This morning, as I was playing with my kids, I decided to ask the old “where do you want to live when you grow up?” question. Mind you, my kids are almost-six, four, and 13 months.
Nevertheless, without hesitation, they blurted out, “Florida!” Being a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, I felt somewhat like a failure, though I did feel a little comforted when they added that it was because their cousins, Calleigh, Aubree, and Brady, live there. (In her defense, Winslow, the 13-month-old, pleaded the fifth – and I could tell by the twinkle in her eye that she just wants to live with Mommy and Daddy for the rest of her life.)
After sharing with the kids that they should really want to live wherever Jesus wants them to live, I then paused and asked, “But do you know where you should really want to live when you grow up?”
With innocent curiosity they asked me where – to which I simply responded, “Heaven.”
I didn’t say it to be cute. I didn’t say it as a rote catechetic obligation.
I said it because every part of my brain wants to mean it.
And I said it because, as I added a few minutes later, we should want Jesus to return soon because He’s terribly sad right now not only about being apart from us, but also about all the pain and suffering that hurts Him on a deep emotional level as He witnesses the misery that continues to characterize this planet.
Yet here’s the reality: we don’t talk much about the Second Coming these days. Indeed, the Second Coming is seemingly only the hope of those with white hair or cancer – at least within Western Adventism. By and large, we feel pretty content with being on this planet. We plan for the future as though we assume we are going to be here a long time – only to then some day die after that. We don’t preach with any sort of urgency. We, as Adventists, adopt the evangelistic methodologies of non-Adventists (i.e., people who don’t believe Christ’s Second Coming is imminent – as the name “Adventist” implies), as though people who don’t sense the urgency of Christ’s return could somehow teach something about evangelism to those of us who do. We even invite them to speak at our conferences. (I’m not against interfacing with, listening to, or reading non-Adventists, per se; I just wonder how people who are ignorant of the three angels’ messages could really contribute much to a body that has been called to herald those three angels’ messages.)
And we argue about topics that may or may not have any bearing on whether Christ’s return happens sooner rather than later.
I don’t write this to be critical. I’m as guilty as the next person. In fact, just a few months ago, when I was in Florida, my very outspoken Aunt (whom I love dearly) put me on the spot in front of my whole family by asking me how many times I had preached on the Second Coming in 2014. I embarrassingly said zero. (She’s an octogenarian, by the way.)
But what happened to our prophetic urgency? What happened to the deep longing that the early apostles and the early Adventists felt that produced a yearning in their soul to see Jesus – and soon?
Perhaps we’re too content pursuing the “American dream,” which has seemingly usurped the “Adventist dream” of living to see Jesus return – and doing all we can to increase the likelihood of that happening.
Two caveats are in order, though.
First, when I say that we don’t talk much about the Second Coming anymore, I’m not necessarily talking about the requisite sermons, books, or articles about the “signs of the times.” We seem to have plenty of those still. And they have, perhaps, been the reason why we have been jaded about talking more about the Second Coming.
In other words, though I firmly believe in the importance of these prophetic signs, I also recognize that there is only so many times we can cry “wolf.”
Secondly, what I am urging is not a sort of Christian or Adventist “escapism” where we think the whole goal of Christianity is simply for God to be able to get us off this lousy planet – which He’s going to burn up anyway. I don’t speak of the Second Coming as some type of alternative to caring for the planet or the people on it.
What I’m talking about is the deep yearning of soul to be with Jesus – literally, in person.
I’m not talking about trying to escape this world so that we can slide down giraffe’s necks. I’m not talking about trying to get out of this world as a way to ignore and escape the suffering all around us.
I’m talking about feeling on a visceral level the desire for Christ to return for Him, not for His stuff. (The apostles were somehow able to experience this urgency, even though they lived at least two thousand years before Christ’s second Advent.)
Even more to the point, I’m talking about having a deep longing for His return for His sake.
After all, if we understand Christianity as a relational experience, and we truly believe God is a relational Person, we would thus have to recognize that, as a relational Being, God longs to be with us.
In fact, the cross demonstrates as much. If God was willing to give up His Son for the sake of our eternal life, doesn’t it stand to reason that He would want to retrieve the possession that He purchased with His Son’s blood as soon as He could?
Despite our many attempts to rationalize away the delay in the Second Coming by pointing out that a day is as a thousand years to God, time does matter to Him. The yearning I feel to be reunited with my wife and kids when I am away from them merely for a weekend (as I was last weekend) is but a drop in the bucket compared to the yearning that God feels about being with us, in person.
Similarly, as a relational Being, isn’t it clear that every time a child is hurt or a wife is abused God feels it on a deep emotional level? If we thus truly love God as much as we many times claim to, wouldn’t we thus want to do all we could to hasten His return as a way to bring an end to the pain that resides in His heart?
Ellen White makes this very point in her classic book Education:
Those who think of the result of hastening or hindering the gospel think of it in relation to themselves and to the world. Few think of its relation to God. Few give thought to the suffering that sin has caused our Creator. All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him. (p. 263).
Perhaps even more fascinating, for the 1893 General Conference, she had these words delivered to the attendees (she was living in Australia at the time), betraying just how burdened she was by the topic. Almost uneasy about putting it in these terms, she nevertheless wrote, “All heaven, if I may use the expression, is impatiently waiting for men to co-operate with the divine agencies in working for the salvation of souls” (General Conference Daily Bulletin, January 28, 1893, emphasis added).
Where we sense no urgency, content with bolstering our 401(k), heaven actually gets “impatient.”
And it’s no wonder: the angels, who love their God, long to see His pain, frustration, and agony cease. They’ve watched Him for the last 6000 years agonize over the sin that Has infected this universe. They’ve seen the rebellion of Lucifer, the fall of Adam and Eve. They’ve seen the genocide, the holocaust, the atrocities of war. Most significantly, they’ve seen the cross as the culmination of the sin project, heart-broken over the pain that has pierced the heart of Him whom they adore. And, like Peter, I’m sure they are tempted to pick up their swords and fight if it could somehow hasten the obliteration of the pain in the heart of their God.
What about us?
What if we, as Adventists, somehow recaptured the Adventist vision of Christ’s soon return?
It starts, of course, with encountering the love of that Christ as seen on Calvary. When we go to the cross and see the logical conclusion to what our present existence produces – death to God Himself – it will stir our hearts to the point that we will want to do all we can to hasten the end of God’s misery and woe.
In other words, encountering Christ’s First Coming in all its beauty, depth, and agony will propel us forward to do all we can to usher in His Second Coming.
So let’s go to the cross, you and I, so that Christ might soon come to us.
(If you’re at all interested in reading more extended thoughts on this topic, you may want to check out my first book, Waiting at the Altar. Or if you simply want further inspiration, check out a song that always inspires and reorients me. It’s William Miller’s words after the Great Disappointment set to music, sung by Reggie Smith and accompanied by a choir with which I used to sing [Andrews University Singers]).