“Once you are alive, you can never be dead.” – Tim O’Brien*

Somehow, I have expected to see more about 521 out there in the general culture. I have seen a couple copies of news articles from mainstream media; “Christian sect plans for end of world” type of thing, and one article from a San Francisco newspaper; an interview with HC (Harold Camping) that starts “HC chuckles when asked what he thinks about the prediction that the world will end in December 2012 with the end of the Mayan calendar.” Or something like that.

And I heard Garrison Keillor last night on the assiduously broadcast Prairie Home Companion do a skit about the rapture. “Theological Mystery Theater”. He always does something about the Christian faith. This show also included “Do Not Pass Me By” (an old gospel tune), and Brad Paisley singing one of his own ‘gospel’ tunes.

I do not know if it was an old show, or if it was in any way influenced by HC’s prediction. Probably not. In fact I only heard part of it. But I was struck by his interesting take on who was taken and who was left. Seemed like all the liberals were taken; and the narrator ironically aghast that they were raptured and the conservative Christians were left behind. I’ll have to listen to the repeat of the show today and see if that was the drift. I’m probably right. But anyway, it seems kind of like what CS Lewis was trying to get across in The Great Divorce, where a character in the book finally makes it to heaven and is met by someone he knew from life on earth to bring him across, and refuses to go with him because he felt that he was better than his heavenly guide; who after all had been guilty of manslaughter on Earth, and he wasn’t about to go to heaven with a, a murderer.

Goes to the point about God saving who he wants to save, I guess, and “man judges by the outward appearance and God by the inward”. Another mysterious epigram that has discomfited me ever since I heard it as a youth.

We’re getting so close now that the date is starting to crop up in schedules. I have already mentioned my wife’s retirement date falling after 521, and what a disappointment it will be to her to be cheated of her retirement, one way or another. (I think she is saved, though.)

Yesterday I was talking with my daughter and planning a party for C’s retirement. Guess what date is looking like the best date for the party? When I gave an audible snort at the mention of the date, my precious daughter, so sensitive to her crazy daddy’s every nuance of expression and mood, said “What? What about May 21?”

“I didn’t say anything about it.”

“You snorted. You made that little snorty noise you make when you think something is funny or annoying.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the date that HC has predicted for the rapture.”

“Oh brother.”

And that was the end of it. She is a highly intelligent and educated young woman, and has decided by now (she is 30) to not delve into her daddy’s curious and sometimes troubling preoccupations. To her credit.

So what does one so convoluted as I do when that date comes up as a possibility to schedule something? Do I believe or do I not, that the rapture of the saints will occur on 521? If I really believed it, I don’t think I would bother to schedule anything. In fact, if I REALLY believed it I guess I would be “blowing the trumpet” with Camping’s troops. So, like everything else in my life, I am of two minds. At least. In fact, do I believe or not in Jesus Christ, in the gospel as presented in the bible? Yes, no; yes with qualification. “Lord I believe, help you my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Then there is my brother M’s scheduled flight (with his wife) to Mexico on 521. His daughter is getting married there; a ‘destination wedding’. Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either. It’s an idea popular among the well-heeled young, where the couple picks a romantic spot to tie the knot far away from home, and guests are invited to the exotic (the more exotic the better) location to celebrate with them.

The only destination available at the time of C’s and my wedding was the austere little Baptist family church, where we were lucky to make it on time, with vicious hangovers from a night of wedding party carousing on the eve of our nuptials.

I have read, but cannot attest positively as to the authenticity of this quote, that Jung, when asked by some smug grad student if the great psychologist and thinker actually believed in God, said “No.”

The interviewer was pleased with this answer; until Jung went on to say “No, I do not merely believe in God. I know him.”

That strikes a very deep chord in me, and I reflect on the two occasions I have had in my life when I felt I actually knew God, occasions when I was so helpless and crushed that upon crying out to God for mercy and help, the presence of a loving power so much greater than micelf made Himself very much known to me. And, frankly, it is the recall of those two experiences that give me the most comfort, the most assurance, if you will of the possibility that I may escape damnation.

A fear of damnation is, I admit, not the least thing on my mind as the date approaches. I wonder what Dr. Johnson would have said about Judgment Day being so specifically predicted and so close at hand? I know he had this to say about damnation:

“Dr. Johnson surprised [Mr. Henderson] not a little, by acknowledging with a look of horrour, that he was much oppressed by the fear of death. The amiable Dr. Adams suggested that God was infinitely good. Johnson: “That he is infinitely good, as far as the perfection of his nature will allow, I certainly believe; but it is necessary for good upon the whole, that individuals should be punished. As to an individual, therefore, he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall be damned” (looking dismally). Dr. Adams: “What do you mean by damned?” Johnson: (passionately and loudly) “Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly.” Dr. Adams: “I don’t believe that doctrine.” Johnson: “Hold, Sir; do you believe that some will be punished at all?” Dr. Adams: “Being excluded from Heaven will be a punishment; yet there may be no great positive suffering.” Johnson: “Well, Sir; but if you admit any degree of punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite goodness simply considered; for, infinite goodness would inflict no punishment whatever. There is not infinite goodness physically considered; morally there is.” Boswell: “But may not a man attain to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy from the fear of death?” Johnson: “A man may have such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence with which I talk; but I do not despair.” Mrs. Adams: You seem, Sir, to forget the merits of our Redeemer.” Johnson: “Madam, I do not forget the merits of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he will set some on his right hand and some on his left.” He was in gloomy agitation, and said, “I’ll have no more on’t.”
Boswell: Life

I hope you read that carefully.

Now, if I am to understand HC, there is one thing in his system that sounds sort of like an escape hatch for the unsaved. Just this; that the unsaved are not doomed to an eternal torment in hell, as orthodox Christianity seems to teach, but simply that they will cease to exist.

Oblivion. Of course, this is hell for Johnson, the thought of oblivion is a hell on earth for him: “No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No, there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Boswell: Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides

Others, such as my brother M. have offered this opinion about that: “Oblivion doesn’t sound too bad to me.” I guess it all depends on how you value life on this plane; if you feel cheated by this little brief fling between two great darkness’s being all there is, like my friend Bobby Ray.

Me, I still ain’t sure.

OK, next time, then, the The Lamed-Vovnik, and their possible role.

*Tim O’Brien is the author of several books about his experiences in Vietnam. This is a quote from “The Things They Carried”

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