“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” -T.S. Eliot
We are on the other side of the presidential elections here in the United(?) States of America. But the cultural and political anxiety continues to build. There is a palpable anxiety that we are in trouble as a nation. In this collective mood some of us are praying, some of us are buying chickens – and some of us are stockpiling guns. Stocks are sliding as the money changers turn their attention to the approaching “fiscal cliff”. Many of us sense we are near to some kind of widespread economic shock. Mayan prophecy believers are waiting for the end of the world in December. Preppers, as they are called, are getting ready to run and hunker down for the “Long Emergency”. Environmental scientists are standing with sidewalk prophets both bearing doomsday signs that say “The End Is Near”. It seems we are again at that place where “unknown unknowns” are keeping us awake at night – as we wonder if it’s all going to Hell in a hand basket.
I say it this way: we are collectively anticipating the Apocalypse. It’s like Y2K on steroids – this time with zombies, Islamic Socialists, globalist drones, rising seas, unstoppable pandemics, nuclear war and mystery planets all about to come crashing on our heads. I’m not saying I disagree (or necessarily agree). I have my own version for what I think we will see happen in our generation and even the near future – but my view of things does not involve a bunker and large amounts of ammunition. We are so quick to flip the pages to the end of the book.
But regardless of what your flavor of Doomsday is, I’ve been wondering if maybe the LORD would be inviting us to a different response to current times of crisis, whether they be personal, national or global. And while I still believe in a literal “End of the Age” that will include a “Day of Reckoning” I am coming to realize that obsessively focusing all emotional energy on a cataclysmic end is not really Gospel hope. If we are really going to be grounded in the revelation presented in Scripture and in the message of salvation that Jesus lived and preached we must go further – beyond a morbid longing for final destruction as we fly up the fire escape. How you view the end of the story deeply shapes and informs how you live your life now. That’s why this matters – even if you don’t think the end is near. We all have a view of the future. And from that view we live backwards in the present.
I remember a time as a teenager when my friend and I, with a strange sense of the imminent ending, stood in front of my town house talking about how we weren’t going to go to college because the world would end soon. Not long after, as I struggled as a young adult with little wise guidance in my life, I remember not wanting to open a bank account because of the coming cashless Anti-Christ economic system. I still believe these things will one day be a reality but I think I totally misunderstood the importance of timing. Talk about ideas having consequences!
But what if instead of obsessing over what is ending – we anchored our attention on what is to come? After being by my wife’s side for the six pregnancies and births of our children I find great significance in the words of Jesus when He talked about ‘Birth Pangs”:
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. – (Matthew 24:1-8)
I’m not going to pretend to offer some kind of complete view on eschatology and how to interpret what the Bible says about the end of the world. But I want to point out what I feel is the most amazingly important reality that Jesus touches on here. He says in effect: ‘all these crazy things are going to happen but you still have a ways to go – and actually all those times of upheaval are only the beginning of the transition…” But are we missing the most important truth? Jesus says “these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs”. That means a baby is coming!! Something new is being born!
We can’t know how long the birth pangs will last. Believe me, there were times when my wife kicked into intense labor only to have the action stall. Eventually the baby came but we were along for the ride not knowing how things would progress. My encouragement then is this: There will be a time when GOD makes all things new – there will be a New Heavens and a New Earth but it could be five or five hundred more years. We must live in preparation but we cannot act as if we are in final labor. We must not give way to premature hopes or false despair. We must go beyond focusing on all that will be shaking and place our hope in GOD who is establishing an unshakable kingdom. We must develop a deeper Christian imagination of the future and a theology of hope that can embrace the birth pangs but does not obsess over them.
Like any couple who is anticipating new birth – we the Church, the Bride of Christ, must join Jesus, the Heavenly Bridegroom in preparing a place for this new life to be born and to dwell – that is the real purpose of our Christian communities – to model and embody to the world the coming renewal of all things. No matter when the Kingdom comes, and most likely it will not be tomorrow, we can be carriers of it’s presence today and in every generation going forward- even amidst contractions and shaking. Repent and believe! The beginning is near!
“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” – Isaiah 65:17
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