virtues are eternal and it doesn't matter how or what Jesus is or came to be, it only matters that he crystallizes and encapsulates these timeless values for us.
I could write from now till the US congress becomes incorruptible about all the variations, and I don't even know about them all and new ones are being developed all the time. Not so good, is it?