Fifty years ago people might occasionally have seen a miserable looking man wearing three large placards walking the streets of cities like London, declaring the end of the world was nigh. Today’s apocalyptic message of doom is promoted by the media twenty four hours every day. Throughout history there have been many times when people became aware of human vulnerability even the possibility of the extinction of homo sapiens. But today it must be true, that against the background of greater and greater scales of human power and far larger populations, such feelings of individual frailty and impotence will feel ever greater.
In addition we are experiencing the convergence of a whole series of threats at the same time from global warming, species extinction, social disorder, floods, fire, earthquakes and more, all in the context of a world pandemic. It can hardly be a surprise that mental health issues are increasing or that the young are too frightened to bring babies into the world. These grave matters must be taken seriously, while at the same time knowing that fatalism has been a regular feature of human history from the earliest times and also that there will be some religious sects who too readily become tempted to use present day events to claim knowledge of the mind of God. The end times have frequently been a fertile ground for fringe sects to distort and mislead the anxious and vulnerable.
For Christians Advent has been a time to look again at the Church’s consistent understanding and responses to any critical times. The extract from chapter 21 of St. Luke’s gospel is set in the context of a critical time before the Lord’s death when Jesus had said, “there will be signs….stress among the nations…men’s hearts will fail…” With such passages it would be too easy to cull predictions of the events taking place now, as some sects have done without referencing the context or the overall Apostolic teaching.
These remarks of Jesus were prompted when he saw a poor widow offering her pennies to the Temple treasury which was more than adequately adorned with beautiful jewels and treasures and where privileges of the scribes and injustice had been the subject of the Lord’s criticism. Jesus foresaw the collapse of this temple and its empty religion and the need for godly living to return. When Luke was writing thirty years later, the Temple had indeed been destroyed AD70 by the Romans, and Christians were facing persecution. Luke’s task was to offer hope and support to the faithful by recalling the warnings that Jesus had given of the collapse of the temple and Holy City and the trials and desolation that would follow. All of the followers of Jesus needed to know that judgement would often follow evil and they should remain confident in the Lord’s victory over evil and his promises never to forsake them to be alert and watchful and above all not to give in to despair as those without faith who are easily deceived and paralysed by fear. These passages are written to build courage and strength among the fledgling churches and not to fan the flames of doom.
Although religion has often been linked to the end times, some may have imagined that science and technology would deal a fatal blow to these things. Yet it is science itself that now seems to be fuelling the prophet of doom. Christians must remember that our battle is the same as that of Jesus between good and evil, truth and lies, life and death. That behind the science and politics these abound in the cultures of unbelief that give rise to increasing psychopathic social behaviour, lawlessness and criminality committed by States practicing torture and an ever more monstrous culture of death. These too are the signs of decline which we must confront, for “he who endures will be saved”.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal