Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Ready for the Apocalypse” first appeared in the May 2003 issue of Touchstone.
Ready for the Apocalypse
I blush to say that I was one of the people who thought Y2K might mean a world’s end—some kind of ending anyway. Not to the extent of a friend who talked about converting all her assets to gold coins and digging a well in her suburban yard. But at that time, I was one of those who thought Y2K might have significant impact and who took the time to think through and picture what it would look like if everything went kerflooey.
Now all that looks like a dress rehearsal. Likewise for the days after 9/11, when we all thought a second blow was imminent. Now things are bubbling again, not just politically but perhaps also spiritually, and some suspect the end is at hand. Of course, there is no lack of signs for those who have eyes to see, but maybe there always has been. I don’t know that there are more signs now than on any day in the last 2,000 years. But it’s going to be the Last Day someday, that’s for sure, and it’s closer now than ever.
How should we then live? It seems to me that there are three possibilities:
1. Things stay mostly the same, as between 9/11 and today. In that case, just go on prayerfully making the wisest plans you can. You might want to keep or change a job, sell or buy a house, regardless of what future world history holds.
2. It’s the End of the World. Jesus is coming back. In that case, cancel that appointment to change your hairstyle. Honestly, nothing is going to matter. Don’t move, don’t change jobs, don’t tell your broker to sell. Jesus especially warned that it would be tough on those who are pregnant or nursing babies. Just tell everybody you love ’em, make friends with your enemies, forgive everyone who ever hurt you, and sit tight.
3. It’s the end of the world as we know it. There is going to be war, and it will not take place solely overseas. We will see effects in our homeland. This alternative is maddening to plan for because the extent is completely unpredictable. What’s more, the extent of the “end” today might not be as bad as what lies ahead a year or two years or a decade further along. Or, as with 9/11, a disaster might be followed by a return to near normal and swift rebuilding. No way to predict, so no way to plan.
Picture the range. There might be nuclear winter with a rare few damaged survivors (the equivalent, as far as we’re concerned, of no. 2). There might be germ warfare, with those who are immune and so survive reuniting to create a civilization again (rent The Stand to see how this might work out in practice). There might be just one terrible decade after another of reduced resources, misery, and terror—and at the same time, buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, babies and funerals, and life continuing somewhat as we know it now, though limping and frequently sad.
Times like these are good for the soul, because uncertainty is a good thing—rousing, focusing, stimulating, compelling us to face ultimate priorities. Complacency and comfort is what we’ll seek ten times out of ten, but it’s not nearly as good for us. Of course, times like these are also extremely uncomfortable, if not outright distressing. That’s when it’s good to remember in Whom we have trusted. We can’t see a speck of anything that lies ahead, not predictably. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we see Jesus. The more we keep our attention fixed on him alone, the more we can rest in certainty of what the ultimate End will be.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is a columnist for Beliefnet.com and a contributor to the Christian Millennial History Project multi-volume series. Her books include At the Corner of East and Now (Putnam), The Illumined Heart (Paraclete Press), and The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer (Paraclete Press). She lives in Linthicum, Maryland, with her husband Fr. Gregory, pastor of Holy Cross Orthodox Church. They have three children and three grandchildren.
“Ready for the Apocalypse” first appeared in the May 2003 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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