Monday, April 27, 2009

swine flu, obviously one of the plagues mentioned in Revelations, right?

Give it a minute and it will show up. SOMEONE will be blogging or broadcasting on TV. Perhaps Jack and Rexalla (oh Jack!) van Impe will have something about it possibly being a sign of the end.

Chrsitians in America would do well to remember that just because a disease you've never heard of until last week is making the rounds doesn't mean it proves that we're living in the end times. We've been living in the end times since John the Baptist but most American Christians seem too unaware of the nature of eschatological expression in Jewish and early Christian thought to get that. I can't imagine that the number of people who have died of swine flu in the West is even a drop in the bucket compared to pandemics in Africa and elsewhere. Not belittling sufffering in the United States at all so much as belittling the impulse of American Christians to see every emergence of something modern medicine can't quite lick in a week and a half before you've heard of the disease as a sign of the end times.

I have said it before and I will say it again, too much discussion of end times anything in American Christianity seems like a mash up of fears--winnow away the rhetoric and bluster and out-of-context and eisegeted Scripture and the fears take on familiar faces: fears about political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, ideological or sexual bad guys winning the day and ripping the last shreds of some benighted Christendom from the weary fingers of Christians who remember the good old days of some bygone epoch that may well have existed chiefly in our feeble imagining of history. The earliest Christians did not by and large suffer from this particular self-aggrandizing delusion. I would explain the situation at Corinth were it not so needless. You can do your own homework on that.

Too many Christians who quite simply ought to know better completely bungle apocalyptic literature. The apocalyptic literature that literally became biblical does not merely bewail a coming apocalypse where the end of all things comes, it considers that in and through Christ those things that are most beautiful transcend this life and literally cannot be destroyed by the worst that life and death can throw down. The book of Revelation should not be read as though it were some giant iteration of Bill Paxton's "GAME OVER MAN!!" from Aliens, which is often how Christians seem to handle it in the United States. They make it a book of their own fears and not one of hope in Christ.

I am not one of those "pan" millenialists who thinks it will all "pan out" in the end. I'm not a postmillenialist or a pre-millenialist. I lean decidedly amillenial partial preterist and don't take the tribulation as being anything unusual that Christians will be "raptured" from. The book itself says those destined for captivity will go into captivity and that those who slay with the sword will be slain with the sword, here is perserverance for the saints, as it goes. I kid you not, though, I discovered that at a church I was attending (this happened about five years ago) that a friend of mine had to explain to someone that I am not, in fact, a heretic for identifying as an amillenial partial preterist. It's a common view, historically, within the faith, and while it is highly unusual for an AMERICAN evangelical Protestant it's probably far more the norm than the historicist/futurist dispensationalism present in our country.

I trust that by and large MOST people will not look at swine flu as though it were the contents of one of the seven golden bowls. Still, I remember growing up hearing explanations about locusts representing helicopters or other sorts of fanciful allegorical interpretations taken by various people. Very few people interpret Revelation literally even when they pretend to themselves and others that the images are made to speak and take that as referring to television. If you know that the keeping of the Passover is as a mark on the right hand or a mark above the eyes then you know that within the Jewish idiom the Revelator drew upon that the mark of the Beast may not be anything particularly literal at all but a custom or ritual that defined one's allegiance to a god other than Christ.

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