From the Pulpit, 2/11/1983.
Reflections on the End of the World.
Martin Marty, the church historian and sociologist, a few years ago made the statement that just as the end of the first millennium say a marked rise of fanatical groups not only predicting the end of the world, but acting upon that assumptions, we could expect a similar outburst of doomsday and revolutionary groups as we approach A.D. 2000.
Actually there has been a long procession of those who thought the end would be within their lifetime. Calabrian abbot Jaochim of Fore (1145-1202) predicted the beginning of the “Age of the Spirit” in 1260. William Miller, a New York farmer, calculated things would wind up before March 21, 1844.
It is exciting to think you have broken the code of Biblical prophecy and know the secret schedule of coming events. History shows that those who can offer concrete timetables will attract an enthusiastic following. Such enthusiasm is mistaken in its assumptions about scriptural imagery, which was never intended to provide us arithmetic for future dates. Certainly it is presumptuous to assume we have access to knowledge of the when’s and where’s of the future, when Christ said such things were not known even to him. Further, the assumption that the future is already fixed, that the choices are already locked-in, is doubtful. If the future already exists, as something more than a possibility it is no longer that which will be fresh from God’s creative hand, and our freedom is illusion.
The Bible pictures God’s purposes as unswerving, but his methods as flexible and responsive to, even patient with, human freedom. God is still the Creator. He can improvise as he works out his eternal purposes through this time and space and beyond them. There are many things which we cannot know because the do not yet exist to be known. There are many things which we do not need to know in order to trust the Father.
The results of human freedom have brought us and bring us still to real crises in history. That humanity though sustaining grave losses got through these crises till this day is no proof of our indomitability, but a testimony to God’s grace. But never before have humans had the option of totally destroying humanity and brining history to an end. This makes contemplation of the end a completely different thing.
Whether God will save us from ourselves in the growing gloom of the nuclear arms race, we dare not presume.
But it was never up to us to guess the end of history, still less to remove all guessing b y ending it ourselves or sitting idly by while others do. Though our wight may seem small, it is still ours to throw on the balance. We can add it to the side of peace.
We must act, St. Augustine counseled, as if everything depended on us, and pray as if everything depended on God.