By Tim Woodroof
Bedraggled men wear signs announcing it. Ministers with over-heated imaginations write novels visualizing it. Preachers pound pulpits proclaiming it. The end of the world. The Day of Judgment. The Second Coming.
Even poets bravely broach the subject.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
is also great and would suffice.
—Robert Frost, Fire and Ice.
Frost may be right about fire and ice, desire and hatred, the heat of passion and the deadly cold of disdain. The world could end that way. His is just one voice, however; one voice lost in a sea of voices, all shouting opinions and dire warnings about how and when the end will come.
Faith and Faithlessness
There is no greater divide in visions of the world’s end than the difference between those with a secular perspective and those who stand on faith. Part of what makes us “Christian,” I suggest, is how we understand what happens when time runs out of room.
The secular perspective (always eager to marginalize God and diminish any role he might play in our lives), insists that we were born of chance and will perish by accident. There is no purpose or direction to our lives or to the universe. All is random. Nothing guides or ordains the path of existence. There will be no final accounting. Nature will not judge our actions to determine whether we have wasted our lives or used them wisely. When the world ends—however it ends—that is all it will be: an ending.
People of faith, on the other hand, anticipate a radically different ending to the world, born from a radically different perspective. For believers, this world and everything in it is baptized in purpose. God’s will, God’s plans, God’s reasons stand behind every event, every decision, every person. Nothing is random (in the sense of “meaningless”). None of this happens by chance. God is deeply interested in what goes on in his creation, intensely conscious about everything, taking whatever human beings throw at life and threading it into a greater and wider tapestry that weaves his purposes.
A Time of Fulfillment
For people of faith, the end of the world is not an ending at all. It is a culmination. It is the fulfillment and completion of all that has gone before. It is the destination toward which the entire universe is traveling. Awaiting us—at the station—is the God who set the train in motion at the beginning. Awaiting us—at the end—is the God who will hold the whole world accountable and bring his eternal purposes to their ultimate climax.
The secular perspective has the world running off a cliff like a herd of horses, confused and uncomprehending, nothing but destruction and chaos on the cliffs below. Faith turns history into an arrow, speeding with preordained precision toward the target of God’s purposes.
For thoughtful Christians, the end of the world isn’t so much about me and my behaviors, about personal salvation or condemnation, as it is about the purposes of God—what he has planned and anticipated for us since the first moment he put his breath in our lungs and his image in our hearts. Christians look forward to the end of the world as the time when God’s will wins—when the world is set right, just as he intended it to be all along, when Christ’s life and death bear their ultimate fruit and “the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Revelation 11:15).
I don’t know exactly how the world will end. I do know that, however it ends, God will be glorified and his purposes will fully blossom. And from that certain knowledge comes a confidence in and eagerness for the end of the world that people without faith cannot muster.
I walk toward the end with a spring in my step.
This article first appeared in The Lookout June 26, 2011.
Tim Woodroof is a freelance writer and speaker. He and his wife Julie make their home in Antioch, Tennessee.