Monday, February 22, 2010
End of the World, How should we respond?
By: Bill Muehlenberg
Most cultures and religious traditions have as part of their beliefs and overall worldview the idea that the current world will in one fashion or another come to an end. There are various apocalyptic scenarios out there, some more negative than others, and some more alarmist than others.
If the world is indeed going to wind down or come to some cataclysmic end, the interesting question is how do people respond to this realization? How do people cope if they are convinced that life as we know it may not last much longer? I saw just recently one way in which people might respond.
The ads during the American Super Bowl are often just as amazing and entertaining as the game itself. They have to be, given that the screening of just one 30 second ad can cost up to a cool $3 million. Thus some of the most remarkable ads ever seen usually come out during this three hour extravaganza.
Some of these ads were featured in yesterday’s Australian telecast of the event. One of the ads caught my eye. It featured a number of workers in an observatory. A scientist, peering through a telescope, looking at an incoming asteroid, proclaims that it’s going to destroy the earth.
The response? Six-packs of Bud Light beer are passed around as the men and women decide they will have a wild party while they await their doom. Well, that is one way to deal with the end of the world. And it is not a very novel approach. The saying, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’ has been around for quite some time.
But that is not the only way to prepare for the end of the world. Jesus for example had much to say about the topic. Indeed, the Bible as a whole has plenty of discussion about this theme. There is far too much material to cover here, so let me focus on just two passages.
The third chapter of 2 Peter is all about the end of the world, or more accurately, the Day of the Lord. It specifically addresses those who question Christ’s return, and in fact mock the very notion. Says Peter, “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (vv. 3-4).
Here the idea is that the world will keep going, so why worry? Jesus had mentioned similar things in the Olivet Discourse when he said that when he returns, it will be just like in the days of Noah: people will be carrying on with their normal activities, and will be oblivious to what is about to occur (Matt. 24:36-39).
So too Peter states that most people will be just carrying on with business as usual. They not only do not believe in the Lord’s return, but scoff at the very notion of future judgment as well. But Peter argues quite the opposite: Christ certainly will come in his own time, and he will come as judge.
The fact that he has not yet returned is not an indication of his slowness in keeping his promises, but is in fact a period of grace, allowing more time for more people to repent (vv. 8-9). His advice is the opposite of that given in the Bud Light commercial. He says that given that Christ will one day certainly return, what sort of people ought we to be?
He encourages sober, holy living, in the light of the return of Christ (vv. 11-14). If the end is nigh, that is not a reason to party, but to get our act together, and be prepared to meet our coming Lord and judge. Instead of scoffing at the delay of his return, be grateful that he is allowing us more chance to get right with him.
The second passage is addressed more to believers than non-believers. But its message is desperately needed, because so many believers are in fact using the doctrine of Christ’s second coming as an excuse to opt out of, instead of into, the battles of the day.
That is, many believers are banking on things getting worse, and then Christ coming back, so let’s just forget all about any social or political obligations we might have. Let’s just pluck a few more souls from the fire, and get our bags packed for the Rapture.
The idea is you don’t polish brass on a sinking ship. You don’t rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If everything is going down the tubes, then why get involved in trying to make this a better world?
Now this is quite a complex and hotly debate issue. I have partly discussed it elsewhere, so I will not repeat all my arguments here. See for example, here.
And Christians with strong biblical convictions can and do fall on different sides of the debate over eschatology. Some can be Pre-Mill and some can be Post-Mill and so on. If you don’t have a clue as to what I am referring to here, don’t worry. This just has to do with how we understand the millennium of Rev. 20 and other eschatological and theological issues.
But that big debate is really not what I am interested in here. And I do need to get back to my second passage. It is the Parable of the Ten Talents (Minas) as found in Luke 19:11-26. The relevant bit is the opening three verses:
“While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas, “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back”’.”
The KJV renders the last bit, “Occupy till I come”. The point of the parable is to use the gifts God has given us, and be faithful in our stewardship until the king (Christ) returns. As you will recall, the servants who used the money well and put it to good use were commended by their master. But the servant who hid his talents, burying them in the ground, was strongly rebuked.
Part of the message here is that God expects us to wisely use the gifts, talents and callings he has given us, and to use them right up until he returns. There is no thought here of packing our bags, putting up our feet, and waiting for Christ to return. We are to be busy with the work of the Kingdom. We are to be fully engaged in occupying till he comes.
Thus both these passages give us quite different instructions than does the Bud Light ad. Knowledge that this world is soon coming to an end is not to be an excuse for moral laxity and going on a bender with wild parties. Nor is it an excuse to sit back and do nothing.
The Lord’s return is meant to spur us on to both moral living as well as to dedicated activity for the kingdom. Peter wants to impress on us the need for holy living and serious discipleship as we await the Lord’s return. And Jesus reminds us that there is a lot of work to be done before he returns. We need to roll up our sleeves and get busy with the work God has assigned for us to do.
So while the Bud Light ad may have been quite funny (as have been so many of the other expensive Super Bowl ads), it is clearly amiss in terms of the message it is sending. It fits well into a hedonistic, secular and cynical culture. But it does not at all fit in with the real world, and the biblical worldview.