Sue down at the Wawa died yesterday (she has already been replaced). She lived 53 years, mostly in frustration, by her own account. There were problems in the marriage. There were health problems. She and the manager didn't get along.
My father used to talk to her about the Lord from his coffee station just near her hoagie station. In his inimitable style, he would leverage any comment on any topic into a screed on salvation, and grill his captive interlocutor about whether she had considered her eternal destination lately. (This was when they both were assuming she was somewhere at the two-thirds mark in life.) For this habit of my father's, plus an incident involving a box-cutter which we've no need to go into, he is no longer employed at the Wawa establishment, and now makes coffee for a competing convenience store.
It's not only Wawa: I myself have problems with my father's methods (a tad pushy) of dispatching the Great Commission. I have seen The Simpsons' Ned Flanders parody of obnoxious Christians, and always avoid the occasion of lending further credence to the stereotype. Sue's death, so fresh in my mind, makes me think I may have carried this prudence too far.
Until the day the Rapture happens, whether it happens pre-or mid-or post-tribulation, I expect Christians will excoriate one another over it in great plumes of print. And while this sideshow goes on, another "rapture" (from Latin rapio "seize, carry away") proceeds with quiet, unrelenting morbidity, a sort of anti-rapture in which the ungodly are being snatched away to judgment, one soul at a time.
There are good and gracious reasons why this removal of persons should occur as a staggered thinning rather than of a sudden, and we are told one of those in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:29). It is for the sake of Christians, of course, so that we won't one day go down to retrieve our dry-cleaning and find that the expert presser has been excised from the premises and left us in the lurch.
Nevertheless, one undesirable by-product of the protractedness of the operation (though in point of fact, statistics for death remain at 100 percent) is precisely that it calls so little attention to itself, and its very commonness dulls the mind by habituation, playing into the hands of the Evil One. The silent harvest of Satan, as a tragedy, lacks the classic tragic elements that would make it spellbinding, its dislocations happening below the threshold of excitability, a single soul absorbed like a drop in the tide.
I've taken no comfort in this discovery of my twin sins of cowardice (heretofore alluded to as a superiority of style and sensitivity) and mental dullness, since I understand well enough that in the sovereign predestination of saints, He who ordained the ends also ordained the means-and those means are the evangelistic appeals of His people.
As to my own stabs at evangelism: One was with a discouraged postal worker last December 26th, the opening salvo of conversation being my request that two packages bound for Korea arrive by Christmas. The clerk replied that he couldn't go backwards-though he wished he could! In the 10-second window of opportunity that followed I offered that "I believe in God," which I recognized later was a total wimp-out-first on the word believe, which he took to mean (quite rightly) a subjective preference, and on the word god, which he took (understandably) as generic.
I had to be rebuked by a Jewish unbeliever for my shilly-shallying proselytizing. When the Christian theme park Holy Land Experience in Orlando was picketed last year by Jews, Michael Kinsley took exception to the protest, writing in Time, "In a way, it is insulting to Jews that Fundamentalist Christians don't try harder to convert us."
Insulting, he went on to explain, because Christians supposedly believe that faith in Christ is able "to spare you from an eternity of hellfire." Such, at least, did the Puritan Richard Baxter believe, who urged in The Reformed Pastor, "Take heed to yourselves, for you have a heaven to win or lose, and souls that must be happy or miserable forever." Such did the Apostle Paul believe, who rebukes my craven lust for respectability, saying, "We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:10).
There is a silent rapture going on, by which "it is appointed for men to die once, and then the judgment." And I am brought back to basics by the news about Sue at the hand of my dad, who, as I consider the alternative, turns out to be not such a bad evangelist after all.