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The End of the World

I've been amused by the number of people who have asked me, knowing that I was formerly a pastor, if I think that the end of the world is near. They look at the troubles in the Middle East and all the other indications of "wars and rumors of wars" around the world, and conclude that all the signs of the end times, as listed in the book of Revelation, are being fulfilled. And so they live in daily expectation that the Second Coming may well happen next Tuesday.

They are somewhat taken aback by my response: "If you live for another billion or so years, you may well see the end of the world."

First of all, I had a professor in seminary who said frankly that the book of Revelation would either find you cracked or leave you that way. It's been the happy hunting ground for nut cases since it was first included in the Bible. It is such an obscure piece of literature that you can find in it anything you're looking for. By examining its pages, people have many times, wrongly, dated the end of the world. They have also found unique and creative ways to identify the Anti-Christ, the 666 figure, naming everyone from Napoleon to Hitler.

The fact is that Revelation was written for its own time, not ours, and it has nothing to say about God's plan for our day or the future. It's a piece of apocalyptic literature, typical of its time, which dealt with the situation that existed between Rome, the great Babylon, and Israel, the people of God. It was a promise that God's people would win out in the end against the enemies of God, not that the world would be destroyed. That, if anything, is its encouraging message for us today.

As far as the world coming to an end at the hand of God, it's far more likely that we are in the kindergarten of life than that we have run the full course of God's plan for humanity. We have a very long way to go, and a tremendous amount still to learn. We have just begun to understand what it means to live together in peace, to create the harmony of the Kingdom of God on Earth, and we have many more thousands (millions) of years to go before we realize the full potential which God has created within us and within society.

So let's not project on God all the primitive views that were common in the first century. He's not some heavenly tyrant waiting to blow us up. He is a loving father who feels the same way about us as does a human father watching his kids mix it up in the back yard. He shakes his head and prays for them to grow up. So, we can't expect that this mess we've gotten ourselves into will be cleaned up by a God who will step in, end it all, and start a new story where everyone behaves as they should. It isn't that easy.

If we want a better world, in which peace and love are the primary values, we will have to do the hard work of creating it ourselves. And we are going to be here for a long time, so we might as well get started.

Posted 8-24-06

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2006