Sunday, January 28, 2007

Interpreting the Times

Mark Shea explains why he is skeptical of the triumph of Islam in Europe

Beyond this however, I have to say that in a certain sense, I'm not particularly addressing America's relationship with the Islamic world at all. That's because, as I said, I don't think the Story is about America (or Islam for that matter). I think it's about Christ and the Church. For me, things matter as they are related to that central drama. One of the patterns I note in the biblical revelation of Christ's Church is the pattern I described yesterday: that the Assyrian is ultimately a rod in the hand of God. He may think he's calling the shots, but actually it's God. So I think the wise approach is to "seek first His Kingdon and His righteousness" rather than spend the bulk of our energy looking for ways to hold on to our sin while still cleverly manipulating politics, science, technology, etc. in order to stave off the consequences of our rejection of God. It seems obvious to me that the post-Christian West is deeply engaged in the latter process and that the result will simply be to make our final self-inflicted judgement (all such dooms are self-inflicted) more complicated and terrible.

However, I also believe that God is rich in mercy and that repentence is possible at any time. I have no particular crystal ball that allows me to see the future with respect to Islam and the West. But we do have a bit of revelation concerning the Church and it gives me hope. I am not as confident as some of my readers that the world is doomed to an Islamic future in saecula saeculorum. That is not to say it is not a source of great evil. It is simply to say that I'm not ready to simply throw in the sponge and say the power of the Christ who conquers death is helpless against the onslaught of Islam. Part of my reason for thinking this is theological: Islam does not seem to me to fit the bill for the final apostasy and the nature of Antichrist. We are, to be sure, absolutely guaranteed that the Church faces a "final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. 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." (CCC 675).

The question I find myself asking, in light of biblical revelation, is this: which side of the conflict between the post-Christian West and the Foaming Bronze Age Fanatic Islamosphere is far more likely to give us "the lawless one ... the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Say what you will about Islam, but I don't see it producing that figure in a million years, whereas the West is ripe to give birth to him right now.

That's not to say I *prefer* the Foaming Bronze Age Thugs to win. It's to say that, in my heart, I cannot believe that they will. I think Scripture is true and that the coming of Christ will take place in a world that is apostate and (mark this) seriously ready to deify man, not in a world that never heard the gospel and which regards the deification of man with horror. That description fits the decadent West a lot better than than the Islamic East, so I retain a confidence, if you can call it that, that the winners of this particular "civilizational struggle" will be the post-Christian West, whose cultural and technological masters are laboring even now to create fresh sins that cry out to heaven and terrors that will dwarf Islam's crimes as continue on our post-Christian path toward "the supreme religious deception ... of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh."

When that will come, we don't know. *That* it will come is guaranteed by the word of God. And for my money, it seems much more like to come from a Decadent West triumphant over Islam than from Radical Islam triumphant over the West.

There is a lot to like in this passage. The flaw I see with that reasoning is that it assumes that the return of Christ will happen in the near future and so attempts to predict the near term future events based on that framework. I don't know how many Hal Lindsey books I read in the 80's that had all manner of predictions of what the awful Soviets would do. Then I remember reading a book from the 1920's claiming Jews were in the midst of procuring the components for the temple. And who can forget 88 reasons? Today we have Tim LaHaye and his imitators, all of whom try to adapt a particular eschatology to the World of Today and come up with a line from here to there.

Part of this is the belief that these momentous events must be happening in our Generation. This has gone into overdrive since the creation (re-creation?) of the State of Israel.

For all we know, Europe may well be overcome by a demographic tide and be Muslim dominated for a century, or even a millenium, before being won back. Maybe by the the Christians of the developing world (hey, the meek will inherit the Earth after all). Maybe Ralph Peters is right and Islam in Europe will be the target of a horrific purge. I don't know.

A lot of the passages that are quoted so confidently in setting timelines and predicting events are not only separted from us by language, time, and culture, and in a difficult genre (prophecy) but are written to some extent in code. John was trying not to sell out his fellow believers and make it past the Roman censors (he was on a Roman Prison island) in the Book of Revelation. Daniel was in the service of pagan, if God fearing king, and surrounded by palace intrigue. Both were writing Truth, but confidently interpreting the "real meaning for today" can get you in trouble. It's sort of like going to an Opera with your Berlitz dictionary and trying to write a detailed explanation of what happened, you're going to look stupid.

Shea is absolutely not even close to the extremes on this (He has plenty of caveats), but I just get nervous when we try to make predictions or guesses about the future. Of course on the other extreme, you could say "“Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” The purpose of eschatology is to focus the mind of the Church on her coming Lord, not to give her a leg up on CNN.

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