EDITOR’S NOTE: Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/.
Listen to an audio version at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/85/8528/8528-46597.mp3.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Don’t make any long-range plans: The world will end in fire and flood on Dec. 21, 2012.
If not that day, then definitely no later than Dec. 23. It depends on how you calculate the ancient Mayan calendar, which supposedly ends on one of those dates after 5,125 years, at which time earth will be destroyed by a massive solar flare or a collision with another planet.
On the bright side, it might not be the end at all, but rather a galactic realignment or transformation of cosmic consciousness. Or something like that.
Those are the confident predictions of assorted mystics and “experts” who want to sell you their books and videos for only $19.95. But wait, there’s more! A major motion picture about it is coming to a theater near you — this year, of course, so it has plenty of time to go to DVD before the apocalypse.
End-of-the-world stories have flooded multiplexes, TV networks and bookstores in recent years. Meteors. Storms. Epidemics. Aliens. Flesh-eating zombies. Are such stories an excuse for movie producers to create cool digital effects and fill theater seats? Partly, yes. But they also reflect the fears and anxieties of people living in unstable times, according to pop culture critics.
The golden age of bad horror movies arrived in the 1950s, when the post-war world began living under the shadow of a terrifying new threat: nuclear annihilation. Cheesy disaster flicks abounded in the 1970s, after American society seemingly had disintegrated in the wake of protests, riots, assassinations, Vietnam and Watergate.
The latest invasion of doomsday films is understandable, what with the psychological dislocations caused by the turn of the millennium, 9/11, wars, terrorism, pandemics, economic havoc and climate-change fears.
“Terrorists are coming to get you! And the world is going to end, six different ways! But first a word from our sponsor,” is how TIME columnist James Poniewozik describes the media frenzy. “Super-terrorists, natural disasters and mega viruses are not imaginary. But they’re more viscerally scary and easier to apprehend than vital but boring systemic problems like the economy and public health.”
Beyond real or hypothetical disasters, the relentless pace of change makes it harder and harder for people to cope with day-to-day life. Temporary escape into apocalyptic fantasies is appealing.
I love disaster stories. I’ve been a science fiction buff since I was a kid. But that doesn’t mean I believe the planet will explode next week. Nor do most Americans. A study released by LifeWay Research earlier this year found that only 11 percent of 1,600 survey participants agreed with the statement, “I believe that the world will end in my lifetime.”
Still, preoccupation with doomsday scenarios distracts many people from more immediate issues. It also distracts Christians, some of whom spend more time debating the exact meaning of the imagery in the Revelation to John than living and proclaiming the Gospel of John.
A young man I know who is seeking to follow Christ stops by the house about once a week. We walk around the block, talk about the challenges he’s facing and what the Bible says about life. Recently he asked with an anxious tone, “Is the world gonna end in 2012?” He’d heard about the Mayan calendar thing, too. He also described the frightening dreams he had after reading the most difficult and mysterious passages in the Book of Revelation.
I quickly directed him to perhaps the most relevant portion of Revelation for our time: the first three chapters. The risen Christ chastises the seven churches of Asia Minor for leaving their first love of God, for their lukewarm spirituality and for tolerating sin in their midst.
“Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God,” Christ warns the church in Sardis. “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I come to you” (Revelation 3:2-3).
That passage clarifies several things we know from other parts of Scripture: Jesus Christ will return to earth. We do not know the day or hour. Until that day arrives, our best course of action is to repent of our sins and halfhearted worship, return to our first love for the Lord and obey Him in all things.
There’s something else we must do to prepare for His return: Proclaim the Gospel to all peoples. Jesus’ clearest statement about the apocalypse appears in Matthew 24:14: “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Then and only then. So let’s get to work.
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.