Home > Features > Living for the end of time

Living for the end of time

Journey continues exploring Brian McLaren’s 10 questions he says are transforming the church. This month we look at the ‘future’ question.

Is the world getting better or worse?

What is the Christian hope for the future?

Does any of this matter to how I live my life?

These are all questions to do with what is known in Christian theology as ‘eschatology’ (the study of last things).

Unfortunately it seems that for many people the answer to the question “does it matter".

Books like Revelation are so foreign to our comfortable middle class lives that we prefer to ignore it and other apocalyptic passages in the New Testament and leave them to the cranks and cultists.

The result is that we no longer know what we believe about ‘the end’ and consequently we are unable to live in the power of hope that is able to sustain faith and love as a living powerful witness to the good news of the gospel of Christ.

Let me give a brief and necessarily caricatured account of two popular ideas about eschatology.

Firstly, that God will help the world grow into the Kingdom of God. The world will get better as history progresses.

Of course hardly anyone believes this today as it is patently untrue. The world is not getting better.

While material living standards and technology have developed beyond our ancestors’ wildest imaginations, humanity’s ability to live in peace and with justice has not.

The 20th century was one of the most violent on record, not only because of the scale of conflicts, but because of their frequency and brutality.

Add to this our power to greatly harm creation through human activity and our inability to live at peace with God’s creation and you do not have much reason to hope for humanity changing into a peaceful and loving people.

Secondly, the idea that the world will get worse before God finally consigns it to the dustbin of history and sends all of us to heaven.

While proponents of this view claim that there is hope – that we go to heaven – it is not a hope that inspires life in abundance.

According to this view, anything we do is hopeless as history is set and all we can do is wait in our lifeboats for the end and throw out life rings to those not yet in our lifeboats.

The good news is that neither of the above has much to do with the teaching of the New Testament.

The New Testament teaches of a hope that is powerful and able to sustain Christians and their communities through periods of darkness, whether they be times of persecution or a fading church.

But it is a hope that is foreign to our comfortable western materialist ration-alistic view of the world.

It is a hope that is able to unveil the brutality of the world and yet remain hopeful.

It is a hope that is able to perceive that times of great suffering will come and go, yet does not lose faith.

It is a hope that knows justice and mercy will never prevail in our world, yet never stops loving. In short it is a hope of “the end”.

It is a hope that knows that one day God will stop history as we know it.

The dead will rise. The martyrs, the innocent suffering, the people who have given themselves to faith, hope and love, will walk with the Lamb and suffering, pain and death will be no more.

But those who have given themselves to greed, violence and hate – they will be no more as will their evil works.

There will be a new creation and humanity will finally be at peace with God, each other and creation, and that day will last for eternity.

So how does this change how we live? It is about knowing that when we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” these are not just words but a statement of what we know will happen and a commitment to live according to God’s future now.

Love, justice and mercy may not reign in this world now – but they will and so we live according to God’s future.

This saves us from trying to save the world; our job is to witness to “the end”.

We need to be a community that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, lives out partially the vision of Revelation 21.

As we live not according to this world, but according to the world to come, our lives and churches will be salt and light in a world full of brokenness and pain.

You might not know much about eschatology and find Revelation and other apocalyptic passages difficult, but I invite you to read Revelation 21 and 22.

They might be strange but they could give you hope
May the vision they ignite inspire us to live faithfully as outposts of God’s future of hope.