September 20th, 2017

Have you noticed an uptick in stories and posts about the end times? Some people have been reacting to the sequence of fires in the American West, hurricanes in the Atlantic, and earthquakes in Mexico with messages of doom about the immanent approach of the last judgement. (This September 23, by the way, is a popular date among doomsayers, so go drink a milk shake and have chocolate for dinner.)

The spate of disasters has even produced some fairly good religious journalism. NPR broadcast a segment by Tom Gjelten in the wake of hurricane Harvey called “How Natural Disasters Test the Faithful” (September 4). Though he interviewed an array of pastors and named different understandings, he failed to mention one of the most important:  Human sinfulness. Should we blame God when people cover wet lands with concrete or developers build in known flood zones? When the inevitable happens in those areas, the suffering is not God’s fault, it’s ours.

The question of why a good and loving God allows suffering is called theophany. It is a question worth reading about, and well beyond the scope of this musing. But I do want to address the fear factor out there about the last judgement due, according to some, on Saturday.

My beloved professor of Christian theology wrote in his textbook Christian Doctrine that just hearing the phrase “the last judgement” tends to make us think of Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, or other medieval pictures in which some are portrayed floating up toward the clouds while others are left roiling down below. “Why is it that those at the bottoms of such paintings are so much more interesting than those at the top?” he asks. “Is it because the ‘blessed’ are so sweetly, boringly passive, whereas something is at least going on among the ‘damned’?”

He goes on to say that in Biblical thought the judge is not one who rewards some and punishes others. For Christians the judge is Christ, and the end of history is something to be welcomed with joy, since it will be the day “when justice will triumph over injustice, love over hatred and greed, peace, over hostility, humanity over inhumanity, the kingdom of God over the powers of darkness.” On the last day the Creator, Reconciler, Savior, and Renewer will prevail—and that is good news not just for Christians but for everyone.