Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sodom or Zion? Nineveh?

One of the bitterest bones of contention in the American culture wars of the last century had to do with the question of how Jesus would come again. The premillennialists believed that the world would necessarily become more and more wicked until God broke the seals on the book of destiny and poured out devouring, purifying plagues and destruction upon the earth. The postmillennialists believed that humankind would gradually become better, until they had perfected society and made the world a suitable dwelling place for God; when Christ had gradually perfected his reign in the hearts of each inhabitant of the world, then and only then could he assume his rightful place as worldly ruler.

Polemicists of these two views of the world portrayed their opponents in the worst possible terms. Premillennialists accused postmillennialists of faithlessness and sin. Postmillennialists accused premillennialists of bigotry and willful ignorance. Churches divided over this issue. The propaganda machines spun in full gear. Hate and fear thrived, and faith... Well, the advocates of the various sides thought they had the only true faith.

The echoes of these culture wars from a century ago still resonate today, though Americans don't fight over this particular issue with the same fervor they did a hundred years ago. The "burning" issues that provide fodder for our cultural cannons are abortion and same-sex marriage. But, even though we may think we are fighting different battles, the truth is, anger, contention and war are always and ever and eternally the same. Contention just assumes different masks to keep us interested in the game.

When I read the accounts of these culture wars from the turn of the twentieth century, I am struck by a profound scriptural truth that seems relevant to the question of when and how Christ will come again. We choose.

Scripture teaches us of Sodom -- the city that became so wicked, God was compelled to wipe it and its inhabitants off the face of the planet. How did it become so wicked? Because that is the path its inhabitants chose.

Then there was the city of Enoch, called Zion, the city that became so righteous, so pure in heart, that there was no hate, no distinction. All things were had in common. And that city became so righteous, God was compelled to bring it up to Heaven, translating its inhabitants in the twinkling of an eye. How did Zion become so righteous? Because that is the path its inhabitants chose.

And I think of Nineveh. Jonah was commanded to go to Nineveh and prophesy: Because of their wickedness they would become like Sodom. They would be destroyed. But Nineveh repented! That prophecy went from a prediction of what will happen to a warning of what might have happened.

Aren't we like Nineveh? Are not both courses always before us? The course of destruction and the course of salvation? Don't we choose which way Christ will come again?

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