Judas and Life in the End Times
Despite my grandma’s insistence that she’ll live to see the Second Coming, I’m skeptical that Christ’s return is right around the corner (sorry, Grandma). However, with coronavirus a global pandemic, a volcano erupting in Italy, earthquakes hitting Utah and Idaho, and Moroni’s golden trumpet knocked from his hand, apocalypse is undeniably in the air. What’s a Christian to do when the end feels near?
Judas provides an example of a tempting, but misguided approach. I’ve been fascinated by the character of Judas for most of my life (partially because I’ve long felt an affinity for villains, partially because I have a strong contrarian streak, and partially because the way he was often characterized didn’t make sense to me). The most compelling iteration of Judas that I’ve encountered, which tied together some threads I hadn’t been able to make sense of, is in the 2018 film Mary Magdalene. The film frames Judas’ choice to betray Christ as coming from a place of devotion and commitment to a narrow iteration of the Kingdom of God. Judas felt that Jesus was not fulfilling his role as the promised Messiah, and so wanted to push him to call down the powers of Heaven and bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. For Judas, the betrayal was his part in establishing the Kingdom of God. Judas viewed his betrayal, not as turning his back on everything he had lived and taught as an apostle, but as the culmination of it. When Christ died without calling down the powers of Heaven, overthrowing Rome, or saving all the downtrodden and oppressed, Judas realized that he had been mistaken and was driven to take his own life by the guilt.
Judas’ fundamental mistake here seems to be that he thought he knew perfectly what was required to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. That’s a mistake that I think we all make every day.
In the face of any number of overwhelming difficulties (global pandemic; climate change; dissolution of families because of abuse; prejudice and persecution of our siblings in Christ because of their race, sex, class, sexual orientation, or religion; etc.), it is tempting to ascribe Divine origin or purpose to these evils that we cannot fully comprehend or defeat single-handedly. And perhaps God does have a role to play in them. But, we should not be overly confident in our interpretation of what scriptural descriptions of the Last Days mean. We should not actively seek to bring about the end of the world.
Judas’ confidence led him to take action, to single-handedly try to bring about the Apocalypse, but I think just as often my confidence in what the End Times will look like leads me to apathy and inaction.
I often think of the prophetic warning not to think that “all is well in Zion”. Generally I associate this mindset with a sort of blissfully ignorant optimism—utterly unaware of the myriad problems and issues that surround us. But I wonder if this prophetic admonition has another side to it, namely that if we passively assume that good will happen and love will win, simply because it must be so, we may be missing something.
And suddenly I find myself called out. I have never seen myself in this warning before, I do not have a problem with cheery, overbearing optimism; if anything I have a skeptical/cynical temperament that I try to curb fiercely. Yet, I do find myself believing that I don’t need to worry because God (love/goodness/truth) will win the day and that whatever happens, it’s in God’s hands.
Now, I think this is close to what we should do and believe. BUT the crucial distinction seems to be one of action. Are we simply allowing the world to act on us, believing that all those actions will work for our good? Or are we acting, seeking to do good, and trusting that whatever the result, God can redeem it and transform it into something beautiful? Or do we go a step too far and act like Judas, trying to force the world into our vision for the Kingdom of Heaven, without allowing God’s to take hold?
I worry that I may be working to usher in the End Times like Judas before me, betraying Christ and missing the entire point of what Jesus came to do. How can I avoid this? How can I live during the apocalypse?
It seems that we cannot simply stand by and do nothing.
Nor can we take matters completely into our own hands and try to bring about what only God can do.
So we must do something.
I must do something.
I must act with an eye to the future and a heart open to the grace that God offers me and will offer me at every turn.
I must keep pressing forward with steadfast faith in Christ, with enough epistemic humility to accept when the world God hands me and inspires me to create differs from the world I envision.
As one of my favorite hymns reads, “As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free, While God is marching on.”