Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul the Octopus Predicts the Rapture (Parody)

By Tomas Brandt
Staff Sports and Religion Correspondent
Oberhausen, Germany

Paul, the prophetic German octopus who has recently become famous for successfully predicting the outcome of World Cup soccer matches, has determined that the Rapture will occur on October 15th 2014.  Stock prices dipped sharply on the news as cautious investors moved their money into gold and canned goods.

The octopus, known by his most ardent followers as "The Apostle Paul", has been under witness protection since he successfully predicted Germany's loss to Spain in the World Cup semifinals.  Still, his most devoted followers remain convinced he has cracked the code to the end-times prophecies.  "Repent!  No prophet is accepted in his hometown!" shouted Hans Steinfelder outside a Frankfurt sports bar following Germany's predicted 10 July loss to Uruguay in the World Cup consolation game.  Shortly thereafter, Steinfelder was pelted with calamari seized from a nearby seafood market by a drunk and agitated mob of German soccer fans.

The process of coming up with the Rapture's exact date was an arduous one, in which Paul chose from tasty morsels placed in boxes labeled "Before" and "After" particular dates.  "It took months to narrow it down, and the World Cup certainly slowed the process," stated Helmut Schmidt, Associate Marine Biologist at Sea Life Park in Oberhausen.  "Paul can only eat so much, and frankly, football simply took precedence over the Apocalypse."

The setting of a date just 4 years from now has placed even more demands on Paul's services.  "There are just so many more questions that need answering," confessed Anna Geld of the newly established First Church of the Octopus in Berlin.  "What can Paul tell us about the Great Tribulation?  After all, if it hasn't started yet then I guess that rules out the post-tribbers, since we simply don't have 7 years to fit it in."

For Gelda Stern, one question remains paramount.  "Who is the beast who comes out of the sea in Revelation 13, and has Paul ever met him?  Ten horns and seven heads ... I just know he must be another octopus mutated by BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the heathens at Sea Life Park refuse to let me ask the Apostle."

* * * * *

"At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time ... No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father ... Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come ... So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Matthew 24:23-25, 36, 42, 44)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"The Late Great Planet Earth" (Eschatology is Hard II)

More on the "last days" from my ongoing discussion group over at LinkedIn.
Having previously invoked the "88 Reasons" in this discussion, kindly allow me to toss in yet another blast from the not-so-distant past (1970): "The Late Great Planet Earth". Hal Lindsay made quite a bit of money combining premillennial dispensational eschatology (still much in vogue) with then-current events. Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation were naturally the featured texts, and the 1980s were eventually picked as the time for Jesus' probable return. There was even a movie! Were some called to repentance? Probably. Were many others momentarily enthralled, but ultimately disillusioned and embittered? Assuredly.

What makes this remarkable is that it's historically unremarkable. There have been attempts for two millennia to equate current events with Biblical prophecy (and that's if you count just the time since Christ arrived--largely unexpectedly--the first time)! Who or what exactly is Babylon the Great ... the Beast ... the Dragon ... the False Prophet ... Gog and Magog? How does Nero fit in ... or Saladin ... or Napoleon ... or Hitler? At some point, some historically tiny number of these will--one supposes--actually prove accurate, but the overwhelming evidence suggests that there is much peril involved in such things.
We are by nature self-referential. Every culture and generation tries to see itself in prophecy. There is always another formula, a new variation on the old theme, and an explanation as to why the previous one didn't work out. The danger is not in reading prophecy ("All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful, etc."). No, the danger is in laboring to fit prophecy into our own particular time and culture. Could you be right? You could. But walk humbly and carefully ... many, many have gone before you and have proven utterly wrong.
John wrote, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." (1 John 2:18). His readers were already trying to foresee the onset of the end times, but John steered them in another direction: "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son." (v. 22) John tried to move his readers from an attitude of looking for a specific danger to recognizing that they are surrounded by dangers. We are all to live as if it is the "last hour", "for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." (1 Thess 5:2).
Once again I stress, it is preparation, not prediction, for which these prophecies were given to us. It is good and right to gaze into Scripture and see ourselves, so that we might be called to grace and repentance. It is dangerously self-centered, however, to gaze into Scripture and always see our own time and place in its prophecies. The church has fallen into that trap for 2,000 years. Eventually I suppose someone will be right, but only after far too many have been wrong ... and some of them quite destructively.
Somewhere, someone is writing a book about how Barak Obama ... or BP ... or the Federal Reserve ... or Lady Gaga is the such-and-such of Biblical prophecy. It has always been so. But again, it is for preparation, not prediction, that we have these prophecies.
"So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." (1 Thess 5:6-11)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988" (Eschatology is Hard)

I recently joined an online discussion about eschatology, or the study of the "end times". I began my thoughts with reference to a modern "classic" (er, sort of):
Actually JB, the book that comes to my memory is "88 reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988". Apparently we missed it! :)

The truth that strikes me about date-setting specifically (and predictions more generally) is that, despite the fact that Jesus' first coming was, at the time, the most prophesied event in human history, nearly everyone got it wrong ... including (indeed, especially) the most humanly "prepared"--the Jewish clergy. Their problem was not a lack of information, it was the hardness of their hearts compounded by the inability to imagine God's actual plan beyond their narrow, self-referential interpretation of Scripture.

What this tells me is that the purpose of the prophecies about His second coming is not prediction, but preparation.

If pressed, I will confess to amillenialist leanings, which is to say that I tend to think the "last days" began in the 1st Century (Heb 1:2) and that the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 is a figurative reference to Christ's present reign over His church (this interpretation requires a non-chronological reading of Revelation). I generally admit to that tentatively, because I find the topic to be more divisive than it ought to be; because I think Jesus' first coming demonstrates that interpreting prophecy is much harder than we tend to think it is; and because it is far from being a central point of the Faith.

Moreover, my understanding of church history is that eschatology can be very trendy ... in other words, the popular view of this subject often changes with the times, with the ebb and flow of world events. This is an understandable phenomenon, but should caution us that our interpretations are easily influenced by the specific places and times in which we live.

My guess is that, when He does return, the circumstances will be unlike anything most of us has quite imagined, yet all of us will afterwards conclude that we should have known (and, more importantly, should have been prepared), as the prophecies will have clearly foretold precisely the way it actually happened. In other words, it'll be kinda like the first time, if only in that sense ... :) 
Back to my point about "not prediction, but preparation", I rather like the way Keith Green put it (*Update -- the old Keith Green YouTube video was taken down, so I've replaced it with another version of the same song):