Saturday, May 28, 2011

Signs of the End

What are some of the signs of the end of days, or the Second Coming? Ever since I was a child I’ve heard people tell me that we are living in the last days because the signs the bible speaks of are being fulfilled daily. And here are some of the things they mention:

“There will be wars and rumors of war.” Even as a child, I knew that there had always been wars. The Old Testament is full of war. There has never been a time throughout history that has been totally free of war and rumors of war. If this is a sign of the end of time it is no wonder that every generation of Christian thought that theirs was the last.

“There will be famine and disease.” Ok, there is famine and disease in the world today. But is it any worse than it has ever been? Actually, no. The pestilence, famine, and horrendous death caused by poverty and poor living conditions are bad in places. But those places are fewer and farther between than at any other point in history. Just consider the bubonic plague. It wiped out a third of the population of an entire continent during the Middle Ages. And there were probably Christians who believed that Christ’s return was being heralded. Consider, too, the debtors’ prisons in England that existed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Consider mandatory child labor in the U.S. prior to the introduction of child labor laws. And consider the famine and pestilence that spread across this country during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. I think today we actually have it quite good, in comparison.

“The earth will shake and there will be natural disasters in diverse places.” Yes, we still have earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. But it’s not like we ever didn’t have those natural disasters. Consider the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy in AD 79. It killed more than 10,000 people. That occurred back when Christianity was still very young. I’m sure many early Christians thought that was a big sign of the end, because most first-generation Christians thought Jesus would return before they died. Even Jesus, himself, predicted the coming of the Kingdom of God within the lifetimes of many of his disciples. His was the first end-of-the-world prediction in the Christian era and the first of many to be wrong. Then there was Krakatoa in Indonesia that erupted and killed 36,000 people in 1883. It produced the loudest explosion in recorded history. I know there were many who thought that was a sign of the end. Tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods have occurred in all past eras. Are they occurring more frequently today? Not according to the USGS and NOAA. Since the world is more populated now, with many more large, sprawling metropolitan areas, and since we now have instant worldwide communication, more people are affected and more people hear about the disasters that do happen. But there are no more of them now than there ever has been.

“There will be false prophets and apostasy.” Well, Harold Camping is certainly a false prophet. I’m tempted here to point out that since prophesy itself is a sham, all prophets are false. But there has always been so-called prophets and soothsayers and today is no different. Consider Nostradamus. He has a large following even today because, just like the prophecies of the bible, some of them sound pretty good if read from a position of hindsight. As for apostasy, that’s actually a good thing. It means people have started thinking more rationally, unless they leave one religion just to join another. But there has always been apostasy, too. A new religion can’t be founded unless its founders leave the religion they were once in. Paul had a terrible time with apostasy, which is why he had to write so many letters to the Corinthians and others. Today’s apostasy is no more insidious than it has been throughout history.

So are the signs of the times really anything new or different? If you are a conservative Christian, the zeitgeist might be to expect Christ’s Second Coming very soon, surely within your generation. But looking at the signs, none of them are new. None of them are even particularly more pronounced or troubling than what they were in the past. They are only new to some because they don’t know their history well enough.

Many Christians don’t look for signs of the end but take a stance of watchful waiting. But, seriously, what are they waiting for? It has been 2000 years folks. Jesus is not coming. Jesus died two millennia ago. He’s still dead, as is everyone else who ever lived in those days. How many more failed predictions and unfulfilled signs will it take before people come to their senses?


+mf said...

This reminds me of an analogy that I use sometimes when discussing this with people.

Imagine a cruise ship out at sea. This cruise ship is hosting two conventions at the same time. On one end of the ship is the Catholic Arch Diocese convention, and at the other end of the ship is a science convention (including various scientists of various disciplines.)

The ship hits a reef and sinks, and all the people wash up on a deserted island. Quite quickly two separate camps begin to emerge based upon the aforementioned two groups.

In this scenario, which group would you join? Which group do you think would offer you a better chance at survival? On the one hand, the science convention has learned men in various scientific disciplines, but on the other hand, the Catholics have... well, they have God on their side, right?

Who would you go with?

This thought experiment forces people to make a choice, like you did with the question on the entrance form. Is one's faith in God such that they would put more trust in that then they would in the education of men in the sciences?

Interesting stuff. For the record, I'd be with the scientists.

Beth said...

Like Aerosmith says, "Same old story, same old song and dance, my friend!"