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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The ends of the world

The world has been a crazy, chaotic place for the last few days.  We've had a shooting (last Friday) in Connecticut that has dominated the news and people's thoughts.  We're coming up on the apocalyptic end of the Mayan calendar (this coming Friday) so the world is supposed to end.

I had to chuckle this morning -- rereading some old journals and ran across this quote:

May 21, 2011
Today the world was supposed to end, according to some radio ministry guru who’s been putting up billboards and causing a bit of a flap.  We’re eight hours past his deadline now and things still seem to be ticking along.  

It's easy to get sucked into either or both of these apocalyptic scenarios.  In one, a lone gunman violates the innocence of an elementary school in an unthinkable act of violence.  This horror makes us cold right down to our bones, and we begin to surrender to fear for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  We mentally wring our hands (very few people actually physically wring their hands anymore) and wonder what kind of a world it's becoming.

In the other, ancient wisdom sees far ahead into the 21st century and predicts the end of all things.  (NOTE: For what it's worth, the whole end-of-the-world thing is based on faulty cultural understandings and lousy reasoning.  The world has no more chance of ending on Friday than it does any other day.  Besides, I have friends in southeast Asia who are about 12 hours ahead of us -- they have promised to let me know if the world ends and, if I hear about it, I will post on this blog ASAP.  So faithful readers will have a few hours' notice at least.)

The world has always been a violent, tragic place, as any student of history can tell you.  That's not an excuse to be jaded -- I have wept like many of you for the crushing weight of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary -- but it pays in times like these to study history.  Things were not better back when Herod killed every child under two years of age in the region of Bethlehem.  Things were not better when the Jewish patriots killed their wives and children before they killed themselves atop Masada.  Things were not better in the middle of the 20th century when Hitler sent Jewish children into the ovens with their parents or when Stalin sent Russian children to the gulag with their parents.  

And the world has always fallen prey to stories of the end of the world.  We love to listen to Chicken Little ("the sky is falling, the sky is falling!") if only for the adrenaline rush he gives us.  Time after time the faithful in one form or another have sold their possessions and gathered on a hill outside town to wait for The End.  There is some comfort, I think, in the feeling that while all things are about to be destroyed, we are at least part of a grand drama.

Our greatest fear, perhaps, is that T.S. Eliot was right, that the world ends "not with a bang but a whimper."  (His poem "The Hollow Men" is always worth a slow, ponderous read.)

So how could Paul, writing between Herod's slaughter of the innocents and the Jewish tragedy at Masada, write, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us"?

The task of the Jesus-follower is not to be distracted by the tragedies of this world or by the predictions of its end.  We are to focus our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and follow him, come what may.  With him we are brokenhearted in the face of grim tragedies.  With him we go open eyed into the apocalyptic possibilities of the future.  Our job is not to control things but to follow him, to trust him, in the midst of things we often do not understand.

There are certainly things to be said about gun control and about mental illness and about the end of the world.  But that's for another post.  Today, fix your eyes on Jesus:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

That vision does not remove us from this world, but draws us back into the world, engaged with the needs and the brokenness with God-given courage and hope.  It's the only way we do this world any good, however long it lasts.

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