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Do we still long for the Lord’s return?

Posted by M.Ferris on

Ben Franklin famously said that the only things certain are death and taxes. Too often we forget that it is only taxes that are certain for the Christian. For the believer in Jesus Christ, death is not a certainty, nor the immediate hope. Rather, it is the return of Jesus to take us from this world. The Lord’s return has been the expectation of believer’s from the very beginning, but it is a hope that has waned in recent decades. Why? There are a few causes for Christians not holding to hope of Jesus’s imminent return as they once did. Many preachers avoid speaking on prophetic themes due to the perception that prophecy is controversial, and potentially confusing. Admittedly, there are differing views on the prophetic portions of Scripture, but that isn’t unique to prophecy. One can turn to many books of the Bible, and find a different interpretation among different preachers, and different traditions. That doesn’t stop men from expositing those books. That the prophetic sections may be confusing is also a poor reason to avoid them. There are other parts of the Bible that are challenging to understand and to preach, and pastors don’t avoid those. I think in some ways, the popularity of prophecy has harmed it.

Trivialized prophecy

The Left Behind series, first as books, then as movies, may have brought parts of biblical prophecy to a mass audience, but as always happens, in popularizing it, it also trivialized. The underlying theology of the series is historical premillennialism, with the expectation of the coming of Jesus preceding the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy, also known as pre-tribulational. Schools such as Dallas Seminary, Grace Seminary, Biola, among others, teach this theology. That has changed with some schools, but the point is that a large part of conservative evangelicalism held to this theology. In the Bible conference movement of the early 20th century, prophetic themes were also a mainstay. But the Left Behind books, by sensationalizing it, made premillennialism seem outré and strange, just a bit to the left of snake-handlers. The loss is that this discouraged believers from the study of prophecy, regardless of the position. For some, they feel that holding no position may be best. We need to look critically at any attitude that dissuades us from studying part of God’s word. Date setting and other attempts to tie current events to the prophetic calendar have also negatively effect on the study of prophecy. This is a foolish and harmful practice. The New Testament tells the believer to look for the savior, not signs. It is a diversion to look at circumstances rather than to set our expectation on the soon return of Jesus Himself.

We are comfortable here

Another reason our eagerness for the Lord’s return has ebbed is because we feel comfortable in the world. It is a constant danger, and a constant temptation that believers get comfortable here on this earth, forgetting that our citizenship is not here, but is in heaven, where, as Paul says, we await a savior. Jesus warned his followers to be watchful, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21:34) Grace, Paul tells Titus, teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldy lusts. Grace loosens the grip of this world on our souls, if we heed it. And that loosening takes the form of looking forward to what Paul calls the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. If we have our hope set on him, the present age, an age dominated by sin, will have less of a hold on us.

The return of Jesus for his own is the perennial hope of Christians. We have the privilege that in our lives, he could come. We would not die, but rather mortality would be swallowed up by immortality! Paul tells the Thessalonians “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Death and going to be with Christ is not our immediate hope, his return is. When were you last encouraged that the Lord is coming soon?


Science, Hubris, and the Importance of Admitting Ignorance

Posted by M.Ferris on

I heard a piece this weekend on the TED Radio Hour that got me thinking a bit about assumptions, the scientific method, and how science is for some, a kind of faith. Sean Carroll, a cosmologist at Cal Tech, gave a talk entitled “Cosmology and the Arrow of Time.” Some salient points Carroll made were, the universe is changing as time passes. It is expanding. The universe was “smooth” at the beginning. This was a time of low-entropy, of high order. The universe was in a very delicate arrangement, it was not random, but we’re not quite sure why.

Through the program, host Guy Raz and Sean Carroll discuss some of these ideas, and Raz asks this: “If there was low entropy in the beginning, if there was order, could it suggest that there was something that intended it to be that way?” Carroll’s somewhat extended reply:

“It could be. If you ask a question like that, the answer is yeah, it could be. There are many things that are possible. That’s certainly something that people have thought about. There’s something called the teleological argument or the argument from design for the existence of a supernatural creator that says that, you know, features of our universe, if they were very different wouldn’t have allowed for us human beings to exist. But the early universe, interestingly, the problem is not just it was quite orderly, but it was really way more orderly than it needed to be for us to be here. If you really want to make this argument that the universe is set up to allow for the existence of life or humanity or something life that, the early universe is overkill. So it seems that whatever the explanation is, for why the early universe has the features its does, that’s not a really good one. We need something to explain why it is so exquisitely low entropy, so many particulars in such a very, very specific state. And as physicists, we have theories, you know, we don’t know which one is right, it’s early times as far this big question kind of thinking goes, but it’s not hard to imagine that we’ll get a good physics explanation rather than reaching for something beyond the physical world.”

Christians, of course, call that explanation for early order “God.” Genesis begins with an account of God creating the heavens and the earth. But the account is low on details, because, as Herbert Lockyer noted, “The Scriptures were given to tell men how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” The Bible is not a textbook on cosmology, so we shouldn’t expect that kind of detail. But Carroll discounts an explanation involving the supernatural, apparently because the early universe is too orderly than it needs to be. He doesn’t explain why a situation of too much order is problematic. Too much order for what, or why? I don’t think that’s a good reason, but one thing he does admit is, “We don’t know.” My intention here isn’t to pick apart his argument, but to highlight this overarching theme: What we often think of as science has lacunas of understanding, and for all we may know, there is much that is not known.

In other words, a basic question on the origin of the universe, an important piece of information about solving a scientific problem, remains out of reach, not understood. How does that fit in with the idea of “settled science” I wonder? My question is not so much to induce a revision of cosmology, so much as ask my atheist friends if they are prepared to acknowledge there are gaps –in human understanding of science, and these gaps are sometimes wide. Knowledge has so often been revised; updated, and indeed supplanted; that it seems a posture of humility is a good one to assume on so many of these questions. It’s very difficult to set up an experiment to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, so there is theory, some data surrounding those theories, but in the end, they are theories. And the very fact that those theories have been revised demonstrates they can be wrong. Scientists appeal to a lack of evidence for the existence of God, but an honest scientist will likewise admit that there is no proof of the non-existence of God. In other words, it’s not a good argument.

For a working cosmologist such as Sean Carroll, he can get closer to the data, and whatever experiments may be possible, but for the rest of society, that’s out of reach. What we are left with is faith, belief in information given to us from someone else, and those who believe do so not because of firsthand knowledge, or eyewitness accounts, but on a personal decision to trust the information you’re being given.

So, for my atheist friends, I have a suggestion and a plea. It’s forthright to acknowledge science involves gaps and theories, and remains not at all settled, but elusive and faith-based. I think this should be uncontroversial, for it is demonstrable. And given this, my plea would be for humility in the light of this. Current science may be the best it has ever been, but it’s incomplete. That’s a fact.