Christians are sometimes criticised for often focussing on the “End”, either of the world (when Jesus will return), or ourselves (when we die). This criticism can be about the negative aspect of the Christian End: that we threaten people with the End to get them to become Christian. Or it can be about the positive aspect: that we ignore the world’s problems today, instead focussing on heaven Tomorrow.
There is no denying that the Christian End has both these aspects, but usually they are not used in the way I just described. What these aspects really do, is beautifully articulated in the classic 1965 song by the Impressions, People Get Ready:
People get ready, There’s a train a-coming
You don’t need no baggage, Just get on board
All you need is faith, To hear the diesel hummin’
You don’t need no ticket, Just thank the Lord
People get ready, For the train to Jordan
It’s picking up passengers, From coast to coast
Faith is the key, Open the doors and board on
There’s room for all, Among the loved and lost
These verses seem to only confirm that the Christian End encourages a passive approach to the world’s ills today. People here seem to be escaping from the world, focussing instead on “Jordan”, the Christian End. They just need “faith” and can leave their “baggage” (the problems of this world?) behind. But what exactly is “faith” here? Is it some passive cognitive belief? Well, the song goes on:
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
who would hurt all mankind, Just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner,
For there’s no hiding place against the Kingdom’s throne
This articulates the negative aspect of the Christian End. But it also shows that Christian faith is never passive belief.
If we look deeper, the Christian End or “Kingdom of God”, is defined by characteristics like justice, vitality, authenticity, Spirituality. A Christian’s hope drives them to bring those same characteristics into places where they are now hidden, or opposed. To not do so, to instead passively accept their opposites – injustice, deception, etc – is what the Christian End warns against. No matter how powerful those opposites may seem, Christians are compelled to find ways to defeat them. That is what drove Christians like William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jnr, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta to do things that at the time seemed insane to many, but that changed the world. “Getting on board” isn’t about leaving the world for Jordan, it’s about getting the world on board, too.
That might not redeem the Christian End for you. But what’s the alternative? In 2006, John Meyer wrote a song that follows the exact same chord progression to People get Ready (seriously – try singing them side by side!), Waiting for the World to Change. In it, he defends the passivity of his generation towards social injustice:
Now we see everything that’s going wrong,
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means,
To rise above and beat it
Meyer also suggests that politicians are too corrupt and powerful, and our information providers (the media) don’t tell us what’s really wrong anyway. So, what’s our only hope? Well, “we keep on waiting, waiting for the world to change”. That sounds awfully passive. It is true that he later sings, “One day our generation, Is gonna rule the population”, and then they’ll fix everything. But one wonders, wouldn’t today’s politicians and media moguls have said the same thing when they were younger? History suggests that, usually, youthful idealism eventually rusts to aged pragmatism.
Same chords, different tune.
The power of the Christian End is perhaps seen in the fact that People Get Ready is considered in the music industry to be one of the greatest songs of all time. But it is even more seen in Christians who have rejected cynicism and pragmatics, to bring the Kingdom of God’s justice and authenticity to those who otherwise would not have it.
Which song will you sing?