Thursday, January 15, 2009

The End is Nigh (Maybe)...

My aunt, who teaches overseas and has for most of my life, spent a few years in the states recently. During that time, I had just finished college and was working an entry-level sales job at a local manufacturing company. Because we both had Saturdays off, and because my wife worked, I would go to breakfast every week at her home and she and I would talk about the world and, more often than not, religion. Though she probably didn’t realize it at the time, and to this day may not, our debates shaped and solidified many of my ideas about faith.
I should explain that while she is a born again Christian, I consider myself less religious and more spiritual. That is to say, I believe in Christ as the son of God and I believe in the sacrifice He made for mankind. I don’t, however, believe that this removes all validity from the world’s other faiths. To me, spirituality is about fostering the divine spark in the human soul in order to bring ourselves closer to the peace and infinite wisdom that exists in our most perfect form. Where she and I have so often found ourselves at an impasse, however, is that I don’t believe that religion should ever eclipse faith.
For instance, one morning, she and I sat across the table from one another in the kitchen lit only be the bright new sun, and the discussion turned to the Biblical Rapture. She commented that it would be a beautiful day when Christ came to take those who had been saved to Heaven before the seven years of hell on earth. I just shook my head and sighed, telling her that I wasn’t looking forward to that at all. When she asked why, genuinely puzzled, I told her that if Christ came to me tomorrow and said that the end had come, I would have to tell Him, with a heavier heart than I’ve ever had, thank you, but I would see Him when he returned, were I fortunate enough to survive the dark times ahead.
My aunt was appalled. First, she told me that I couldn’t say no in His presence. It wouldn’t even occur to me. I told her that, no, it didn’t work that way. We are, first and foremost, creatures of free will. Then she responded by telling me that it would be terrible here and that she would be too afraid to stay. I knew that it would be the most horrifying experience of my life, but that was the reason I couldn’t leave. So many would be left behind, suffering, and had I reached a point where I was worthy of being taken to Heaven, I could not find it in myself to leave them alone were there any possibility that I could do something to alleviate that misery even the slightest. It is, after all, what Christ would have done.
I look around at our world, and at the current fervor building in the Christian community for the coming of the end times, and it saddens me. By accepting these things as inevitable, this poverty, famine, violence and the unrepentant corruption, greed and fear which is edging us ever forward, we wash our hands of any responsibility for them. We are the hands of God in this world. It was entrusted to us as caretakers and we have a responsibility to it and to one another. The end times may well be upon us, but it is not for us to stand idly by and allow it to happen.
As a good Christian, when someone asks why God allows children to starve, to be beaten or to die of terrible disease, the answer should not be anything but a simple, “Why do we?” Poverty and starvation exist because we allow it. Disease persists because it is more profitable to treat a disease than to cure it and children die every day because they cannot afford sufficient care because we are unwilling as a society to regulate and pay for an accessible healthcare system. The end, it is written, will come with a whisper. Now is the time to shout, then, to raise our voices and open our arms not only to those who share our views, but to all who need us, regardless of motive. It is, after all, what He would have done.