I have to admit something. I often get a little bit annoyed when people start talking about the end of the world. This can be a difficult place to be when you identify yourself as a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian. Our identity is based on the second coming of Christ and historically our focus has been heavily weighted toward the study of prophecy and end time events. Our evangelistic efforts often are based on our study of end-time eschatology. We have our own language that people outside of our denomination don’t understand and we frequently identify current events as another sign that the end is imminent. During my time as a pastor I at times felt a bit out of place with some of my contemporaries and was tempted to feel less spiritual because of the way I approached the topic. The emergence of the coronavirus has brought on a new wave of conversations regarding end time events and so I think it is important to address the way we approach them. Now, if you are passionate about the study of end time events, please stay with me here. I think those conversations are important. However, I’m pretty sure there are some reading this who can identify with the way I have often felt.
When I was younger, I had difficulty with the whole idea of the end times because I struggled to feel like I was, or ever would be good enough. The practical message I had received from many of my interactions at church was that God’s people would essentially be perfect. There was no room for struggles with sin in my own life and while there was grace available to me, eventually that would run out. Eventually I would need to be over this whole sin thing when things started to hit the fan. I also struggled because there were so many things I wanted to do and experience in life, and if the world ended too quickly, I wouldn’t get the chance. I wanted to experience sex.(Teenage Boy) I had aspirations of being a professional skier and wakeboarder (still waiting for those to pan out.) along with other athletic pursuits. I wanted to go on road trips, to travel to exotic places. I didn’t want the world to end before I had a chance to experience all that life had to offer.
As I became older and more “mature” things changed a bit. I began to have a better understanding of who God is and what He has in store for me, both now and after His return. My frustration with the focus on end time events became more practical. We’ve been preaching the imminent return of Christ for almost 180 years. Events such as the World Wars, Vietnam, Cold War, Wars in the Middle East, Y2K, 911, and now Coronavirus are all labeled as the big one. “This time the world is really going to end.” We jump from one event to the next, having to modify as we go when the world doesn’t end. At times this has led to poor business decisions and creates an integrity problem when our predictions don’t pan out. As a fringe millennial (I barely make the cut, depending on what study you read) I think that these and other issues have significantly impacted the way many younger people respond to the discussion of prophecy and end time events.
So, here’s the deal, I believe that discussion of end time events IS VERY important, especially in light of current events. However, I think we need to take a good look at why. When I was a youth pastor, I once had a conversation with one of the parents about the end of time. I mentioned the topic of fear, and her response was a bit disturbing to me. “I want my son to be afraid. Otherwise he may not choose Jesus.” Her idea was that if she could paint a bad enough picture about the world’s demise, she could motivate him to choose Christ. As I listen to the conversations of some of my friends discussing all the bad in the world, it seems like much of what they are saying or posting in their social media is based on fear. Often times it is combined with a call to “get right with God or else.”
However, when I look at prophecy and the message of Jesus, I see something different. The whole point of the story is that GOD WINS. Information about the future wasn’t given to us so that we could predict the next “BIG ONE” and stockpile supplies (toilet paper) for the time of trouble. While it is good to be prepared in case of emergencies, there is no way to physically prepare for the end of the world. Instead, Revelation shows us God’s endgame so we can be encouraged as it plays out. When the world begins to fall apart, we know that the God of the Universe, who loves us more than we can imagine, is looking out for his kids. Jesus came to CAST OUT FEAR. There are 365 VERSES in the Bible where God tells people “fear not”. In the pep talk to His disciples before his death Jesus tells them multiple times, “don’t let your hearts be troubled.” In 1 John 4 when talking about the perfect love God has for us, John reports that PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR. God doesn’t want us to be afraid.
So, what should our response be? The only way to adequately prepare for the future, whether the end is 2 or 2000 years from now, is to develop a relationship with the creator of the universe. We can know all about end time events and still not know the One who is in charge. 1 John 4 describes how we know that He is living in us. “If we love one another, God lives in us…” Love is our natural response when we realize how God feels about us and the sacrifice that He made so that we could be a part of His family. (Check out this sermon by Tye Gibson from Storyline Church for some more interesting thoughts on how love and prophecy are related.)
I can’t tell you if this current crisis will lead to the end or is another “bump in the road” of history. And, I’m not sure if it matters. My pursuit of Christ should be the same regardless of the situation, as should my desire to share the Gospel with others and to help the oppressed. See, if I’m not excited about God and inviting others into a relationship with Him, maybe it is because I don’t have much of a relationship myself. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t be afraid. Take some time to get to know the God who wants nothing more than a friendship with you, not because you have done anything to deserve it, but because you are one of His children.
What is your gut reaction when you hear people talking about the world coming to an end? What is the key to living a life of joy when the future is uncertain? How does love cast out fear? Do you feel like the life modifications you have had to make due to the Coronavirus have made it easier or more difficult to connect with God? How can we work to end suffering in our communities? How can we as individuals and as churches use the current challenges to become stronger?
Sound off below!