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A Second-Coming Christian
Courtesy of David Neff

My father didn't plan to die. He planned for his death, of course, arranging for a burial plot next to my mother's and providing in his will for my stepmother. He was provident about such matters, as a good Christian should be.

But he didn't plan to die. He planned instead to "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4:17). As he approached his 90th birthday, it seemed like he might indeed live to see the Second Coming. While his friends fought cancer, heart disease, and dementia, his body presented him with only minor challenges. He worked actively on his land and served in his community. As his friends succumbed to their diseases, he shrugged and said, "I plan to live until Jesus comes."

And then he was dead. Suddenly. With no warning.

Fathers and sons often don't see eye to eye. Dad listened to Rush Limbaugh. I listen to NPR. Dad played Alan Jackson on his stereo. I have Thomas Hampson on my iPod. But on this we agreed: The Christian faith is essentially eschatological.

Jesus came preaching the arrival of God's reign, the goal of history. When Jesus died and rose again, the door of history swung on its hinges, and the world moved from expectation to fulfillment. The apostles persistently taught that we are to live in the light of the Last Day, with hope and patient forbearance. The church permanently enshrined that apostolic hope in the Nicene Creed: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."

A good friend of mine—a Jewish rabbi—says that it is part of a parent's job description to embarrass one's offspring. It didn't happen too often, but there were times that my father did his job—such as when we would go to ...

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Past Imperfect
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
Previous Past Imperfect Columns:
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A Second-Coming Christian
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In the Magazine

July 2011

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