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Some Antepenult Thoughts on Last Things

By Doug Beacham

There is a popular view that this Saturday, September 23, 2017 will bring about the end of the world as a hidden planet will crash into our unique solar system home. I hardly know where to begin in thinking about this. But here are a few thoughts.

First, please don’t go out and max out your credit cards in a final fling at life. It’s likely that next month you’ll have some big charges to pay.

Second, and on a more serious note, maybe conversations about “the end” provide a good opportunity for serious discussions about life choices, eternal and temporal. At some point, “the end” will happen to all of us. To use the title of Jim Morrison’s biography, “No one here gets out alive.” Well, at least not yet. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 offers hope to those alive when Christ returns. And we have Jesus’ words that in Him one has “passed from death into life” (John 5:24).

History is replete with warnings and prophecies about impending judgment and possible new worlds. The Bible gives us “a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) through which to consider God’s redemptive purposes for all creation. We teeter between Jesus admonition, “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36), and the apostolic warning that the day of judgment will come as a thief which can somehow be hastened through godly living (2 Peter 3:10-12).

Eschatological hopes are not only found in the religious realm. They are also found in the realm of political and social ideologies. Leftist ideologies foresee judgment upon the bourgeoisie, capitalists ruling class and a social utopian equality for all. On the right, judgment falls upon the naïve and destructive socialist’s forces seeking to circumscribe individual initiative and opportunity. The very fact these exists points to the human awareness that something is not right in the world.

I just finished reading Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest” (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011). A the close of this engaging study of Western civilization, Ferguson uses Thomas Cole’s five paintings titled “The Course of Empire” (mid-1830s) as a way of reflecting on the rise and fall of civilizations. After reviewing various historical interpretations of the same, Ferguson asked, “What if collapse is not centuries in the making but strikes a civilization suddenly, like a thief in the night?” He pondered, “Civilizations behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse.”

Sort of makes you think of the Apostle Paul’s warning that “sudden destruction comes” and “they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). For the past two thousand years that has been true as empires have risen, and fallen, and the kingdom of God has continued its presence on this earth.

I’m not living in fear of September 23 and I fully expect to be preaching this Sunday. But it is a reminder that the unexpected can occur suddenly. Our assignment is to do the business our Heavenly Father has called us to do, “till He comes” (Luke 19:13).

3 Responses

  1. Felicia Bush

    Your blog timing is amazing. My sister called only today asking fearful questions about such things in addition to all the extreme weather! She’s been in a prodigal state since the late 70s and the object of much prayer. She expressed “worry” that if she stood before God today she would be found unworthy of Heaven. And she was scared. I’m giving great praise tonight that she has come home to the Lord!! I was so humbled to pray with her and speak the Good News again to her after all these years. Wow. She rests tonight in peace.

    I agree that a wonderous door is open before us today to speak of God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus–of the hope, peace and security in Jesus–as men look fearfully into the heavens. Its the Master’s touch that changes dreadful fear of colliding planets/comets/asteroids to joyful anticipation of an incoming body of another kind–our returning King!

    Thank you Bishop for these words. Great encouragement.

  2. Dr. Beacham: Thank you for this articulate and erudite commentary! I am now inspired to explore the Ferguson book you reference, especially since its author draws from visual art to support his thesis. One thinks of the wonderfully bizarre dystopias imagined in the graphic art of M.C. Escher, and cannot help but wonder if they point to the brokenness of our 21st-century landscape.

  3. Diane Toney

    Have always admired your devotion to our Christian beliefs and your ability to express those beliefs eloquently. All of us rest in the hand of God, and that is a blessing.

    I hope that all is well with you and yours.


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