"Out of charity let us pray
for the great ones of politics
and war, the intellectuals,
scientists, and advisors,
the golden industrialists,
the CEOs, that they to
may wake to a day without hope
that in their smallness they
may know the greatness of Earth
and Heaven by which they so far
live, that they may see
themselves in their enemies,
and from their great wants fallen
know the small immortal
joys of beasts and birds.”
-Wendell Berry, Sabbath Poems 2007, III
Every few days or so, someone says it to me. They throw it out there as a matter of fact. Usually it comes after the conversation has turned towards world politics, the price of gasoline, or something else that seems really complicated, messy, and daunting. Several weeks ago someone said it after we had been discussing the general turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East and the news that Mubarak had stepped down from his seat of power in Egypt.
"I think it’s just further evidence that the world is going to end,” he said, which left nothing else to be discussed.
Anytime someone tells me the world is going to end, it’s always spoken as a conversation killer, as a verbal trump card that is meant to put to rest any serious political, economic, or ecological conversation. And I am finding that more and more of the Christians I live around are turning towards this answer as those very political, economic and ecological conversations get more and more serious and needed.
So, is it? Is the world really going to end? And how can Christians especially be so flippant about waving this news around as if it were a solution to the problems of the world?
First of all, let me set the record straight, since there is apparently a great deal of confusion on this matter. No, the world is not going to end in the sense that God is just going to trash the whole thing. That, I’m afraid, is just us projecting onto God the way we handle things: to throw it out after we’ve gotten our use from it.
We presume that since our own cultural habit is to consume and discard things without thought of whence they came or whence they go God must be the same. Scripture, though, is very clear in its declaration that God’s ultimate plan for all of creation is to bring it under God’s redeeming, refining judgment, and that God will – in the end – recreate the world so that it will once again reflect God’s own glory. John, the great poet pastor, makes this vision come to life as he describes the revelation given to him on the island of Patmos. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;” he writes, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1). Make no mistake, there will be judgment – a judgment that will indeed radically alter the world we live in, so much so that what will remain will be something fundamentally different … “new.” But, nowhere does God describe an intention to leave it on the trash heap of history.
Unfortunately, though, for many Christians this message of divine judgment has been replaced by that very idea, what I call the false doctrine of divine abandonment. According to this false belief, God’s only true concern is the salvation of Christians. “To hell with the world … literally,” the presumption seems to be. It is a belief, of course, that is tied to the other fallacious idea of a rapture: God will simply and magically sweep Christians off the earth through divine fiat, thus saving the “believers” from the impending doom, woe, destruction and evil of the world. It also assumes that God’s ultimate destination is for us to join Him in heaven. Again, that’s a wrong belief as John also illuminates in Revelation 21. Conveniently, by following all these false beliefs, Christians never have to mess with the great ills of the world.
Well, God can save us and does save us through Christ, but never in such a trite fashion. To assume it is all that easy is to lose sight of both God’s love for all of creation and the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ who died for the redemption of the entire cosmos.
Here is my biggest frustration: my Christian brothers and sisters are releasing their Christ-given call to employ their whole self (including their minds and hearts) and are in practice showing a great deal of irresponsibility towards the world. I see it too often: some don’t want to get too involved with politics or caring for God’s creation. Others don’t get involved in responsible politics, choosing instead to join the side that sees God’s creation as a world to be manipulated and exploited rather than a gift from God that is meant to nourish us.
Christians who fall back on the “end of the world” trump card frequently do so when they feel that the conversation is getting too tricky and too difficult. Take for instance, gasoline prices. Obviously, it’s a complicated subject wrapped in all sorts of other heavy topics like world politics and sustainable living. Christians of all people should be at the front of these conversations, seeking to provide a witness to God’s overall desires about how we utilize the earth’s resources, how we treat lesser nations, and how we consume the fuel that has been provided for us. Yet, too often, Christians are the first to throw up their hands when they see gasoline go above $4/gallon. “Just another sign that the end is near,” they suggest.
Maybe it’s time that we stop waiting for the end of the world to come and start working towards the redemption of the world in Jesus’ name. That’s the responsible thing to do. That’s the Christian thing to do. Because the classic Christian song is right: Jesus does have the whole world is in his hands … because Christ cares for the world. He’s not going to throw it into the trash bin, so why should be so willing to do just that?