The world ended on 21 May 2011. Or it should have, but then again, it didn’t happen on 6 September 1994 either. This has been a bit of an embarrassment for Harold Camping, who claimed that God had revealed the dates of the second coming to him. He’s in good company, though, alongside Nostradamus and the Mayans.
What made Mr Camping’s dates special was that, after the second one, he did the right thing and acknowledged his failure. He called his claims sinful and wrong, noting that “even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish his purposes, so he used our sin to … mak[e] the whole world acquainted with the Bible.”
Recently, a Vatican spokesperson had to “correct” a comment by the pope. The spokesperson stressed that if an unbeliever knew of the Catholic Church, they “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
In my first year of varsity, I went on a month-long outreach camp. It consisted of lots of Bible study, very basic fundamentalist theological training and outreach to the local township.
Even then, I wasn’t comfortable with the outreach. We would each get a handful of tracts and, accompanied by a more experienced “missionary” in case we get asked tough questions, we’d venture out into the township, asking people if they go to heaven when they die.
Beside the dirt road, framed by corrugated boxes, stood a small frame of misshapen poles and wire. Behind it, a wizened woman and her daughter were struggling to lay another pole across the top of the frame. We went over to them and since the daughter could speak a little English, she told us they were rebuilding their house, which had collapsed a few days before.
The three of us jumped in and helped raise the ramshackle roof of the old lady’s house. We’d been busy for a while when the woman approached us and, timidly asked something in Zulu. Her daughter translated hesitantly. Where are we from? Why are we here? We told her that we’re Christians at a camp to learn more about God.
We worked some more until the roof seemed relatively secure (none of use were builders). Since we had to catch the bus back to camp, we started saying goodbye, but the woman wanted to ask about this God we follow. Eyes wide with the gravity of the situation, we haltingly told her what little we understood of the gospel. We didn’t get a chance to see them again.
When I think back to that month near Delmas, that is probably the only piece of missionary work that I’m not ashamed of. When Harold camping tried looking on the bright side of his sin, I think he missed something.
Did he acquaint people with the word of God? The Word that John opens his gospel with? Because there are many manifestations out there. Is it the Word that “hates fags, America and its soldiers?” What about the Word that goes up to total strangers and tells them they’re going to eternal punishment if they don’t read a tract and give their lives to God right there? Or maybe they should be told about the Word that gives us fictitious ultimatums for the end of the world. Every person who claims Christ becomes an embodiment of the Word on Earth. Does it even count as the gospel when we misrepresent it through our words and deeds?
The world is full of people who have been scarred by our warped representations of Jesus, many of them deeply spiritual, deeply loving persons. India doesn’t need Christ because there are lots of Hindus and Buddhists there. It needs Christ for the same reason we all do. The gospel is a message of rebirth, of making the world a better place, of loving people above any convictions they may hold. We need to think about how we’re doing it. Knowing OF Jesus isn’t good enough. We can’t expect people to put their trust in someone they’ve only heard of. The world should see that we’re different. Not because we are walking around confronting people about what they espouse but because we’re the ones up to our elbows in the suffering of those around us. Loving them regardless of their beliefs.
Showing someone love just so they’ll listen to your lecture is not love. Love is something that is done for its own sake. It’s not worried about agreeing with or even liking the other person. It is a verb. And it also happens to be the Word of God.