The Rest of Your Life
Planning for the real tomorrow
By Lael Caesar
May 21, 2011, at 6:00 p.m., the world refused to end—a dramatic nonevent that leaves plenty of room for new predictors, as well as repeat offenders.*
Seventh-day Adventists, taught and shaped by the events of 1830-1861, and who have not forgotten the way the Lord has led in our history, still have something to teach, specifically, to fellow Christians. One truth for everyone about last “Mayday” is that we all still have to plan for our tomorrow.
Its events will all be either trivial, or important, or essential. Life’s trivial distractions (ice-cream flavors and key-chain styles) and its urgencies (commuter schedules, final wedding preparations, or the desperation of gifts for people we forgot, who remembered us at Christmas) may indeed matter. But beyond trivia, and beyond even the tyranny of the urgent, there is the indispensable. It’s what Jesus wants us to focus on when He asks us to weigh the loss of our soul (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:36). Christianity is not fairy-tale oblivion. It means studying the futures market, thinking about tomorrows, and securing yours now.
Tragically, some intelligent Christian thought has reduced the essential to the trivial. We have read Jesus’ advice on preparation and reduced it to academic amusement with little and big numbers. Answering His disciples’ query about their beloved Jerusalem, Jesus got an early word in about how people in 2011 could secure their tomorrow. This is because for Him secure futures are always an essential matter. He repeatedly promises a great tomorrow, and even today, for everyone who will choose Him today: “everlasting life” (John 3:16), “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10), “a hundredfold now in this time”—with persecutions—“and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30).
But what we mostly remember Jesus saying about preparation for tomorrow is that there will be celestial signs, and earthly distress, and religious fraud, and frightened people as proof that His coming is near (Matt. 24:5-14, 29; Luke 21:25, 26). Some insist that in accordance with these predictions, earth’s natural disasters are increasing in number as we approach the end of time. Meanwhile, others dismiss any claim that either pattern or reason can be found in the madness of the elements that batter our lives and our globe.
To judge by all this, Jesus’ purpose in giving His advice about tomorrow was to draw His children into little games of addition and subtraction, counting earthquakes by number, intensity, and distribution, to prove there were 10 big enough ones today versus nine and a half tomorrow! Those 20,000 Japanese tsunami deaths win out over 300 Tennessee tornado victims. This awkward Christian quarrel about the significance, number, and intensity of tsunamis, hurricanes, and bomb-dropping might well lead to, or be based on, the idea that God or Christians gain from disputing the relative violence of ancient and modern disaster, or the relative cruelty of ancient Assyrians and modern Saddams, Hitlers, and Stalins. It is unlikely, though, that Jesus meant for these calculator games to be any part of our planning for tomorrow. Or that Bible study along with newspaper reading was designed to inspire argument over how many more or less died or are really supposed to die, how much starvation, pedophilia, or racketeering is necessary before Jesus can come back.
Instead, Jesus’ words point to misery around and within us as ubiquitous proof of our thoroughly desperate human situation. They offer compelling evidence of the pathetic finitude of humanity and nature outside of Him. Jesus’ point is to have us embrace His uniqueness as humanity’s only hope. For He is the only one who can actually secure our tomorrow. We are finite; He is infinite. We are puny; He is awesome. We are desperate; He is our help in time of trouble. We are nothing; He is everything. And He says to us, “My children, let Me secure your tomorrow. Whenever you look around, not only in the year 2011, but always, not only always, but more than ever with the passing of time and the fulfillment of time prophecies, when you see the confusion in nature, the panic of the nations before all the things that are coming to pass—physical things, political things, religious things, military things, economic things—‘when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near’[Luke 21:28].” So lift up the trumpet and loud let it ring, Jesus is coming again! That is our tomorrow; that is our hope; that is our best investment; that is our security.
This is just what Jesus had Paul and John say centuries before the fulfillment of Daniel’s 2300-day prediction (1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 22:6-10). Prophetic fulfillment does not suddenly make it right to look up to Jesus and away from self. Rather, predictive prophecy demonstrates to honest observers the absolutely unimprovable reliability of the word of the God whose hand holds times and seasons, whose eye sees the end from the beginning, whose heart cares infinitely about my yesterdays, your todays, and everyone’s tomorrows. We were always supposed to look up to Him and away from ourselves. “Your tomorrow is Me,” He says. “Your heart must not worry while others fail for fear; you believe in God, believe I am trustworthy. Make sure you secure your tomorrow now, during the ‘day of salvation’ [2 Cor. 6:2]. I alone, no one and nothing beside, can provide that salvation [Isa. 43:11]. And I am coming back to receive you to Myself so we may always be together!”
All analysis of Jesus’ end-time sermons in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 must acknowledge this overall relation between His predictions of natural, economic, political, and spiritual disaster, and the climactic event of His second coming. Jesus is not recommending numerical trivia about recent and ancient chaos as an intelligent pastime for pleasant or stormy Sabbath afternoons. Instead, the One who cast the shame of our past into the depths of the sea wants us securing our future and urging everyone else to secure theirs, by investing in Him for now, for tomorrow, and forever. It’s so much more meaningful and productive than haggling over how many didn’t and did die from Satan’s latest madness. And so essential to the rest of all our lives.
*As I write, some await Howard Camping’s October 21 end-of-the-world date. Seehttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/us/24rapture.html.
Lael Caesar is an associate editor who recently joined the Adventist World editorial family after more than 15 years of serving as a professor of religion at Andrews University, U.S.A.