Special: A “brown bag” Bible study and the end of the world

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Speaking of books, how about the Bible?

Of course, you open a can of worms when you bring it up because immediately it raises a host of questions. For example, which Bible? The KJV, NIE, Jerusalem Bible, RSV? Well, these are translations of one and the same book (although when you compare excepts from two different translations it is hard to believe that they came from the same source). And do we mean the Christian Bible  or are we referring to the Jewish Bible? The Jewish “bible” is called the Tanakh (tuh-KNOch), and contains the same books as the Protestant Old Testament, but in a slightly different order. (Just don’t refer to the Jewish Bible as the “Old” Testament.) The Bible is considered sacred by many, an anachronism by some, and a puzzle by any who have actually tried to read the whole thing through.

But I want to focus only on one topic, one that arose in our church’s “brown bag” bible study a week or so ago. We were discussing the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16:28 , wherein Jesus says,“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (New International Version)

A question was raised: did the people living in Jesus’ time think they were living in the end times? The pastor’s answer was “Yes, quite possibly.” If so, the people in Jesus’ time were in good company. If you recall (it was only a month or so ago), thousands of people were actually terrified that the end of life as we know it was drawing near because some Mayan equivalent of Steve Jobs had developed an uncannily accurate calendar–one that ended mysteriously in December 2012! NASA fielded thousands of phone calls from people who actually thought their number was about to be punched because some nameless Mayan ran out of room on his wheel.

Did you ever wonder how many times human beings actually feared that the world was going to end? I did a search on Wikipedia (not always the most reliable source, but not a bad place to start), and discovered that there were no fewer than 51 predictions of the end of the world in the 20th century (Wikipedia warns that the entire list is incomplete). Then came the year 2000, a “millennial” year, and it led to predictions that the end would come on January 1 (Jerry Falwell); others predicted that the antiChrist would use the confusion over Y2K to begin his takeover of the world.

Predictions about the end time weren’t only made by Christians. Some Romans feared that the year 634 BC–the 120th year after the founding of Rome–would signal the end of the republic. When it didn’t happen, they figured that they had misinterpreted the signs and recalculated that it would occur in 389 BC. It didn’t, and I guess people forgot about it. The barbarians were lurking, and they really did spell the end for Rome eventually.

Speaking of recalculating, who can forget Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping’s prediction that the end would come May 21, 2011. It didn’t. Whoops! Harold announced that he had it wrong. It would be October 21, 2011. It wasn’t, and Camping returned to a life of well-deserved obscurity.

Why is that we humans are so sure that the end is coming in our lifetimes, and so quick to believe every nut job who tells us so? We see “signs” everywhere. The climate is changing. Wars are raging in the middle east. Bacteria are winning against some antibiotics. Cats are sleeping with dogs. But you know what, our parents lived through the 30s and 40s and if you think we have it tough look at the horrors of the world back then, and the horrible economic disasters they lived through that make our problems seem like flea flicking. Every era carries dangers with it, horrors of war, famine, political ineptness (although we seem to be more burdened by this than in some years past–but we had it before too and survived!), and economic crises. Could anxiety over our problems lead us to deflect them by announcing  that the whole world is going to hell? Is it easer to throw up our hands in despair than it is to get up each morning and face our reality, whatever it is? If we’re all going down the tubes, is there at least some comfort in knowing we’re not alone?

The world will probably end someday. All things must I suppose. But it won’t be in our lifetime, probably, and no human being will ever be able to predict the time or day. The Bible tells us that, but somehow we don’t often pay attention to the parts that really make sense: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36 (NIV).

One thing, however. The end will definitely come for each one of us. And truly, no one knows about that day or hour. Maybe, instead of worrying over the collapse of creation in some cataclysmic cloud cluttered parade of angels we can neither predict nor do anything about we should pay more attention to what the Bible says about how to live our lives so that, when our time comes, we can leave here without regret.

Yeah, stuff like that is in the Bible too. Perhaps that’s why the book is still a big seller.

Copyright 2013 Isaac Morris

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