“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” ~ Jesus, Matthew 24:34 (also its parallels, Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32. And don’t forget Luke 9:27.)
“This is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.” (Essay “The World’s Last Night” (1960), found in The Essential C.S. Lewis, p. 385)
It was a dark time in my life almost thirty years ago: my first marriage was failing and so was my faith.
Like Lewis — one of the most profound Christian thinkers I’ve yet encountered — I read what Jesus said about (as many Bible editors knowingly add as a subhead) “The Destruction of Jerusalem and Signs of the End Times.” And I reasoned that, since it had not happened in Jesus’ generation as He had predicted, He was wrong; and if He was wrong about that, He could have been wrong about a lot of things.
I had spent my due diligence time in the Harding University library (no Internet then) reading the theories and explanations: that “generation” might also mean “race;” that He might have been referring to the generation of the end times rather than the generation of Jerusalem’s destruction; that He wasn’t necessarily referring to the end times when He said “all these things” … and all the rest.
I read the systems that explained which verses referred to which parts of the prophecy; and which were already fulfilled and which were yet to come; and the reasons they were all jumbled up in Luke 9:21-27, 17:20-37 or chapter 21 but not its parallels Matthew 24 or Mark 13 where Jesus stuck to the system; and why perhaps He skipped about among them and …
None of them was persuasive.
None of them agreed with each other (possibly because there are no book deals to be made in agreeing with what is already published), and none of them was complete and none of them strictly adhered to both the scriptures and the rules of logic.
And for a time, I lost my faith. Like my first marriage, it simply ended. I had moved to another city and had no church home for a time, and for a shorter time I didn’t even attend church sporadically. Sunday became a day of rest and contemplation and recreation as it is for most of the not-believing (and quite a bit of the believing) world, and I liked it that way.
But my one-year assignment in that city came to its close, and I moved back. I missed my church family, and I went back home there, and I tried to forget the one-verse tripstone that had catapulted my faith and me heels-over-head-and-flat-on-my-fanny.
As the Internet became a part of my intentionally forgetful world, though, I one day stumbled across that quote by Lewis. And I crept back into the due-diligence mode, because … well, if you’ve read my self-description at this blog for the past seven/eight years, you already know … I am “someone who questions reality and won’t settle for an evasive answer.”
Rejecting virtually everything I had read and rejected before, I read and rejected just about everything else I could find — and for the same reasons.
And I just meditated on it. I had time. My marriage was — still is — flourishing wonderfully, and I felt no pressure nor desperation. There was plenty of other scripture to believe in even if I couldn’t accept this one, was my reasoning at the time. So I believed again. Mostly.
In time, as all of the authors/writers/thinkers I had read, I put together my own best guess.
And it goes like this:
What if there is no system, no separate prophecies, no skipping around? What if the subject Jesus spoke about in all of these situations (and through His Spirit, in many many other instances of scripture) was in fact one, just as He and the Father are one? Just as there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism … you get the picture.
What does it do to the prophecy if Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem as The Day that He returns on the clouds/is revealed and judgment takes place and fire destroys and deliverance arrives but it is One Very Long The Day? What if — just as each sin we commit is connected with the sin of Adam and Eve and the salvation we receive when accepting Christ is connected with the cross and the tomb — what if the moment of each individual death is also connected with the moment of His return and revelation (and also in a temporally-inexplicable way)? What if He began coming in His kingdom then and still comes when each believer dies and along with his angels gathers His elect from the four corners of the earth, taking one and leaving the one next to him or her behind? What if it is not so much an event in this world, but in the nearby world of eternity that Stephen saw before the first stone flew at him? What if it’s not so much an event at all, but a process?
In my reasoning, this theory does nothing in contradiction to the prophecy.
But, you see, that is my theory’s greatest flaw and weakness: in my reasoning.
Reasoning got me into a loss of faith and I doubt very much that reasoning is going to bring anyone’s faith fully back because I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows exactly what it means.
Nobody knows exactly how or when the world ends, or even for sure what that means. Even Jesus didn’t, when He still held a mortal form and breathed the air of this world and loved life in it and dedicated Himself to living it and losing it and receiving it back from the Father so that the rest of us could, too.
Now, you can hang your hat on that truth. Anyone can understand it. Anyone can — and should — bet his or her life on it. It is simple and true. But while everything Jesus said was true, not all of it was simple.
And not one of the authors I read — Lewis included — had what it took to just say, “I don’t know.” Instead, they reasoned. Then gave their reasoning the weight of scripture.
It’s painfully ironic to me that C.S. Lewis — who wrote his children’s novels of Narnia, a world where time passed at a different rate than here on earth — could not grasp the possibility that eternity’s The Day might pass at a different rate than a day on earth. Surely he did not forget the paradox stated by Peter:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. ” ~ 2 Peter 3:8
Peter’s talking about the Lord’s return here. You can tell by the subhead that many Bible editors knowingly put over the paragraph: “The Day of the Lord.”
So Lewis made an assumption, that “this generation” meant “this generation” and that was it; it could not mean anything else. It was to be a single-day event, taken or left behind: clouds are clouds, days are days, stars are stars, the sun is the sun, the moon is the moon, trumpets are trumpets. All of that in spite of hundreds of years of prophetic language (and the Revelation to John yet-to-come) where virtually nothing is literal.
And he could not see the possibility of my theory.
Which gives me comfort, because it helps me see possibilities. But what if I’m wrong.
I probably am. I pretty much expect to be.
I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know, and here’s what I’ve learned: Belief is not contingent upon full comprehension.
Some things God shows and some things God hints at and some things God hides for another day.
So believe anyway.
It won’t do you any good to stand defiantly right where He can see you and demand to know all of His secrets while standing on one foot before you are willing to believe. Trust me on this.
Been there. Done that.
Well, now you know what I’ve learned, and about the verse where I once lost my faith, and the reason why my blog is titled “Blog in My Own Eye” and about the absolutely arrogant idiocy that’s involved in thinking that you know enough to judge God based on your own understanding.
Just be willing to say, as I will now say for the third time: “I don’t know.
“Yet I believe.
“Lord, help my unbelief.”
He just might, you know.
He did for me.