How Apocalyptic Paranoia Holds Us Back
by Alvin Masarira | 25 November 21 |
One of the most intriguing statements Jesus made is in John 8: “He who has no sin, let him cast the first stone.”
The story of a woman caught in adultery has stirred some debate among Christians since there is no mention of the man with whom the woman was committing adultery. Those who brought her to Jesus claim to have caught her in the “very act” (John 8:4), which implies the man involved was there as well. But only the woman is brought to Jesus ready to be stoned.
Just as a “by the way,” it is interesting to note that four chapters before this incident, namely in John 4, we see another case of a Samaritan woman of questionable character and lifestyle sitting with Jesus at Jacob’s well. When the disciples came back from buying food they “marveled” (meaning, they couldn’t believe their eyes, were displeased, and condemned what they were seeing, etc.) to see Jesus talking with her. Four chapters later, in John 12, we find another woman of questionable character is this time anointing Jesus with expensive oil. Judas calls it a waste and Simon asks, “How could Jesus allow this from a woman of such low morals?” The other disciples might not have expressed their views loudly, but they agreed with both Judas and Simeon. That this involved three women and Jesus is a story for another day.
A common thread running through these three incidents is a sense of self-righteousness among the church members of that time.
Yet the same spirit of self-righteousness is evident today among many of our people—i.e., those of us who share my own Seventh-day Adventist faith. One of our major weaknesses is a subtle and sometimes even open sense of spiritual arrogance and self-righteousness. As someone who was born, raised, grew up, and still remains in the Adventist community and faith, I have seen this and experienced it. It appears like it is part of our DNA.
This spirit and attitude tends to make us take “anti-” positions on matters or views just because the people who are involved in these matters or who hold these views are not us or are of a different theological persuasion—even if the issue is unrelated to theology. It looks like as long as an initiative or a position does not come from us, we are against it, suspicious of it, teach and preach against it, irrespective of its merits.
This may be driven by our belief in the slippery slope theory. In other words, we oppose it because we believe that even if there might be some good things about it, it is a trap by the devil and his agents (especially Sunday-keeping churches) to lead the world astray.
Let’s take an example.
As I wrote this, the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) was coming to its close. The big agenda item was climate change and the resultant global warming leading to extreme weather events (heat waves, droughts, floods, melting of polar ice, rising sea levels, hurricanes, typhoons, etc.).
The Conference was held in Glasgow (Scotland) from 31 October to 12 November and attended by about 25,000 delegates from over 200 countries and around 120 heads of state. The UK Presidency at COP had five priorities for this conference:
- adaptation and resilience (helping people, economies and the environment adapt and prepare for the impacts of climate change)
- nature (safeguarding ecosystems, protecting natural habitats and keeping carbon out the atmosphere)
- energy transition (seizing the massive opportunities for cheaper renewables and storage) and
- accelerating the move to zero-carbon road transport (over half of new car sales to be electric by 2040)
- finance (unleashing finance which will make all this possible and power the shift to a zero-carbon economy).
The Adventist biblical teaching on end-time events (eschatology) is very clear that world conditions will get worse and worse until Jesus comes to recreate the world. One just needs to study Matthew 24 and 25 to see what the world condition will be. However, this is not a license to destroy the world deliberately. One could adopt the attitude that “since the world will not get better, but rather get worse, we can as well deliberately destroy it”. As a matter of fact, I suspect some of my people would like to accelerate the fulfilment of prophecy by “provoking” the total collapse of the environment and world economies, as well as provoking the “persecuting power” (whoever they understand this to be) so that the time of trouble can come and Jesus can return.
Some of the participants at COP 26 were leaders of religious movements. (I’m not sure if the Adventist Church even had an official delegation at COP 26.) From the Christian participants came the idea for “Climate Sunday.”
The Climate Sunday initiative calls on all churches to hold a climate-focused service on any Sunday. The goal is to leave a lasting legacy of thousands of churches better equipped to address this critical issue as part of their discipleship and mission, and to make a significant contribution to civil society efforts to secure adequate national and international action—in other words, to use worship as a basis of creation care and action on climate, along with prayer and commitment to action. Church communities would also commit to take long-term action to reduce their own greenhouse emissions. The church would also use its voice to advise political and national leaders about the need for a cleaner, greener, fairer future for all.
The Adventist message of stewardship is often summarized in five Ts, that we have been appointed to be stewards of Time, Talent, Treasure, Temple and Tent (environment). The COP26 objectives and the Climate Sunday initiatives have the objective of preserving the environment. Calling humanity to be good stewards of the environment (Genesis 2:15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.).
In Revelation 11:18, we read
The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
Could we have adopted the idea and promoted “Climate Sabbath” for our churches? But we wouldn’t like to be seen to be cooperating with those “fallen” churches, would we? Plus, we tend to react fearfully about anything promoted for Sunday, even if we could reschedule it for our Sabbath.
Non-cooperation with the “fallen”
When an initiative comes from those we consider fallen, we dismiss it. This reflects, I think, an excessive focus (dare I say obsession?) with end-time events rather than focussing on the One who is coming. In some corners, it borders on paranoia.
We need to occupy till He comes, and as we occupy we should do all we can to make this world a better place. We need to work for and support every good initiative and cause, irrespective of who initiates it.
Otherwise, we will miss the workings of God through unexpected people. Didn’t Jesus once say, “For who is not against us is for us” (John 9:40)? This attitude has made us sit on the sidelines in initiatives for social justice across the world, preservation of lives and the environment.
In this we try to make ourselves the measure and standard of righteousness. It isn’t working.
This attitude is reflected by some of our evangelists/preachers, who spend most of their time preaching about what the Pope and world leaders are doing. We have created an environment suitable for conspiracy theories, and many of our people imbibe from these preachers as if their salvation depends on it. These preachers love to focus on secret societies and secret plans—which makes one wonder how “secret” they are, given the amount of information these preachers say they have about them. So obsessed are we that if the Pope sneezes, an interpretation is given for it.
Let us remember: we are not saved by how much inside information we know about secrets or conspiracies, but by how much we know and love Jesus, and how much that love translates into a loving relationship with the rest of humanity.
Alvin Masarira is originally from Zimbabwe, and is a structural engineering consultant based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He and his wife, Limakatso, a medical doctor, have three children.