SOUDER: The end of the world as we know it

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That sounds like the title of a song -- which it is -- but it's also a very topical discussion.

By Chuck Souder

I take today’s title from an R.E.M. song of similar name, a song my fourth-grade son spontaneously began singing at the breakfast table on Monday morning when he saw the headline about the tragic tornado in Joplin, Mo. Though he meant it to bring comic relief to an otherwise terribly unfunny event, his mother was not amused.

The end of the world has long been a popular topic, from the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, to a whole slate of apocalyptic movies: Armageddon, End of Days, The Day After Tomorrow, I am Legend, Mad Max, Water World, Independence Dayand Deep Impact, just to name a few.

Most recent is the movie 2012, which highlights the fact that the Mayan calendar (and so, presumably, the world) ends next year.

Unfortunately, the Mayan end date of Dec. 21 is about 6 weeks too late to save us the headache of another election cycle, but that’s the trouble with these end-times predictions – they always come at inconvenient times.

Even without the movies, the end of the world has been in the news a lot lately, particularly with the highly publicized prediction by Harold Camping that the Rapture was to take place last Saturday.

While knowledgeable Christians knew that Camping’s bold statements would be proven false and were saddened for those who had been taken in by his claims, those who are enemies of God used the occasion to ridicule Christians generally.

Regarding the end of the world, the Bible is very clear about at least two things: One is that it will happen; the other is that no one will know specifically when.

Jesus’ own words in Matthew chapters 24 and 25 make both things plain. However, though Jesus said we couldn’t know exactly when He would return, He also said we could know the general time frame.

Using examples such as the birth pains of a pregnant woman and fruit appearing on a tree, Jesus makes it clear that though you can’t know the exact date and time of either of those things, you can certainly know the season in which they will occur.

e goes on to list several events that will happen before the end that, like birth pains, will give us hints that the end is in fact on its way.   

Some of the things on Jesus’ list include “wars and rumors of wars” and “famines and earthquakes in various places.”

With the escalation of hostilities in the Middle East and the cycle of weather-related disasters around the globe in recent months, it’s no wonder some are beginning to sit up and take notice.

Of course, it should be noted that Christians have always thought that the end could be imminent.

However, the reality is that, as my dad always said when we asked “Are we there yet?” on a long car trip, “We’re closer than we’ve ever been.”

Interestingly, Jesus also predicted that in the days leading up to the end people would make false claims, and that those false claims would be the basis for ridicule and disbelief for those who mock God and reject Christianity.

In the past week, we have once again seen those predictions come true, and I’m sure they will continue to prove true as the time draws nearer.

So when will the end of the world come?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that it is coming – maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, next month, or next year or maybe not for100 years.

The illustrations that Jesus uses in Matthew 25 make one thing clear: Because we don’t know when the end will come, we must be ready at all times.

This spirit of readiness was epitomized by St. Francis of Assisi. While working in his garden one day he was asked, "What would you do if you suddenly learned that you were going to die at sunset today?"

He replied, "I would finish hoeing my garden." 

My fear is that most of us aren’t quite as prepared.

I heard about a Bible study group that was discussing the possibility that the end of the world was looming when the leader declared, “The end of the world will come someday, and none of us really know when.  But, if we did know when it was going to happen, I believe we would all do a better job of preparing ourselves for that inevitable event.”

When everybody nodded their heads in agreement, the leader then asked, “What would you do if you knew there were only four weeks until the end of the world?”

One man said, “I would go out into the community and preach the Gospel to those that have not yet accepted Jesus as their savior.”

Another person spoke up and said enthusiastically, “I would dedicate all of my remaining time to serving God, my family, my church, and my fellow man with a greater conviction.”

“That’s wonderful!” the group leader said, and all the group members agreed that these would be very good things to do. 

When the conversation began to wind down, one gentleman in the back finally spoke up.

“If I knew the end of the world was coming in four weeks” he said, “I would go to my mother-in-law’s house.”

Everyone was puzzled by this response, so the group leader asked, “Why would you go there?” The man replied, “Because that would make it the longest four weeks of my life!”

What about it? Are you ready for the end of the world?

Or do you need to get things right with God before then? The whole title of the R.E.M. song I mentioned earlier is “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, that song title can actually be our reality.  

On the other hand, there’s always your mother-in-law’s house.


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org.