The Last Trump?

Twenty-first Century America now has two Big Dates. September 11, 2001 (9/11 in its familiar US style) has been joined by 8/11 (November 8, 2016 in the calendrical style of most of the rest of the world). They are both American dates. They are both equally World dates, for the whole world feels their impact. The election of Donald Trump was something that we sort of thought might be possible but mostly preferred to cross our fingers and make a wish. Unfortunately, wishful thinking has let us down, and President-Elect Trump looms over the world with no less than apocalyptic foreboding. Whatever Trump decides to do or not to do is, to a large extent now, a matter of his own deciding. As we have seen, it is not even so much his policies that threaten all manner of evil; we don’t really know what they are. Rather, Trump has already thrown open the barrier gate to the horsemen of hate: misogeny, racism, political vindictiveness, global havoc. Whatever he chooses to do, lives and livelihoods are already in danger, people are already vastly more vulnerable, the hard-won globally accepted edifices of civility—such as they were—lie in ruins, not one stone upon another.

I don’t recall whether Hal Lindsey identified either of these dates in The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970), his best-selling “literalist, premillennial, dispensational eschatology”[1] which was one of the first books I read as a new Christian in the mid-70s. Handed to me by a well-meaning young friend, I was still jejune enough to learn that apart from the Bible there was a “Christian book.” Lindsey named a lot of dates, most of which I believe have come and gone.[2] I remember being quite alarmed by some of the quasi-historical allusions to contemporary events—in the seventies, all school children knew that it was only “five minutes to nuclear midnight.” However I was reassured by my sensible elders at church (bless you, North Rocks) that this was weird American stuff and that there were, in fact, other Christian books; that the church has other stories to tell.

The church, of course, has other stories, other dates. The mystery cycle of feasts and fasts which is our Liturgical Calendar constantly leads us through despair into hope, freeing us for joy but never quite releasing us from deep concern. So is it merely tradition or a certain divine black humour that causes the Apocalyptic readings of the last weeks of Pentecost to coincide, every four years, with the US Presidential election?

It is always risky to read apocalyptic unexegetically and even more so in the apocalyptically tasty King James version: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the Trump of God” (1 Thess 4:16, capitalisation mine). If anything, this merely reminds us that we have not yet heard the Last Trump. The prophets and apostles of the last few months remind us in heartrending clarity that the hurt and harm which Trump may bring is not the first evil in this world and will not be the last. Yet in every evil time, Israel is vindicated only as she continues steadfast in Yahweh. As we read the lections for this Sunday, Jesus (Luke 21) strikes fear into the heart: all that we held dear, all that we treasured of beauty and faith will be thrown down. Nations will rise against nation; there will be devastation in the natural world; there will be wars and insurrections and messianic pretenders… but the end is not yet. For the past 2000 years, and for millennia to come, perhaps, we are still in the middle of things, with God well ahead of us.

And so we are encouraged by Isaiah that it is God who will create new heavens and a new earth; Jerusalem will be a joy, its people a delight (Isa. 65). Malachi, rather more grim-lipped, declares that “the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (Mal. 4) The God of whom the psalmist sings (Ps. 98) has never forgotten steadfast love and faithfulness, is coming to judge the earth with equity and justice, and to this God the trumpet and horn will make a joyful noise.

These may feel like cold comfort this week. This is a time of challenge for God’s people everywhere, of every race and creed. Jesus (Luke 21) does not offer false optimism. This is a time to rise to our best. They will persecute you, promises Jesus, and family will betray you, and friends will hate you for holding fast to my name, my word, my way. But take this as an opportunity to testify, and the Spirit will speak through you—the Spirit of goodness, truth, holiness, compassion, generosity and love, the Spirit of God. You should expect to pay for the privilege, but in such a time as this, it is by your endurance that you will gain your souls.

The week after will again remind us that we are followers of a Crucified King, who will not be trumped, but will triumph eternally. To God be glory forever.

Graham

[1] Wikipedia, 10.11.2016: I couldn’t put it more simply than that.

[2] For the sake of scholarship maybe I should have reread it, but Jesus is on his way and I don’t think I can spare the time.

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4 thoughts on “The Last Trump?

  1. Many thanks, Graham. I was fortunate to attend a while ago Anthony Rees’ studies on Isaiah which I now call to mind in these chilling times. Yes, we have hope provided the lamb can share in it as well as the lion. Otherwise we are exiled.

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