It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
That song by REM is usually the first thing I think of when I come across apocalyptic passages such as this one today. In case you don’t know, that song is based on a Cross Examination Debate format in which everything eventually leads to global thermonuclear warfare.
The other thing I think of is Ghostbusters and the scene leading up to the climactic battle where the team is arguing for permission to take care of the evil spirit residing in one of the buildings. In talking to the mayor, they describe this as a disaster of biblical proportions – Old Testament, wrath of God stuff, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, dogs and cats living together!
But fun song and comedy routine aside, there are times and places when the end of the world seems imminent. The end of the world seemed to happen when the Vandals sacked Rome. It seemed to happen during the Bubonic Plague. The people of Pompeii had good reason to believe the world was ending when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.
Hal Lindsey has made a fortune from his book The Late Great Planet Earth, as well as other end-times prophecy books which he carefully manipulated to prey on current fears and how current times reflect the end of the world. Other people who have been part of this fear-driven, end-times movement have included Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, co-authors of the Left Behind series, Harold Camping of the May/October miscalculation, and the Millerites and the Great Disappointment of 1844.
In other words, people claim it’s the end of the world during natural disasters, wars, social upheavals and through misreading the Bible all the time.
But none of these things either indicate or precipitate the end of the world. Jesus himself says that many will come in his name leading people astray, and that there will be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and famine, but that this is all just the beginning. What follows will be torture, imprisonment, falling stars and darkened sun, and a desolating sacrilege.
But let’s slow down, take a breath, and look at this end of the world thing from a Christian perspective, rather than from a hyped-up reactionary point of view.
First, let’s talk about the world as we know it. If we look around, and if we are honest with ourselves, what is the world actually like? I can make a claim that Thomas Hobbes was right when he said life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short. The world is full of blatant racism and sexism. The world is full of hungry people living on the street and children with no shoes on their feet. There are people working two or three jobs to make ends meet without the benefit of healthcare. And there are many more people unable to get jobs in the first place. We see home foreclosures due to bank error and an unwillingness to rectify that problem. And we see those with power and privilege fighting with every fiber of their being to remain in positions of power and privilege by working to deny equal rights to people classified as different. That is what the world is really like.
But God shows us a better way.
At least every Sunday we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth. What does that kingdom look like? It’s a place where justice and mercy take the place of greed and brutality. It’s a place where the powerful are brought down and the lowly lifted up. It’s a place where all who hunger and thirst are satisfied. It’s a place where there is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, gay or straight, black or white, but only togetherness in the unity of Christ. It’s a place where we respect the dignity of every human being and where the Others are loved and not feared. That is what the kingdom of God looks like and for what we pray every Sunday, every baptism, every wedding and funeral, every day.
The biggest threat to the world is equality. Peasant revolts, the Civil War, women’s rights and the Civil Rights movements in the U.S. and the end of apartheid in South Africa were formed around the idea of equality. The world is built on the oppression of others and those in power fear the equality of the oppressed. And when the dominant or ruling class is required to share equally, or to live with equal rights for all, then that time, for all practical purposes, becomes the end of the world as they know it.
But as Christians, what have we to be afraid of? Are we scared of events we can’t control? Are we scared of seeing non-whites, or non-straight people, or even non-Christians for that matter, be given equal rights? Are we scared to love our neighbor as ourselves? And if we are scared, why?
The end of the world won’t be due to wars, famines or earthquakes. The end of the world will be due to the kingdom of God being ushered in and lived to its fullest where there is no more us and them, we and thee, but only unity in Christ.
It is for that we live. It is for that we pray. The kingdom of God is very near to us. And if we truly believe that, and truly pray for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into this world, then we should be able to say with utter confidence, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”