If you've picked up this newspaper, you've likely found enough stories to suspect an approaching apocalypse. The reports about a nuclear-armed North Korea, major climate changes and the black widow skulking the Winter Olympics all make great sermon fodder for ministers who track such things.
In case the doomsday prophets have your faith meter running on empty, let me remind you of the guy who started spinning news stories into apocalyptic mayhem. His name was Hal Lindsey. If you were born before 1960, you'll likely remember that Lindsey co-authored a 1970 best-seller with Carole C. Carlson titled "Late, Great Planet Earth."
Some of us laughed at Lindsey. Some of us memorized him, but when the Yom Kippur War of 1973-74 sent gas prices soaring, many of us were terrified to see the Lindsey scenario creeping into the nonfiction section.
Indeed, the New York Times called him the "No. 1 nonfiction best-seller of the decade."
Lindsey's approach wasn't new. It's a variation of the old bumper sticker: "The good news is, Jesus is coming back. The bad news is, He's ticked." (OK, the sticker doesn't say "ticked" but this is a family newspaper.)
The real problem with Lindsey and people like him is that they characterize the Christian faith as a war between good and evil. Indeed, they make faith seem like a choice between spending eternity in a bottomless pit of eternal fire or going to church three times a week.
The hitch in that kind of thinking is that real faith can't be boiled down to an either/or proposition. A working faith is always relation-based, not fear-based.
It's like this. When I met my wife on the campus of a Southern Baptist Conference Center, I didn't introduce myself by saying, "Marry me or you'll burn." If I had, she would have dowsed me with the nearest fire extinguisher.
God doesn't say such things either. He doesn't scare us into loving him. He's not like the plaid-suited salesmen selling "Falling Sky" insurance, telling us to "please read the fine print."
God is not trying to save us from this world. For heaven's sake - pun intended - God created the world.
In the scripture verse that immediately follows the one commonly thrust into your face at sporting events, Jesus made a point of saying, "God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help" (John 3:17, The Message Paraphrase).
God is about helping us make it though our times of hurt and pain. He's not about inventing painful situations just so he can play the hero.
I suppose there'll always be for-tunes to be made by capitalizing on demise, death and destruction, but at the end of the day, I place my faith in my relationship with our creator.
The Lindsey star eventually faded. The counterculture of the 1960s never became the main culture, and Lindsey's predictions crumbled with the Berlin wall.
These days, Lindsey can be found on his namesake Internet site where he is now predicting the final jihad. Same station, different program.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He is an Air National Guard chaplain. You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.
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