Keeping the Faith: The End of the World as We Know It
I don’t know how it is that you are reading this. In fact, I don’t know how any of us are even here. In case you missed it, the entire cosmos was destroyed by the avenging judgment of God this weekend, and you can’t plead ignorance – you were properly warned.
Oh, forget the cryptic evidence of the Jewish prophets, the predictions of Nostradamus, the ancient Mayan Calendar, or the inexplicable visions of the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. No, for the last several years we have been advised by radio broadcaster and prophet Harold Camping that the end was near, and now overdue.
If that name sounds familiar, it should. Harold Camping was convinced – and so were many of his followers, some spending their life’s savings to warn their wayward neighbors – that the end of the world would arrive this past May. When that did not occur, Camping amended his prophecy with a gargantuan amount of imagination and interpretive gymnastics, giving the universe a drop-dead date of October 21, 2011.
It really doesn’t bother me when the end-times prophets and Harold Campings of the world show up with their placards, tracts, broadcasts, and sandwich boards of doom. It used to rally get under my skin, but now I recognize such predictions as an eccentric Christian tradition, one of those family customs that cannot be stopped, only endured.
The winds of world upheaval begin to blow and spiritual forecasters likewise begin to paint pictures with the terrible brush strokes of God’s consuming fire. Sinners are threatened. The blatantly unrepentant are dangled over the inferno. There is a frenzied relish to it all, some doomsdayers seemingly more happy to see all reprobates burn, than to move on to eternal bliss.
So when a radio preacher misfired once again on his prediction, it was just more of the same, and just as Jesus said it would be. “No one knows the day or the hour,” Jesus loudly proclaimed. The expiration date set for the universe is knowledge that belongs exclusively to God, and he doesn’t seem interested in sharing it with Harold Camping or anyone else who fancies making bold prophecies.
Further, as wrong as these would-be-prophets are about actual dates, their divination seems to also distract them from the nature of the end of the age. “Look, I am making everything new!” God says in the end (See Revelation 21). The cosmos doesn’t conclude with retribution, but with renewal. The final chapter is not extinction, but transformation. That is our Blessed Hope.
Simply, God believes in and loves his creation in a way that no televangelist or talking-head prophet can ever come close. God has bigger and better plans for his world than just throwing it into the intergalactic trash can. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “We may be tired of this world, but God isn’t.” He has great things in store, and we get the chance to get in on it and live it beginning today. This is a far better approach to life than pining for a fictitious apocalypse.
My Hebrew friends will have to forgive me for simplifying one of their marvelous parables, but there is a story in the Jewish literature about an old man who planted a fig tree. When asked if he really expected to live long enough to eat fruit from that tree, the old man laughed and said: “I was born into world that had fruit ready to eat. My ancestors planted trees for me, and now I plant fruit for my grandchildren.”
We can’t give up on the world because it’s not what we wish it was, or because we think it’s all going down the drain with no time left, or because some crackpot makes a bold but foolish prediction. What we call the “end” is not the end at all. True to his nature, God has not given this world a drop-dead date. Instead, it has been stamped with a renewal date, a date we pray and work for until it finally comes.