We were so sure Jesus was coming back in the 1970s. And he missed a good opportunity.
The signs were all there. That’s what we were assured.
The whole apocalyptic scheme was surely playing out before us. We read about it, heard sermons aplenty and, of course, sang about it.
The most dreadful eschatological song of the era was titled “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.” Others were more hopeful in tone.
One embedded chorus still worms its way to surface every now and then. “I ain’t worried about nothing. The Lord’s coming back, and it won’t be l-l-long.”
A songwriting friend even envisioned us all checking into our heavenly mansions while still being ‘70s-style cool enough to unroll our sleeping bags. Thanks for that one, Pat.
However, I’m betting many, if not most, of my faithful friends were like me – fervently singing and testifying to this great hope while secretively praying, “Not yet, God, please, not yet.”
Teens tend to have long bucket lists yet to fill. And some involved pleasures we’d been driven by religious guilt to avoid or at least postpone.
Conservative Christians then, like now, were easy prey for mindless conspiracies. Something as biblically and theologically misguided and misguiding as Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth could be accepted and advanced as divine and urgent truth.
This nonsensical excuse for biblical interpretation was unquestioned because it claimed to be scriptural and had an appealing element of excitement and exclusion. I mean, Jesus had held out all that time just to show up for us – and only those who believed just like us and had figured out this ancient riddle.
In the second half of the decade, while still surprisingly earthbound, I was blessed to study with a superb Bible scholar and compassionate Christian who took my foolish questions seriously.
Dr. Jorge Gonzalez made lots of sense. The light bulbs that went off in my head during those brief years would brighten some of the darkest corners of my life.
He offered the needed bigger picture. We talked about what was happening to followers of Jesus at the time John was given and instructed to record the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Their situation was quite alarming compared to our Easy-Street daily faith experiences. But, of course, we’d been focused on us.
My beloved professor noted how little sense it makes to think God would intervene in such a dramatic way, during a time of extreme persecution of Christians, primarily to provide hidden clues to what will happen in the 1970s.
That perspective helped me grasp, as well, how unlikely it would be that a segment of American Christians experiencing no persecution would be the only ones to figure it all out.
It was a good reminder of how self-centered we can be, even or perhaps especially, in our theology. God wouldn’t dare do something big without our involvement since we are so special.
We also have a propensity for the dramatic over the more demanding aspects of biblical faith. Therefore, end-times theorizing, some of it quite absurd, dominated a lot of Christian attention and distracted us from those clearly expressed matters Jesus said should actually concern us.
Surely, discernment is one of the more important aspects of Christian discipleship. It allows for testing – against what Jesus actually said and did – whatever someone seeks to sell as being “biblical” or “Christian.”
A minister friend once lamented being called dismissive for his response to a church member wanting to talk about modern occurrences as signs of Jesus’ immediate return. I asked what response he gave.
When hearing it, I laughed and said he was dismissive. So, I offered this possibility: Just say you’re confident that we are closer to the end of time than ever before.
One can only wonder how much more good we could have done in the ’70s – and beyond – if we had only been more dismissive of the doctrinal distractions that didn’t usher in the end times but rather wasted a lot of time.
Rather than trying to decipher cryptic concepts through the lens of our own experiences, we’d be more faithful and effective disciples by hearing and heeding what Jesus made so clear. The Gospels are full of such stuff.
When we’re finished picking up crosses, forgiving repeatedly, loving neighbors and enemies, walking extra miles, giving sacrificially and turning cheeks, we will be well positioned to ask for a little exclusive insight into the divine climax, which Jesus said has not been revealed.
Wisdom calls for keeping our focus on what Jesus said and did and, in turn, called us to emulate. By such we can measure our faithfulness regardless of what Gog and Magog might represent and who gets our vote to be the Antichrist.
So, along with goodness and mercy, may wise discernment follow us and guide us all the days of our lives.
However long or short they may be. For God only knows.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.