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. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. – Luke 21:34-36
Friday, February 28, 2014
I am what is sometimes called a partial preterist with regard to much of Matthew 24, Luke 21 and similar passages. The siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians from the region by Rome, along with other horrors that accompanied the prolonged conflict and judgment partially fulfilled the prophetic words of Jesus.
In the verses above the Lord is warning both 1st Century and 21st Century hearers. Those whose eyes would see the temple destroyed needed to heed His words as have many throughout the intervening years, and people for many years in the future should listen as well. History is like a wild river, rapids and falls of turmoil and terror between rare and welcome pools of peace.
The conflicts may not always devolve into open, armed battles. Despite the fact that Americans have been mostly spared from wars on our own soil for the last hundred years, we have not been spared from violence. Calamity may fall upon an individual just as it does upon a nation or a people.
At 4:48pm on Tuesday, February 19, 2014, a ten-year-old girl named Hailey Owens was walking back home from a friend’s house. She was grabbed off the street by an abductor who was captured by police less than four hours later.
Too late. Hailey, who looks a lot like one of my granddaughters, was dead.
Neighbors witnessed the abduction, tried to intervene, and attempted to pursue the vehicle into which Hailey was dragged. They weren’t able to stop what happened. Craig Wood, a 45-year-old school employee, has been charged. The details are too disheartening and gruesome for me to relate. One of the local television stations has a page dedicated to the various elements of the story, including the community’s shock and heart-broken response.
Tragedies can be big or small, major or minor, widespread or personal. They are still tragedies, and, as Jesus said, they “will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” No one escapes trials and troubles, pain and suffering. The innocent suffer with the guilty. No one ever said it was going to be fair.
It is hard to imagine how a young child could somehow deserve inhuman torture and murder simply on the basis of being born a fallen creature. Good or bad thought patterns seem hardly adequate. We mostly have to believe that justice, retribution, and rewards transcend our visible, physical lives. I am deadly serious when I say that nobody would want to live in a world where people like me start embracing nihilism.
Jesus calls us to endurance, to live and to stand despite all the boiling wickedness of the world, all the irrational injustice and vicious persecution. By your endurance you will gain your lives (Luke 21:19). And I have my doubts that He is talking about your life here in the material world. He speaks of persevering to gain eternal life, His kind of life – abundant and everlasting.
The unfathomable part: that life is available to both persecuted and persecutor, oppressed and oppressor, victim and victimizer. There stands the strait gate and the path beyond, frightening in how little room it offers, what it demands we leave behind in order to pass through. It’s time to choose.
Here comes the Judge.