Left Behind?

Michael Metzger

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?

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

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6 Comments

  1. Well stated Mike. The question is how to overcome the inertia (maybe overcoming inertia would be a good future topic for you to write on). I agree that there is enough wealth (or even “Christian wealth”) to solve the problems but getting people engaged and off the dime is the kicker. I think if there was critical mass and people saw others addressing problems with their resources they would jump on the band-wagon. Being in Europe now, it’s the same thing with the refugee crisis… this is a golden opportunity for the church to step up and say, “we’ve got this one”. We have created a culture of non-participation that seemingly will take a generation to change — like most cultural issues. Thanks!

  2. Good stuff, Mike. I have never thought of giving as a command, as stated in Timothy. That encourages me. I have seen giving become contagious in the church I attend. Not because pastors and leaders were dealing with it directly very effectively, but because once family has committed to radical generosity and others have been inspired by their model.

  3. Hmmm. My one quibble is with your move from individual giving to an institutional model. I have long thought that one of our biggest problems today is with an institutionalized “charity” which is no longer true Biblical charity. Where there is no ‘giver’, there can be no gratitude or relationship. Not that my giving or receiving must result in an equal exchange of gratitude, but that my giving/receiving may result in a relationship where both giver and receiver are doing both in gratitude to God, who is our true Source, and that the rich thereby rejoice in their humility and the poor in their “high position” (as James put it).

    You know the old saying that if something is everyone’s responsibility, it is no one’s. This becomes an even greater problem when we’ve already ‘given at the office’ and are presented with the man who is hungry (and we have food) or who is in need of a coat (and we have – not two – but probably 20).

    How would you propose to humanize the institutional model you advocate, for sharing resources?

    I am fascinated by the human scale that E.F. Schumacher urged upon us in his thought and books Good Work and Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. By the way, I picked up Good Work years ago when I noticed it in a used book store, primarily because of a sermon you gave, Metz, on work vs. “job”. . . . emphasizing that our work is to be good! And that we are not to wallow in the fallen vision of work as a “job”.

    It continues to shape my vision of what is “good” – including instilling a more human-sized limitation on Institutions.

    Granted, some institutional aspects are necessary to accomplish the larger tasks – I’m thinking of Paul’s “collection for the Lord’s people” in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16) – but it was still a project to which the givers retained a personal connection and interest. The gift was to be taken by those “approved” from among the givers, who would travel to Jerusalem with an introductory letter from Paul, as well as their gift – to be given to those in need in Jerusalem.

    Our giving these days is more often connected to a tax break rather than connected to any one in need, even if it is based upon the decision of which recognized “Charity” perhaps takes the smallest cut out of our donations. Much of our giving supports the institution of our giving, rather than any actual giving. . . . or any actual person in need, who receives our gift.

    Not that I speak against supporting the local church, for example! But you see the paradox, I am sure. If we feed someone who is hungry, rather than donate to “Feed the Hungry” – that gift/receiver/love/gratitude cycle repeats and expands in a way that receiving a cancelled check does not.

    Thoughts?

    In haste – sorry for any typos or muddled thought. . . . 🙂

  4. Interesting challenge.
    How about
    Individuals give 10% to church
    Church gives 10% to missions
    Bottom-line provision for gleaners.

  5. There is an excellent book recently republished by businessman Jake Barnett titled “Wealth and Wisdom:A Biblical Perspective on Economics”. In addition to providing a comprehensive look at the what the Scriptures teach about this topic, Barnett devotes several chapters to generosity and its role in relationships and community. I knew the author before he died in 2012 and I can tell you that he practiced what he preached.

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