So. Mark 13 is weird, man.
I mean, I’m not even gonna try, really, except to say that, no, this is not about the end of the world; it’s about the siege of Jerusalem by Rome (which was a real thing that really happened around 70 CE).
Apocalyptic literature is common trope in Jewish writings. In fact, it’s pretty common across most people groups, especially if that group is persecuted. There is something in the “yes, things are awful, but look on the bright side; It’s going to get waaaaaay worse!” that reassures people, I guess.
Of course, Apocalypses are also really popular among people who just think they are persecuted. Like people who feel under attack when the clerk at the store wishes them “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.” Or people who freak out because a private business disassociates with the NRA, depriving them of their God-given right to a cheaper rental car.
Oh, I’m sorry, was that last part out loud?
So I haven’t really been a fan of apocalyptic literature for a while now.
Several years ago, we had a pastor who led us through a study on Revelation. And it was actually good! It threw into sharp relief for me how little persecution we actually suffer for our faith in the United States, and how little price there is to pay for being a follower of Jesus compared to people who actually, you know, died for believing in Jesus.
Confession: There was a time I was really into Apocalyptic stuff. In fact, I have a complete set of the Left Behind novels on my bookshelf. I’m looking at them right now. I loved the first several novels, endured the middle ones (I was already committed!), and hate-read the last two or three. Truth be told, I can probably thank the laying bare of the fear-based theology inside them as the starting point for my pivot to a more inclusive and just faith.
Not that I’d wish the same journey on anyone else. When the church we were attending had a yard sale last year, I donated a bunch of books … and I intentionally did not donate my Left Behind books. Because I didn’t want anybody else to read them and think they were valid.
But the covers are pretty!
I spent many years distancing myself from that sort persecution complex escapism. I wanted a faith that was bigger, that was more just and more kind. And when I thought about apocalyptic literature at all over the last five to ten years (which wasn’t often), I was much more likely to see the modern American Church as Rome the persecutor than the heroic church in Philadelphia.
That’s a take I still stand by.
Because then 2016 happened.
And then 2017(!) happened.
And now we’re in 2018, I’m really getting tired of this funhouse of a country we’re living in. This divided country — where we can’t even agree on the questions anymore let alone the answers, where the people who told me all my life that “character counts” now talk about mulligans (were you lying to me the whole time? was it always just about power? really, I need to know.), where mass shootings are routine, where our political events have the feel of a Saturday Night Live sketch written by George Orwell — well, it has me rethinking the value of Apocalypse.
Because, see, while I was off discovering my inner hippie, the kids have been absolutely immersed in a different sort of Apocalyptic literature. You probably know it as by it’s more common name: “YA fiction.” And their kind is not Left Behind escapism. From Hunger Games to Harry Potter, you will find young heroes, both ordinary and extraordinary, under siege and accepting the call of the moment to actually change things.
As Jennifer Ansbach said so much more succinctly about the student protests after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shootings:
I’m not sure why people are so surprised that the students are rising up—we’ve been feeding them a steady diet of dystopian literature showing teens leading the charge for years. We have told teen girls they are empowered. What, you thought it was fiction? It was preparation.
— Jennifer Ansbach (@JenAnsbach) February 19, 2018
This is what I got wrong about Apocalypse. They were never primarily about getting out; they were about preparation. About standing firm. About keeping your head up, being aware of what’s going on around you, and when the time comes, acting and reacting appropriately.
There is a cottage industry attacking “kids today” (which somehow extends all the way up to people who are, like, 35, but that’s another conversation) for their Entitlement Mentality. I don’t want to link to any articles, because I don’t want to give them eyes. But you’ve seen them. They are everywhere.
If you’re not a Millennial or Gen Z, it’s a sentiment you have likely felt if for no other reason than it is so prevalent in our culture. Heck, even if you are a Millennial or Gen Z, you might feel it sometimes. And I’m not here to praise or bury the “kids today.” They have both wonderful attributes and flaws, just like every generation before them.
What I am here to tell you is when you look at these kids from Stoneman Douglas, and you marvel at their ability to not put up with bullshit non-answers from politicians, what you are actually seeing is the fruit of that same “entitlement mentality” you’ve been bitching about. They feel entitled to real answers. And they are right.
When you look at #metoo and #churchtoo and wonder at the floodgates that have opened up against sexual harassment and sexual assault, that is also the same “entitlement mentality” saying I won’t be silent anymore. I won’t let you do these things to me without consequence just because you have power over me. They feel entitled to their own bodies. And they. are. right.
We are not living under Roman rule; in America, we are the government. So we make a grave misreading of these biblical apocalyptic texts when we see ourselves as the truly oppressed within them. But there is no denying that these are troubled times. An apocalypse? Well, it is at least a Crisis.
Funny thing about that word though: Crisis doesn’t just mean “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.” It also means “a turning point.”
Yes, all governments fall eventually, and ours is not immune. There may indeed come a time to “flee to the mountains” (vs 14). But the last I checked, we still have elections and representatives and courts and the rights we need to actually change things. We are a long way off from “flee day.”
So let us look at this present “apocalypse” as preparation. We are being called to stand for justice and mercy. To bring the Kingdom here, on earth as in heaven. Because there is one thing that Apocalypse is always about: The ultimate victory to come.
In the end, no matter what, God wins.