Who Gets Left Behind?
I travel from time to time. Unfortunately, this requires sleeping in hotel rooms. My last hotel stay had me pondering the differences between a hotel room and my own home. The "hospitality" industry specializes in the sterile and generic. I can hope for little more than clean sheets, hot water, and maybe a coffee machine. Even luxury hotels, despite elegant fixtures and expensive amenities, are designed for standardized guests. Any art on the walls is mass-produced.
One hotel room is the same as another. But my house, with all its quirks, is a home: a long-term habitat, a place of relationships and authentic hospitality. I don't feel like a guest. Indeed, even my guests shouldn't feel like guests, but like family.
For these reasons, I treat a hotel room much differently than my home. I don't trash hotel rooms, but neither am I invested in them. I wouldn't spend any money to redecorate the walls or to fix a broken drain in the tub. But I'm always thinking about maintaining and improving my home: adding new art or furniture, modifying rooms, installing a screen porch, redesigning a kitchen—and, of course, fixing what breaks. Because I am committed to my home, my attitude is fundamentally different.
This raises an important question: What is our attitude toward the world we live in? How do we treat God's physical creation, the cosmos into which he placed us? Like a home, or a hotel? Our answer is shaped in part by our eschatology. How do we view the end times? After all, our lifespan is just an infinitesimally small drop of time compared with the great ocean of eternity. If we look forward to being whisked away from this physical world at death—taken away with those who followed God, while the sinners are "left behind"—then maybe we affirm that this world is not our home; we're just passing through.
But what if God meant it to be something more like a home, and less like a hotel?
As much or more than any theological concern, biblical teaching on end times should be approached with humility. When Jesus taught about end times, he spoke in parables and metaphors. He was trying to communicate ideas for which our language contains few words or illustrations. To understand them requires imagination as well as reason. Seldom does Jesus issue straightforward propositions or concrete descriptions—and never specific times! The same observation applies to the Revelation of John and the relevant Old Testament prophecies. Although Christians can boldly affirm certain end times doctrines, we need to show humility where the answers aren't clear.
Nonetheless, as our differing attitudes toward hotels and homes may suggest, what we believe about end times profoundly influences how we live here and now. Consider, for example, the implications of one doctrine that Christians can affirm with confidence: the bodily resurrection of Christ and the future bodily resurrection of his followers. As C. S. Lewis noted in Miracles, "The earliest Christian documents give a casual and unemphatic assent to the belief that the supernatural part of a man survives the death of the natural organism. But they are very little interested in the matter. What they are intensely interested in is the restoration or 'resurrection' of the whole composite creature by a miraculous divine act."
Not long ago in Christianity Today, N. T. Wright addressed the important implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, upon which Christians today may base their hope in their own bodily resurrection. "The mission of the church," he argued, "is nothing more or less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus' bodily resurrection …. The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is not a product of the Bible or the gospel, but of the cultural captivity of both. The world of space, time, and matter is where real people live, where real communities happen …. And the church that is renewed by the message of Jesus' resurrection must be the church that goes to work precisely in that space, time, and matter."