Where Will You Be When the First Trumpet Sounds? A Good Question Asked in An Advent Hymn

120113Part of the Genius of the African American Spirituals is their ability to treat of serious themes, such as the final judgment, in a creatively compelling manner that steered a middle course between unproductive fear and prideful presumption. Some of them are even playful saying things like, I would not be a sinner, I’ll tell you the reason why. I’m afraid my Lord might call my name, and I wouldn’t be ready to die! Another song says, Satan wears a hypocrite’s shoe, If you don’t watch, he’ll slip it on you! Yet another song warns with love: In that great gettin up morning, fare you well, fare you well! Or fare you well poor sinner, fare you well!

Some of the early African American hymns from the late 19th Century also draw heavily on this tradition. One such hymn is “Where Shall I Be When the First Trumpet Sounds?!” by  Charles P. Jones (1865-1949). The hymn consists in applying this question, “Where shall I be” to a litany of biblically based descriptions about the Second Coming of Jesus,  when He will  judge the world by fire. Each verse is steeped in rich biblical tradition and provides us a series of good advent reflections, all rooted in the essential Advent focus of second coming of the Lord Jesus.

As I sing it with my congregation each Advent, I am reminded of the familiar themes of another masterpiece, the ancient Dies Irae. That hymn too is richly biblical and I have treated of it HERE.

But as for this fine hymn, Where Shall I Be, let’s take a look at each line, asking the question, Where shall I be? I provide a biblical background for each verse and question that might help us since the rich tapestry of faith.

First, here is the hymn in toto, and then a line by line biblical lexicon, with brief commentary by me. Since this is a longish post I have put it here in PDF for you to print and read later. The hymn can be heard in the video at the bottom.

When judgment day is drawing nigh,
Where shall I be?
When God the works of men shall try,
Where shall I be?
When east and west the fire shall roll,
Where shall I be?
How will it be with my poor soul:
Where shall I be?

Refrain

O where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds,
O where shall I be when it sounds so loud?
When it sounds so loud as to wake up the dead?
O where shall I be when it sounds?

When wicked men His wrath shall see,
Where shall I be?
And to the rocks and mountains flee,
Where shall I be?
When hills and mountains flee away,
Where shall I be?
When all the works of man decay,
Where shall I be?

Refrain

When Heav’n and earth as some great scroll,
Where shall I be?
Shall from God’s angry presence roll,
Where shall I be?
When all the saints redeemed shall stand,
Where shall I be?
Forever blest at God’s right hand,
Where shall I be?

Lexicon and Commentary:

1. When judgment day is drawing nigh, Where shall I be?

A. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (Matt 24:32-33)
B. Do not grumble….The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9)
C. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. (Rev 3:20)
D. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. (Mk 13:36)
E. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” (Heb 10:37)
F. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thess 5:3)
G. Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!” (Rev 10:5-6)
H. Comment – Judgment day is drawer nearer and nearer for us all. Which each beat of our heart the moment edges forward. Are you ready for the Day of Judgment? What are you doing to get ready. The Dies Irae says, Day of Wrath and doom impending, heaven and earth in ashes ending….Do not delay your conversion to the Lord. The Lord has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:19-20)

2. When God the works of men shall try, Where shall I be?

A. Their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor 3:13-15)
B. For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matt 16:27)
C. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Rev 20:12)
D. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Rom 2:6-8)
E. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Matt 12:36)
F. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:9-11)
G. Comment: We will not be saved by our deeds, but we will be judged by them. For the veracity of saving faith is manifest by its work. As Jesus attests: The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. (Matt 12:35) Hence our works shall be tried by God, that is, they shall be judged by the Lord Jesus, to whom we must render and account. The Dies Irae says, Lo the book exactly worded, wherein all hath been recorded, thence shall judgement be awarded.

3. When east and west the fire shall roll, Where shall I be?

A. Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. (Mal 4:1-3)
B. For behold, the LORD is coming forth from His place. He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him And the valleys will be split, Like wax before the fire, Like water poured down a steep place. (Micah 1:3-4)
C. By the wrath of the LORD Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; they will not spare one another. (Isaiah 9:19)
D. For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. For the LORD will execute judgment by fire And by His sword on all flesh, And those slain by the LORD will be many (Is 66:15-16)
E. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly….But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 7,10-12)
F. Comment: The only way to survive on the day of fire is to be fire yourself. Let God set you on fire with love and bring you up to the temperature of glory. Let God send tongues as of fire to enkindle in you the fire of his love.

4. How will it be with my poor soul: Where shall I be?

A. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:17-19)
B. Comment – While we can have confidence for the day of salvation, our confidence cannot be in our own ability, but must rest in the grace and mercy of God. We are all poor sinners, beggars before God. The Dies Irae says: What for I fail sinner pleading, who for me be interceding, when the just are mercy needing?

5. O where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds, O where shall I be when it sounds so loud?

A. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor 15:52)
B. Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matt 24:30-31)
C. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thess 4:16)
D. The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south (Zech 9:14)
E. Comment – The trumpet summons all to judgement; some to glory others to wrath. But all must come! This is an appoint all must keep! The Dies Irae says, Wondrous Sound the Trumpet flingeth, Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth, all before the throne it bringeth.

6. When it sounds so loud as to wake up the dead? O where shall I be when it sounds?

A. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12:1-2)
B. And [The Father] He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (Jn 5:27-29)
C. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor 15:52)
D. Comment – Where will you be? With the, with the righteous or with the wicked, with the Saint or the aints. Everyone will rise, but to different realities entirely. Where Shall I be?

7. When wicked men His wrath shall see, Where shall I be?

A. Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. (Mal 4:1)
B. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:7)
C. The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness (Rom 1:18)
D. You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph 2:2-3)
E. You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess 1:9-10)
F. Comment: Are you getting this. The Day of Judgment is going to be bad for the wicked. They will experience God’s wrath. What is God’s wrath? It is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sin in the presence of God’s holiness. It is like fire and water coming together. They cannot coexist, there is a fundamental conflict and one has to give way. So it is with sin in the presence of God; no can do. Only Jesus can give us the capacity to stand before God’s utter sanctity. Only Jesus can rescue us from the coming wrath. The dies Irae says, When the wicked are confounded, Doomed to flames of woe unbounded: Call me with thy saints surrounded

8. And to the rocks and mountains flee, Where shall I be? When hills and mountains flee away, Where shall I be?

A. As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:26-31)
B. Men will go into caves of the rocks And into holes of the ground Before the terror of the LORD And the splendor of His majesty, When He arises to make the earth tremble. (Is 2:19)
C. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)
D. Comment – You can’t run from God, because He’s already there. There will be no escape, no postponing the Day of Judgment.

9. When all the works of man decay, Where shall I be?

A. Each man’s work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor 3:13-15)
B. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
C. Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Matt 24:2)
D. Comment – All things of man shall pass away, and all our works. Only what we do for Christ will last. Jesus says, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (Jn 15:16). Only what you do for Christ will last. All other works will decay.

10. When Heav’n and earth as some great scroll, Where shall I be? Shall from God’s angry presence roll, Where shall I be?

A. Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies…. the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves… (Isaiah 34:1-4)
B. The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. (Rev 8:12)
C. Comment: The Dies Irae says, Death is struck and nature quaking, All creation is awaking, To its judge and answer making. Come on now, if even the stars are struck and must answer, who are you or I to make light of judgement?

11. When all the saints redeemed shall stand, Where shall I be? Forever blest at God’s right hand, Where shall I be?

A. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness (Mal 3:2)
B. Wherefore…having done all to stand, Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
C. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (Matt 25:31-33)
D. Comment: The Dies Irae says, With thy sheep a place provide me, From the goats afar divide me, To thy right hand do thou guide me. When the wicked are confounded, Doomed to flames of woe unbounded: Call me with thy saints surrounded.

Yes, quite a song, so rich in biblical allusion. It, like the Dies Irae accesses many scriptures quite vividly and creatively. And yet like so many of the spiritual is able to combine them in ways that are almost celebratory. The hymn is usually sung in upbeat ways, in my parish we clap hands as it is sung.

But at the end of the day the question remains: Where shall I be? Will it be among the righteous in glory, or the sinful and unrepentant in Hell. Where, poor sinner, where shall you and I be? Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy that help us to stand a chance.

But as with all offers of God, grace and mercy are only accessed through repentance.

This song, like the more ancient Dies Irae could not be more clear, we are hastening to the day of judgement, a day about which to be sober and ready. Are you ready? Where shall you be when the first trumpet sounds.

Here is the Song as sung:

When Will Christ Come? Some Basics of Catholic Eschatology

In certain Protestant circles (not all), especially among the Evangelicals there is a strong and often vivid preoccupation with signs of the Second Coming of Christ. Many of the notions that get expressed are either erroneous, or extreme. Some of these erroneous notions are rooted in a misunderstanding of the various Scriptural genres.  Some are rooted in reading certain Scriptures in isolation from the wider context of the whole of Scripture. And some are rooted in reading one text, and disregarding other texts that balance it.

The Catholic approach to the end times (aka Eschatology) is perhaps less thrilling and provocative. It does not generate “Left Behind” movie series or cause people to sell their houses and gather on hillsides waiting for the announced end. It is more methodical and seeks to balance a lot of notions that often hold certain truths in tension.

I thought it perhaps a worthy goal to set forth certain principles of Eschatology from a Catholic point of view, since this topic often comes up in discussions with Evangelicals and others. Most of these insights are drawn straight from the Catechism and the Scriptures. What I offer here I do not propose to call a complete eschatology, only a sketch of basic principles rooted right in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

While we cannot know the exact time of his Coming, nevertheless there are things that both remind us and signal us as to his approach, if we have eyes to see them. These signs give indications only. The presence of such texts cannot be seen to over-rule that He will come “on a sudden” and that many will be caught unawares.

Here are some notes from Catechism (The Blue and Red texts are my own). I have made the Scripture quotes live by way of hyper text so you can click right over and read them.

1. “Soon + Sudden”Since the Ascension Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent (Rev 22:20), even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.”(Acts 1:7) This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed” (Mat 24:44; 1 Thes 5:2; 2 Thes 2:3-12). (CCC # 673).

Of all the points the Catechism makes, this one sets the tone of balance that must, most surely, be maintained. So, on the one hand Christ says, “I am coming soon” and that his coming could be both sudden and without warning.

Yet this truth must be held in tension with other truths that set forth certain things and signs that must be accomplished first. And these things are not easily or quickly accomplished. And this point is developed in point # 2.

2. Suspended The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel” (Romans 11:20-26; Mat 23:39), for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” (Romans 11:20-26) toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old. (Acts 3:19-21)” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:15) The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles” (Rom 11:12), will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, in which “God may be all in all” (Eph 4:13; 1 Cor 15:27-28) (CCC # 674)

This going forth of the Gospel to all the nations and the acceptance of the Jews to Christ would seem to be matters that would take some time.

Has the Gospel really reached all the nations? Have the full number of Gentiles come in and are they serving God and repenting in sufficient numbers? Perhaps so, one may argue.  And yet, on a planet of six billion, less than one third are Christian. And yet, there are very few places in the world where there is no Christian presence.

And what is meant by the “full number” of Gentiles? That number is hidden from us and surely is debated.

And has the “hardening” that has come upon the Israel been lifted? This too is debated and, despite certain movements of “Messianic Jews” it does not seem currently that the hardening that has come on Israel has been lifted in any wide sort of way or that he has been recognized by “all Israel.”

3. Suffering and SeditionBefore Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers (Luke 18:8; Mt 24:12). The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh. (2 Thess 2:4-12; 1 Thess 5:2-31 Jn 2:18-22) (CCC # 675)

Clearly, many of these troubles have afflicted the Church in every age. There has always been persecution. Many have fallen away, sometimes in large numbers, most into schism, some into unbelief. There have been times too where it can be argued that the love of many has grown cold.

And yet, clearly too, in the times in which we live, these are very severe problems and they have grown to envelope most of the planet. But God only knows when these signs will be present in a definitive rather than merely present prefiguratively.

(The problem of pseudo-messianism is developed more in the next point).

4. Secular Utopianism RejectedThe Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism. (CCC # 676)

Yes, many in human history, but especially in modern times, have advanced the notion that a secular utopia could be ushered in by human effort, and by submitting oneself to a government or worldly power or charismatic figure to do so.

Many repressive regimes and movements (often typified by powerful or charismatic leaders) of the last Century claimed the power to usher in such a utopia. The sad legacy of the 20th Century shows how tragic, bloody and repressive such attempts have been.

The Church also rejects religious forms of this which hold that prior to the Second Coming of Christ a period of 1000 years is set aside in which Christ will reign on earth or in which the Church will somehow attain a total victory prior to Christ’s Second Coming. This will be developed more in the next point.

5. Second Coming follows a final unleashing of evil The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. (Rev 19:1-9) The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. (Rev 13:1ff; Rev 20:7-9; Rev 21:2-4) God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world. (CCC # 677)

Hence, a final and intense unleashing is envisaged by Scripture and the Church. And this final and cosmic conflict will usher in the great triumph and the Last Judgment. This unleashing of the full power of the Devil in the very end is mysterious and difficult to understand but it is clearly set forth in Scripture, perhaps as a final test for the Church, perhaps as a definitive demonstration of the power of God.

Balance! Now please note that while we may wish to focus on one or two points above, each of the five points must be held in balance. In one sense all these signs have been present in the Church’s history, yet not in the definitive and final sense.

Thus, while these are signs that do in fact signal and accompany and usher in the last things, exactly when and how they come together in a definitive sense cannot be known by us. Were that the case, Christ’s clear word that he will come at an hour we do not expect (cf Mat 24:44) and that no one knows the day or hour (cf Matt 24:36) would be violated.

The key point is hold all five principles about in balance, and to accept the tension of knowing signs, but not the definitive time or fulfillment of them.

Most errors in eschatology proceed from a lack of balance and a failure to appreciate that the final age in which we live is steeped in mysteries and meanings known fully only by God. Time itself is mysterious, as are the deeper meanings of events and human history. The Lord, while giving us a framework that reminds of us his coming, and signals us in a merciful way to remember, has insisted that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons fixed by the Father, let alone the day and hour.

Humility, prayerful vigilance, readiness through obedience and the gift of holiness,  along with  an eager longing heart for the Kingdom in all its glory are our best posture.

Avoid doing lots of mathematical calculations here. The Catholic approach  may not be the stuff of movies and bestsellers, but it is the balanced and trusting faith to which we are summoned.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen. (Rev 22:20-21)

Just for some fun and also for a creative reminder, here is a little video I put together over a year ago.

Death to Doomsday!

I guess I’ve grown a bit weary about all the Doomsday stuff that seems to dominates certain channels on cable. In particular I refer to the Science Channel, the History Channel, and National Geographic Channel. At one time I found those channels very valuable in the informational programming they provided. But, about a year ago I just stopped watching them because it seemed to me that they had gone over to an all doomsday all the time line up. Flip to one of them and you’ll inevitably find a program about the asteroid that is overdue to flatten our world and snuff out life as we know it. If not that its the comet that is also overdue. If it is not that it would seem that Yellowstone National Park is actually a giant caldera and every now and then it blows up and devastates everything in sight plunging the planet into a volcanic winter. Did I mention that it is overdue to blow up? There is also a major landslide that is likely to occur on the African coastline and when it lets loose it will send a Tsunami 80 feet high that will devastate  the whole east coast of the USA. Did I mention it is overdue to let loose? And then there is Global Warming which, even if it is true doesn’t seem to be a disaster, (the planet has been a lot warmer in the past and we’ve survived). But according to the presentations we are headed for catastrophe. Did I mention that this catastrophe is imminent?

Other shows are now appearing on these channels that warn of the year 2012. Apparently a Mayan calendar  runs out on Dec 21, 2012 and this will usher in a great destruction of the world as we know it. You can read of this latest silliness here: 2012!  The site even has a ticking clock so you can remember to pack your bags. Expect this silliness to increase to hideous levels as Christmas 2012 draws nearer. Some are now backing off and just saying the world will transition to some new stage rather than be destroyed. Did I mention that 2012 is imminent?

Finally, these same channels also feature Nostradamus specualtors who claim his prophecies are “running out” There is also a list of Popes that an Irish priest named Malachy put togther many centuries ago. Well guess what,  we’re at the last (or the second to last Pope) on the list and then it runs out! Doomsday follows. Did I mention that Pope Benedict is 82?

So after a steady diet of this stuff on those channels I largely tuned out. But I remain puzzled as to our fascination with doomsday scenarios. Apparently this stuff sells because these channels put it out in large doses. They may have lost me for a viewer but obviously they’ve gained others who eat the stuff up.

So what’s this reflection doing on a Catholic blog? Well, cultural observations are part of what this blog is about. Doomsday is a major preoccupation and fascination with this culture of ours and I’d like to make a few observations of how this interacts with faith.

  • When the Church cast something off the world usually picks it up – Some years ago it was common in most Churches to hear of the day of judgment and the second coming of Chirst. That day would be a day of fiery  judgement when the wicked would render an account and the just be gathered in. The basic message was, “better get ready! Repent now.” But some decades ago such sermons ceased. They were replaced by the “Jesus loves you” sermons and endless reassurances all that fire and brimstone stuff was not for us. True enough, Jesus loves us, but the same Gospels that tell us that also speak of judgement. (More on that in another blog). But with the Church (inappropriately) casting  this fiery preaching aside the world seems to have taken up the theme. So the evidence seems to be that people “need” this sort of  doomsday talk at least from time to time. It seems necessary to our psyche that powerful reminders of death and judgment be present, perhaps to prepare us for what is inevitably in our future: death and judgment.
  • Kooky! Now this doesn’t change the fact that there is a kooky side to all this when it is taken too far. We are all familiar with the crazy guy on the street corner waving a Bible and warning of the end. His message is not untrue but HE seems a bit unbalanced, doesn’t look to have bathed or shaved in a long time etc.  And then there is rather odd little “Left Behind” series wherein the authors attempt a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation which comes off as a bit silly and contrived in places.
  • So what then is the conclusion? The Church has a duty to preach eschatology (end times theology). Her preaching of this important subject should be sober but clear. The world as we know it is passing away. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, either as individuals or collectively. We ought to live reverently and be prepared to meet Christ who may come at an hour that we least expect. We should be serious about our spiritual life and setting our house in order. Wild speculations are not called for however since Christ was plain when he said we would know neither the day nor the hour. Consistent readiness is what is called for. But what happens when the Church fails in her duty to speak to this expectancy in the human soul? Well, what happens is all the kooky and crazy stuff above. Without solid and well balanced preaching about eschatology the world descends into a frenzied speculation like we see on the channels I mentioned and in some of the more bizarre end times stuff out on the fringes of fundamentalism. That people are hungry for eschatological (end times) data seems clear and part of the human psyche. This hunger was probably put there by God. But if we are not fed the true food of children we run off to junk food and silly speculations. In mid November through Advent the Church’s lectionary turns to eschatology. I will acquit my duty to teach the solid food of Church teaching on this blog during that time.

Who knows? maybe I will get hit by an asteroid. I might also get hit by a bus. Point is,  be ready. Tomorrow is not promised. Give your life to God, entrust yourself to his care and be not anxious. Death to doomsday! Become alive in Christ and death will have no power over you!