We're in the middle of a rough patch. Locally. In America. And around the world. Eighty year olds look at all this, shrug, and say, "We've been here before. We'll get through it." But for a lot of us who are younger this is the first, serious, economic valley we've found ourselves in.
Someone told me this morning about a church in our area that is telling people everything is going to crash. The dollar is going to lose all value. The economic system will come to a total halt. They are telling their people that the market signs point to the imminent return of Jesus and the end of the world as we know it.
Now prophets -spokespeople for God- are faced with two temptations. On the one hand they can minimize what is wrong. Tell people everything is okay because people like to be comforted...re-assured. Prophets can say everything is okay when it isn't. Jeremiah 6:14 talks about prophets who "heal the wound" of God's people "lightly." Who say "Peace, peace" when there is no peace.
The other direction prophets, prophets and religious writers can go is to use every crisis as a "sign" that everything is crashing, Jesus is about to return, and the age is nearing an end. There are preachers and writers who have been getting rich off this sort of message for generations. When people are already scared and uncertain it is an easy way to fill pews or sell books.
Jesus, in Luke 21:8, said there would be false prophets or teachers. Proclaiming that the current crisis was the sign that his return was imminent. But, Jesus said, don't let these pretend experts lead you astray.
In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says only God knows when this world is going to end as God begins a new age.
Grace demands we give these prophets of doom the benefit of the doubt. So I assume they think they are helping their people out..."reading" the signs of the age. Interpreting events. But I also would warn my brothers and sisters who lead Christian communities not to use difficult times and the negative energy they generate to build their congregations...fill their pews...or sell more books.
There is something sad...unseemly...about preachers feeding on the fear in the hearts of the sheep...to build up their own religious kingdoms. If that is what they are doing....if.