Watching the Environment and Waiting for the End

| 1/17/2008 10:59:01 AM

Photo of a Seal The subgroup of evangelicals who preoccupy themselves with the apocalypse are widely criticized, both from inside the larger Christian community and out. This is due not only to their penchant for seriously lousy fiction (read: Left Behind) and film (witness: A Thief in the Night). Critics see real danger in end-times obsession, with its emphasis on a vengeful God, its cynical and paternalistic brand of Zionism, and its potential for apathy toward environmental preservation.

Of course, people and their beliefs are inevitably more complicated than they seem—as Brenda Peterson learned from her neighbor George while volunteering to protect vulnerable baby seals. Writing for Orion, Peterson describes a four-hour “seal sitting” shift where she and her neighbor keep an eye on a seal pup, left alone on the beach while its mother hunts for fish. George tries to engage Peterson in conversation about the second coming of Christ, an effort that she persistently rebuffs. Despite his otherworldly theology, Peterson quietly considers the fact that her end-times obsessed neighbor genuinely cares for nature—and for her:

With a pang I realized that while some End-Timers may not have the stamina and constancy for compassion, for “suffering with,” many…feel real concern for the infidel loved ones they will abandon. And watching George’s expectant face, I reminded myself that his spiritual stewardship, like that of some other evangelicals, did include other species and the natural world. Not long before, George had built a floating platform for an injured pup so he could find sanctuary offshore while saltwater and sun healed his gash from a boat propeller.

Later, it dawns on Peterson just how much the two of them have in common:

“Anytime now,” George murmured, “the mother will return. That’s my favorite part.”

And then I understood something about my neighbor and about myself. All of us know what it feels like to wait for someone to call, to finally come home, to recognize our love, to reunite with those of us who long for something more, something greater than ourselves. Maybe it will come in the night, in that twinkling of an eye. Maybe it will save us from a lonely beach.

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