Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Sin of “Second-Coming Narcissism"

“Hidden” sins are very common in Christian (and of course secular at large) culture. Everyone has it…it’s just Christians tend to be a little better at trying to cover it up or hide it, or not. But apart from the common hidden sins of say affairs, pornography, or cheating-on-your-taxes lies a hidden sin that’s pretty much never talked about. What I’m talking about is the sin of Second-Coming Narcissism.

Narcissism is a standalone sin I believe, but it’s acutely specific to Christians and Christian culture when it’s attached to the Second-Coming of Jesus (i.e. “Armageddon”, “Rapture”, “End of Days”, “Judgment Day”, etc.). In short, Christians can be so focused on the Second-Coming of Christ (in and of itself not a bad thing to be focused on – aside from all the most likely incorrect dramatic interpretations that have manifested over the past 2,000 years)…but doing so to the point of thinking it just has to definitely happen in one’s lifetime, to the point that they’re ignorant to the narcissistic tendency they’re exhibiting by thinking so. (I’ve always felt that Christians very focused on the “End Times”, while not a bad secondary or tertiary pursuit in Christian-living, do so under the guise of fear of dying prior to the return of Christ.) This “me first” mentality on the outside looks as if they think they’re somehow special, or more special than the millions of Christians that preceded them in the past two millennia, and the millions that will follow. “Me first” mentality isn’t exactly a staple characteristic in the Kingdom of Heaven.

It actually was a short blurb from a reoccurring blog called Tuesday Morning Quarterback (the writer occasionally dabbles in philosophy, cosmology, and religion) over at ESPN.com that piqued my interest to the point of wanting to write about it…

End of World Postponed Due to Technical Difficulties: May 21, 2011, passed without incident. This was the day predicted by extremist evangelicals for Armageddon. The crackpot behind the prediction declared he had a "really tough weekend" when billions of people did not perish in flaming agony. Our hearts go out to him!

Supposedly, hidden messages in scripture said the end of days would commence on May 21, 2011. There is a long-standing tradition of persons who range from earnest believers to fast-buck artists claiming to have found within the Bible encrypted instructions, mystic dates and magic numbers.

Wouldn't the plain-words meaning of scripture come first? The Bible contains several covenants between God and humanity. At Genesis 9:11, God says, "I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." Another covenant comes through the prophet Isaiah, who declares, "My steadfast love shall not depart from you and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord." (Isaiah 54: 9-10). Another comes from the prophet Jeremiah, who, speaking for the divine, declares of men and women, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them." (Jeremiah 32:40.)

In plain words, God promises not to destroy the Earth, that a divine covenant of peace "shall not be removed," and "never" to stop trying to help humanity. Yet people insist on claiming scripture contains encrypted messages of doomsday. What part of "never" don't you understand? The Book of Revelation does depict an apocalypse. Scholars and theologians have argued for centuries whether Revelation is prophecy or symbolism. Since Revelation declares in its first verse that what is described "must soon take place," and 1,900 years have passed, symbolism seems likely. Which takes us back to the plain-words reading of scripture.

Yes, I can’t take a football blog writer too seriously regarding these deep concepts (though if you read some of his stuff, he surely holds his own in certain areas outside football), but he does bring up a good point (for the record, I don’t agree with all he says), and one that surely get’s “end times” fanatics’ blood boiling…not only the notion that the Second Coming of Christ may not come in their lifetime (a dreadful thought to someone struggling with “Second Coming Narcissism”), but the almost heretic idea that most Biblical eschatology (end times theology) is symbolism; if not almost all of it. Of course no true Christian would believe nothing will happen as one of Christianity’s main tenets is the Second Coming of Christ, but perhaps it will happen more like a simple wisp of the wind (for the record, I adhere to amillennialism)…and it’s over, rather than literal fire and brimstone mass hysteria, cats and dogs living together type stuff. I mean I guarantee the original generations of Xtians most definitely believed it would happen in their lifetime; the Biblical literature points too accurately to this mentality. So when it didn’t happen, Christians were forced to scramble around to re-interpret all the eschatological writings from Scripture. From that we got all these crazy notions about the end times, etc. (Did you know the modern “rapture” concept and word was invented by a 17th century Protestant pastor?)

But I digress; I’m not here to discuss Biblical eschatology, its validity, or its meaning. Regardless of its meaning, many Christians think, and I’d argue narcissistically and therefore sinfully, that the end of time, the Second Coming of Christ will and must happen while they’re still alive (and why so many end time prognosticators are wrong in their interpretations…they just want so badly for it to happen before they die they’ll try to fit the world around them into their personal agenda). Now I don’t blame them of course for wanting this. Not at all. I mean what follower of Christ wouldn’t want to be around while their meek sacrificial Savoir comes back riding on the clouds finally as a conquering king? It’s human nature to want to be around for that and opening up a holy can of whup@$$. I surely want to be around for that type of stuff. But I’m ok if I’m not. It’s also human nature to be afraid of death. It’s ok to be afraid. I’m afraid of the unknown for sure. But I’m also ok if Christ decides not to come back for another 43,207 years. I mean a lot of great Believers have come and gone with baited breath for the return of their Savoir…but it didn’t happen. Why would we be so special as to be the ones to see him return in glory? Have any end times peeps asked that question, instead of how the latest political banter between Israel and Palestine signifies the End is near? Who cares really? We’re gonna end at sometime, whether with a beating heart or not…and we’ll see him eventually in glory (not to mention be able to watch the Second Coming on divine DVR). Try not to be so narcissistic to think it’s just gotta happen while you’re alive and start fitting world events into your eschatology…instead of letting eschatology do its thing apart from your emotions.

It all sort of reminds me of that comical/sad/ironic sequence when Jesus is talking about important things like his death and his disciples are arguing about who will be the greatest in God’s kingdom.

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” -lk9:46-48

The disciples come off as selfish, narcissistic fools in this (big surprise). Here Christ is sharing about his most agonizing near future, and they’re worried about who’s the best. In a similar way I think Christians that focus so much on the Second Coming of Christ happening in their lifetime, instead of focusing on the primary mission of what it is to be a Christian, to share the Gospel to a lost and hopeless world without reserve, are doing a disservice not only to themselves but also to what really is important with the time that they have. Study eschatology, great. But don’t do it at the expense of sharing the Gospel, and be careful not to think too highly of yourself.

Now I’d be remiss to mention that those that believe, based on world events, etc., that the Second Coming of Christ is nearer than say, 878 A.D., aren’t crackpots for thinking so. There are many convincing arguments that prop up end time theories relating to world events of today. And the fact that globalization has occurred within the past 50 years or so has greatly increased the chances that events described in Revelations could in fact happen in this type of communication infrastructure that we now live in. That said, end times theorists with great arguments, in their times, are nothing new (simply type “end time prophecy” in Google) – and folks have been proclaiming “their generation” is thee generation for well…two millennia…literally since the day Christ floated up from a hill. Again, my issue isn’t speculation or eschatological pursuits. I just have a problem with those that are either convinced it will happen the way they, or the lastest and greatest end times celebrity prognosticator, think – and this, what I believe to be, narcissistic idea that Christ will come back in their lifetime. I think humility could go a long way in repairing many of our emotionally or cult-of-personality based eschatological views.

And finally…I’m gonna go out on a prophetic limb here and predict that the Second Coming of Christ will not come in my lifetime. It’s all good either way. As David said…

“God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.” -ps49:15

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