The End is Near, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Apocalypse
As a good Southern Baptist child, I was raised with a healthy fear of the apocalypse. I was taught, since I was a teeny-tiny baby teething on my plastic-covered miniature children’s Bible, to fear the end of the world whose horrors are foretold in Mark 13:24-27:
“…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
Later in that same chapter Mark warns believers to stay awake, because no one but God knows when “the Son of Man,” will return — meaning, of course, we don’t know when Jesus is coming back. So often, these verses of terror are conflated the verses in Revelation on the four horsemen of the apocalypse and Jesus returning in the clouds to save the elect and send the damned to an eternal fiery punishment.
Authors such as Tim LaHaye have made great financial hay out of this “rapture” theology, trading on John Nelson Darby’s tales of how God will take up the elect before the end of the world occurs. As a child, I recall being shown movies about the rapture where people disappeared from the streets, leaving only their clothes behind (hopefully God provided some nice white robes for the more modest in heaven). The movies were just as good as any slasher-horror flick in inducing terror in the tender hearts and minds of children.
The theology, sadly, is still being taught and continues to terrorize young believers. This video on YouTube illustrates damaging this theology can be. A group of young people punked one of their friends by staging a rapture scene. When she leaves the room they all lay out their clothes on the chairs and the floor as if they have been “raptured.” She comes back into the room a few minutes later and has a major freak-out. She’s crying and screaming, convinced she had been left behind and was doubly inconsolable when her friends reappear to assure her it had all been a joke.
Too bad it’s the theology that’s a joke, and a cruel one at that.
That’s not to say that I don’t believe in apocalypse. I do. Fervently. But, I no longer fear the apocalypse. Instead, I welcome it and wish to hasten its occurrence in everyone’s life, because the ultimate goal of apocalypse is not destruction as the dominionists preach. Instead, a true spiritual apocalypse is about healing and wholeness. Spiritual apocalypse turns traditional religion on its head, upends our stale beliefs and opens us up to transformational ways of thinking and living.
This epiphany came during a sermon I preached at my spiritual community in Columbia, S.C., Jubilee! Circle one Sunday. I had written the words of the sermon days before, but in the telling of it to my community, something came over me — call it the Holy Spirit, call it Inspiration, call it Joy. Whatever you call it, when I spoke about the apocalypse and my understanding of it now, I was transformed … healed from the inside out of the trauma I had suffered as a child at the hands of otherwise well-meaning adults.
This epiphany came because my eyes have finally been opened to the real meaning of apocalypse. It’s not about the end of the literal world, but the end of the little world that the ego has created for us. This illusion – or maya as the Buddhists call it — needs to come to an end for us to be able to emerge into the true, divine Self — that Kingdom or Realm of God — that lives within each of us.
When read correctly then, this once fear-inducing Markan passage can be seen as incredibly good news, offering us a way out of our false self (or ego) into our higher, or true, self (which is divine).
Here is an excerpt from my sermon where I put it all together:
Whenever we are in the midst of suffering, whenever we are in the clutches of the ego’s thrall, it’s like the end of the world. Our mind is filled with darkness, we are unable to understand the truth of what’s happening. The stars will fall — which, in the Greek used here, means that we lose our place, we feel powerless. The powers of heaven will be shaken, which in the Greek used in this passage, means that our mind is disturbed and unhappy.
In that moment the scripture tells us, “the Son of Man,” — which really mans our higher or true self — comes with “power,” or “dynamis” — a feminine Greek noun that means “the power to perform miracles.”
This passage, then, really is about the pending apocalypse because that word, stripped of its fear-inducing mythology, simply means “to reveal,” or “to uncover.” This is what our expectation — our habitual acts of helplessness, as Rumi says — does for us, it reveals the key to awakening.
It’s true that we don’t know when the Son of Man — that higher self — will break through for us as we struggle to overcome the ego’s power that seeks to keep us asleep. But, the struggle is our Advent time of expectation. That apocalypse — that revelation — will come, though, when we uncover that higher self, overcome the ego and wake up.
With this interpretation of the apocalypse, I can understand why some would anticipate its arrival with joy and not fear. Now, I can, too, because instead of the apocalypse being some terrorizing event where infidels are slaughtered and the innocent are taken up to heaven, it becomes an event where all of us who choose to see it can come into complete unity with God, which has always been available to us.
A Spiritual Apocalypse calls us to create more light in this world — not by destroying the “forces of darkness” but by simply lifting the veil — ending the illusion — that has made us believe that we are separate from God.
That’s what I call Good News.