Careless Words

I lost a Facebook friend today. I hope it’s temporary. I lost her because I challenged her about a status she wrote. It sounded like she was saying a news item was evidence of prophecy from the Book of Revelation being fulfilled.

I asked “what verses are you referring to?” And then I commented again about how careful we need to be as Christians making those kind of statements without backing them up. I compared such statements to those of Harold Camping, who instead of being very unspecific was actually very specific, and made himself – and to an extent Christians as a whole – something of a laughing stock.

I should have been more careful myself about how I expressed my opinion, because it probably came over as an attack when I was actually trying to provide loving guidance. And I certainly would have done better to offer that second comment in a private message instead of on my friend’s wall. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re passionate about something, and ironically we both made mistakes because we’re passionate about the same thing – leading people to Christ.

I’m making my apology to my friend privately, and whether she chooses to accept it is her decision. Here I want to explain a bit more clearly, and more fully, a mistake I think many Christians make.

I’ve been thinking recently about how frustrating it can be, that the Bible starts and ends with the two books that can lead to the most arguments, misconceptions and ridicule, both between Christians and non-believers, and also between fellow Christians! Please let us never forget that the core message we need to declare is in the heart of God’s word – in the Gospels. It’s the message of salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not saying the rest of the Bible is insignificant, but it has to always be read with reference to Christ’s love, His promise of forgiveness, and our commission to spread that news to the world.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind – 2 Timothy 1:7. For this reason, I don’t believe in scaremongering. There are plenty of things for the faithless to be scared about in this world, plenty of worries and concerns. As Christians we have the reassurance of God’s promises that He will provide for us (Matthew 6:33), that He won’t leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6) and that He has a place prepared for us in eternity (John 14:3). It is these reassurances that will move people’s hearts, rather than the equally true promise of weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are not saved (Luke 13:28). Yes, there is a place for that teaching, but it needs to be considered very carefully, because few will hear it.

Revelation is a very difficult book to understand clearly. It’s so full of symbolism, imagery and metaphor, and it was originally written for an audience who understood its language very differently to the way we do today. So it’s dangerous to quote it at any time with reference to current world events. There are those who believe dearly in the literal truth of every word of the Bible. I respect those people, but I’m not one of them, and I’ll tackle that particular topic in more detail another day, but for now it’s sufficient to say that I believe in the truth of the lessons conveyed in God’s word. So in Revelation, for example, there are lessons about the corruption of the secular world, about Christ’s ultimate victory over evil, and about the final judgement we will all face.

When news stories are quoted in parallel with Revelation’s prophecies, it’s almost like quoting them with reference to Nostradamus – there’s enough vagueness – and symbolism – in the language that the prophecy can be retro-fitted to all manner of events. We have to remember that Christ’s imminent return has been expected by every generation since He ascended to Heaven. He may return tomorrow, but really, why is it any more likely that it will be our generation that sees Him come, rather than any that went before, or any who will follow? Every disaster, natural or man-made, for hundreds of years, has been seen as an apocalyptic omen by some. How many presidents of the United States have been rumoured to be the anti-christ? None of this helps the Christian mission. None of it glorifies God. However sincere you are in your beliefs about the end times, you have to also humbly acknowledge that God’s timetable is not available to us, and it is presumptuous to suggest otherwise.

As I said earlier, the promise of God’s salvation, freely available to all through faith in Christ, is the message we need to get out there. When someone turns to Christ, and becomes a new creation in Him, then the Holy Spirit can really get to work on cleaning up the sin in that person’s life.

The end times are important, and are something the faithful can look forward to with a glad heart, but whenever we speak about them, the words of Christ in Matthew 24 should be clear in our minds. Read the whole chapter, and note in particular these verses:

42 Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. 44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

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