Billboard for Family Radio's prediction of the end of the world, predicted for May 21, 2011 (Credit: O'Dea, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Have you ever noticed how humanity has a strange longing for an apocalypse? The typical doomsday merchant is the wild-eyed bearded weirdo on the street corner with his ‘the end is nigh’ sandwich board. He’s the stuff of cartoons and comedians. He’s the sort of loony who is only happy when he’s unhappy.
But the readings for the first Sunday of Advent are apocalyptic.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
The second week sees the coming of what seems to be a first century “bearded weirdo”—John the Baptist. He’s wearing rough garb and preaching a message of “Repent now while you have time! The day of the Lord is at hand!”
As a child I attended a fundamentalist church, and we used to have regular visits from an evangelist named Jack VanImpe. He specialized in foretelling the future with a heady mixture of Dispensationalist theories, Bible prophecies and yesterday’s news clippings. We were told how there was a huge computer in Brussels called ‘The Beast’ which tracked everyone and how the European Community would merge with the Catholic Church to become the head of a New World Order. On top of that we were shown the equivalent of a Christian horror flick called, “Left Behind” in which the Lord Jesus returned and took all the true Christians to heaven in a flash and all the sinners were left behind. You better get saved quick or you’ll be left behind. This was only one of a long series of Protestant prophets who predicted the end of the world in one way or another and at one time or another.
Catholics have their own set of apocalyptic messengers. There will be the three days of darkness; if the message of Mary at Fatima is not heeded there will be a “great chastisement.” Various seers, prophets, mystics and soothsayers (some authentic and many dubious) have foreseen an imminent day of doom for the world.
Then there are the secular doomsday prophets. The world was going to crash in the year 2000 when the computers would all go haywire and the system would collapse. At one time there was going to be a population explosion and we were all going to stand shoulder to shoulder and starve together. Now there is going to be a demographic winter in which there will not be enough children to continue our culture.
There was going to be a new ice age and we were all going to freeze, now there is global warming and we’re all going to roast and weep as we watch the polar bears drown.
The list could go on, and I expect if you knew more about history you’d find that in every age and in every culture people were expecting the end and predicting how it would come.
What is it in human nature that loves a doomsday? Why are we so full of fascination and fear about the end of the world?
Two reasons: First of all, because there will be an end of the world. This world is bound up in the matrix of time. There is an Alpha. There will be an Omega. Time began and time will end. One day it will all happen in a crash in a trumpet’s clash. Deep down we know this and are always watching and waiting.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we know for sure that one world will end, and that is our world. In other words, one day for each of us the lights will go out. We’ll gasp our last and, if you like, our own sun, moon and stars will be shaken and the dark sea of death will roar and overwhelm us. It is our own end of the world that we fear, and knowing this, yet denying this we project our immanent end on the whole world.
Apocalypticism is a kind of sick obsession. It’s a spiritual disease. It is personal fear projected to a cosmic level. What’s the cure? Momento mori: Remember death.
If we constantly remember that we will die one day, and if we live each day as if it is our last, and if we fear even more eternal death and the sin that will separate us forever from God, and if we strive to live each day in his life giving presence then we will be amazed at how we will have no fear.
We will live in peace and confidence in God’s great mercy. Apocalyptic worries will dry up and we’ll be able to put ourselves in God’s hands and say with a cheerful abandon, “Apocalypse now? The end of the world? No worries. I’m ready for it!”