Apocalypse Whenever

BY JOSEPH SIMURDIAK

 

Apocalyptic stories and doomsday prophecies are common themes in movies and popular literature—as a culture, we seem to have a fixation with the end of the world. Not limited merely to the realm of storytelling, this fascination extends to actual religion and belief. For instance, a 2010 Pew Research survey found that 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to earth by the year 2050.

Forty-one percent—can you believe that? We are the most powerful nation on earth, yet a vast proportion of our population thinks the End is just around the corner—an end in which our global and social problems are addressed by supernatural intervention. How can we lead, prepare for or proceed into the future when so many of us think there won’t even be a future in the next half-century to worry about? Widespread belief in the imminence of divine rescue only impedes our ability to progress.

Speculation about the “End Times” has gained further prominence with the rise and influence of evangelical Christian dispensationalism, which offers a futuristic interpretation of the biblical Book of Revelation involving an oncoming period of moral degeneracy, a Rapture, an Antichrist who seizes the world, a period of Tribulation and, finally, a thousand years of peace following the return of Jesus Christ to earth. Books such as the mega-selling “Left Behind” series have promoted dispensationalist views to audiences of millions, while popular televangelists and prophecy enthusiasts claim we can see End Times prophecy unfolding in the pages of our daily news. Its popularity is further bolstered by perceptions that modern society is becoming increasingly immoral and that humanity is on a downward spiral of sin that can only be rescued by Christ’s return.

End Times discourse is theologically sexy—it’s exciting, sensational and it sells. Part of its appeal also lies in that it gives us a sense of where humanity’s story is going.   For all the horror and calamity associated with the End Times, it is still far more comforting than the “We have no clue and anything could happen” alternative. It assures us that the world is in God’s hands—never fear, for He is in control. Things may get ugly in the world, but no matter how bad they get, we know how the story ends: one day Jesus will return to set everything right. Earthquakes, hurricanes, war and nuclear threat are all signs that the End is near; take heart, for Christ is coming soon.

This is precisely why it is irresponsible to put too much store in a near-future Second Coming. By trusting in a pre-ordained, immutable future, we are gambling with it.

Christians, by our very nature, should be the last people to yield to fatalism in the face of strife. The End will come eventually, but I don’t expect we will be here to see it, and even if it is to occur within our lifetimes, we cannot project it. In the meantime, we should be working to secure a better future for our world, and it is hard to find the mind to do it when we are caught up in ideas of an imminent End. That fatalism might be comforting, but for all its talk of hope, it is a mindset of defeat, resigned to enduring the world’s “degeneracy” and “escalating wickedness.” It asserts our powerlessness, that human good cannot overcome human evil and that we can do little for this world except wait and pray for God to come and rescue it for us. Fixation with the End (which for all we know may not come for another thousand, two thousand, three thousand years) hinders us from looking at the here and now and the things we should be doing for our world and society to construct a better destiny with the hands God gave us. Our first step forward is to realize that we determine the state of our world. When we choose to let the best of our nature guide our way, then isn’t God’s will done?

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