Monday, April 28, 2008

The Restrainer Restraining No More?

My current daily Scriptural readings are from Revelation (those who call it "Revelations", please leave now), so the End of Days are, naturally, on my mind. Now, I'm of two minds when it comes to eschatology. The backwoods fundie in me (which, I confess, is no small part) is just waiting for the first signs of an impending astronomical encounter of meteoric proportions (and for the first crackpot to dub it "Wormwood"), and wouldn't be too terribly surprised to see a new and particularly nasty breed of insect in my lifetime. Meanwhile, my rationalist side keeps insisting in a Dawkins-esque tone that the entire book was simply a coded message relevant primarily to the First Century church about the Roman Empire (note: fortunately, my faith is strong enough that the obvious third way of "ravings of a madman in exile on a penal island" doesn't enter into it). My rationalist side can be a real jerk sometimes.

But this post isn't about Revelation or the prophetic words therein. Rather, it's about a somewhat uncharacteristic passage in an otherwise standard, if short, Epistle from Paul to the church in Thessaloniki. In whole, the passage reads:
1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Now, there's a whole treasure-trove of theological and eschatological gold in there, but what I really want to focus on are the parts I emphasized above. Before the coming of the "man of lawlessness" (generally viewed to be the Antichrist), some entity who restrains this lawlessness must be removed. Generally, I've always understood this to be the Holy Spirit as applied to humanity as a whole (keeping us from engaging our basest instincts on a regular basis) rather than just to believers.

Why does this come to my mind? Well, I frequently read stories in the news like this, in which an Austrian man kept his own daughter secretly imprisoned in his basement for 24 years, repeatedly subjecting her to the worst forms of sick abuse, or this, one of many sad stories of late in which a teacher treats the students under her care as her sexual playthings, and they keep appearing with increasing frequency. And like most sane people, I begin to wonder "why on earth would people do something like that? Why would they think it's okay to do it? Where would they even get that idea?". And then that passage pops into my mind.

What if this cycle of sick perversion is a manifestation of The Restrainer being removed? What if that safeguard instilled by God to keep us from complete moral, cultural, and societal destruction is being "phased out"? It would certainly go a long way in explaining why these genuine atrocities keep cropping up.

On the other hand, perhaps these sorts of things have been happening throughout human history. Perhaps the recent prevalence of them is merely a byproduct of the 24-hour news cycle. Cable News has got to fill every hour, so suddenly what was once relegated to the local police as a domestic situation, and heard about only through the local gossip-mills, now makes national and international headlines in an otherwise slow news day. After all, the last century featured some of the worst and unrestrained degradation ever seen by mankind, and we're still here.

Whatever the answer is, the backwoods fundie in me is keeping his eyes peeled for a man of lawlessness.

This post was cross-posted at Mazurland.

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Anonymous Marty said...

It's a difficult dance. You have to be on the lookout for people who are prophesying doom, hailing the end of days, and saying we should live a particular way because of this. Christ, Peter, and John (in Revelation) all warned about the false prophets who would appear in the end. But the lawless one will himself, in his own different way, immanantize the eschaton by trying to make people believe they can make heaven on earth, or alternatively that they can abandon all law and live by their own desire.

This comment was cross-posted at Mazurland. Thought I'd get the ball rolling over here.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Two different blogs, two different comments! It's interesting the way you put it: "make people believe they can make heaven on earth". One of my own pastor's common themes is that we, as Christians, should "bring Up There down here". I actually don't know much about his own personal views on eschatology, but I think he means that a bit differently than you did. I hope. *gulp*.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

That's another difficult dance. The difference between trying to 'Bring forth the Kingdom" by imitating Christ and living as you would (will) in Heaven, and trying to institute your version of Heaven. How many commandments does the latter break, and how many cardinal sins are committed in the attempt?

8:36 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Well, fortunately, with my pastor, it's definitely the former rather than the latter (in fact, in his last congregational email, he made the point that gov't is not the vehicle to accomplish this, but rather the church is, which was a great relief to me and my conservative sensibilities).

7:27 AM  

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