by Jennifer Jones Hamilton
Jennifer Jones Hamilton is an Instructional Assistant and Substitute Teacher with Carroll County Public Schools in Eldersburg, Maryland, as well as an application reviewer for Teach for America. She has a bachelor’s degree in History and is a 1994 graduate of Messiah College. She is an avid reader of all varieties of books, a lover of music, a runner, and a person with deep curiosity about the world we live in. She continues to work on figuring out what she wants to do when she grows up, and while doing so enjoys life with her husband, Bill, and their three teenage children.
It doesn’t take a worldwide pandemic for certain Christians to start fantasizing about the imminent return of Jesus, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
I generally know which friends to avoid on Facebook, but I failed to avoid one who posted something along these lines a couple of weeks ago: “Since it seems obvious that Jesus is about to return, we need to start sharing the Good News with the people in our lives…”
You get the gist. It takes minimal effort to look back and find all the times in history that Christians of a certain bent were eagerly anticipating the coming apocalypse. Much like earlier conversations on this blog where Bill and Sue have questioned the way Christians celebrate the Flood (and, according to Answers in Genesis, the subsequent deaths of billions, including the unborn), I also question just why so many Christians seem nearly giddy about an event which, according to their own view, will mean the eternal damnation and torture of, again, billions.
My own mother has been an apocalyptic enthusiast since her earliest days as a Born Again Christian. She eagerly devoured all of John MacArthur’s end times gobbledygook, and took it upon herself to save me and my sister and all of our family members with great zeal. I don’t know if any of you have seen the musical Mean Girls but the song “Revenge Party” comes to mind. A giddy, happy-go-lucky ditty about a party “that ends with somebody’s head on a spike!”
Ever since I earnestly “prayed the sinner’s prayer” when I was about 15, I have been utterly terrified of even the idea of the apocalypse. One of my biggest fears as a child was nuclear annihilation. A true child of the Cold War 80’s, I clearly remember the heart-warming evening when my parents sat my sister and I down and told us just what would happen in the event of a nuclear attack by Russia. This memorable conversation sparked years of nightmares, ill-advised letters to the Russian premiere of the day that were variations on the theme “Don’t Kill Us Please Just Because Reagan Is Terrible,”and a life-long love of the song “Russians” by Sting.
So when I “gave my heart to Jesus,” the apocalypse became the new nuclear war. In all my years in the Christian church I was never able to wrap my head around why people were so eager for Jesus to return. I liked my life, generally, even though there were certainly things I would change…I wasn’t ready to give up my relatively happy life on planet earth for an eternity in a heaven that wasn’t entirely clear and seemed to involve a lot of my favorite people burning in hell forever. While this vision inspired people like my mom to evangelize more fervently, it just made me a lot more confused. I avoided reading the Book of Revelation at all costs.
Fast-forward to middle-aged me. I’ve been out of the church for five or more years, much to the dismay of some friends and family who now see me on the same path as Muslims and Atheists and Catholics and Mormons. The High Road to Hell. The fundamentalist/evangelical view of the “end times” was a major reason why I just couldn’t do it anymore. It no longer jived with my experiences and world view, and I couldn’t believe something just because I was afraid of going to hell.
Once I let go of that belief, that idea that if I didn’t believe some bullet-pointed pamphlet to the letter then I’d be damned to eternal suffering, I weirdly became in some ways less afraid of death and less afraid of God, even as my definition of “God” became much more nebulous. Still, as the coronavirus epidemic began to unfold this past month, it was hard not to wonder if perhaps I might be wrong. I’m sure my mother thinks I am, although she’s wisely avoided talking to me about it; the last time she brought up Obama the Antichrist I didn’t speak to her for 2 months.
Recently I happened upon a short video from author Glennon Doyle, reading from her new book “Untamed.” In the video here, she is sharing a story about her wife, soccer star Abby Wambach, and how she left the church years ago as a child, feeling like she had to choose between being her authentic (gay) self or God/church. It’s a beautiful story, but the thing that hit me square in the chest, that spoke directly to me was this quote: “When you walked away from church you took God with you. God is in you.” Now this…THIS seems true. So much more true than the idea that – because I have questions, because I have doubts, because I walked away from church, from a religion – I deserve eternal punishment.
Maybe it is the end of the world as we know it. But mostly, I feel, well, if not totally fine, certainly closer to fine than I was before when I contemplated the end of things.
“There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive…the closer I am to fine.” (“Closer to Fine” -The Indigo Girls)