In the best-selling book series Left Behind, Christians are raptured away from the earth while unbelievers are left behind. That might not be the whole story, however.
Left Behind is a sixteen-book series published between 1995 and 2007. It sold sixty-million copies. Co-authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins describe what they believe happens after the rapture of the church. The lost are left behind to face a difficult seven-year tribulation under the rule of the Antichrist.
This is a relatively recent view on the End Times, dating from the early 1900s. The reality that some are left behind is not new, however. The prophet Amos described “the remnant of Joseph” as left behind in Israel’s economic prosperity.
The God of justice saw this as unjust. He said the poor were poor largely because the rich were not rich in generosity. Amos warned the wealthy that their sumptuous homes were at risk if they didn’t become generous. They didn’t. The Assyrians swept in and swept Israel into exile. The homes of the wealthy were left behind.
This correlates with a conversation Jesus had with a rich ruler. The young man wanted to be Jesus’ disciple. Christ told him to sell everything he had. “At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22).
Talk about déjà vu. A little earlier, Jesus had told his followers, “No one can be my disciple unless they give up all their possessions” (Luke 14:33). Clinging to possessions presents all sorts of problems. I know. Fresh out of college, with few possessions, it was easy to give them up. Now, in middle age, with many possessions, it’s a different game. It’s hard to give up all your savings, your 401K, your financial portfolio, and so on.
But it’s not impossible.
Jesus closes his conversation with a promise and a prediction. Remember, he’s addressing the challenges of being rich. Promise: whatever we leave behind will be returned a hundred times over. Prediction: not many will take Jesus up on his promise. “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Many who enjoy much in this life (they’re first) will be last in the next. They’ll be left behind when rewards are given.
Fast forward to 2015. The recent recovery has been “hugely unequal” according to Scottish-born economist Angus Deaton, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in economics. Far too many have been left behind economically. Solutions fall into two camps—free markets or redistribute income. There is a third way, however. Wealthy Christians, those who have benefited greatly from the recovery, could become generous. That won’t solve everything, but it will solve a lot.
What will it take for this to happen?
For starters, pastors ought to more directly address the wealthy on this issue. The Apostle Paul told his protégé Timothy to “command those who are rich to be generous.” Command is a military term. It’s appropriate here. Generosity ensures that wealthy believers “take hold of the life that is truly life” (I Tim. 6:17-19).
Second, it would help if churches and faith organizations thought institutionally. Too many assume an aggregate of impassioned individuals will change the world. There is no evidence to support this. Our naivety about world change does not inspire confidence in wealthy Christians. They might give generously if they saw a sound plan.
The good news is some wealthy Christians are generous. The bad news is many are not. Only five percent of adult evangelicals qualify as having tithed, giving away 10 percent or more of their annual income. The average is around three percent. The average tends to drop the wealthier the Christian, just as Jesus predicted.
Banker Henry Thornton was a wealthy man. He was a member of the Clapham Sect. He was a disciple of Jesus. He took seriously Christ’s command to give up all his possessions. Over the course of his lifetime, he donated over two-thirds of his income. In the age to come, it’s likely Thornton will not be left behind. What about you?
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