We have a strange promise from Scripture: history will end in utter catastrophe.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people… As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth; with perverted minds they falsify the faith (2 Tim 3:1-5, 8)
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mt 24:6-8)
This flies right in the face of our dominant way of seeing the world. We believe in progress! In change! In building a better world! We believe that we will build (we must!) the perfect Paradise that we so long for.
God’s devastatingly clear word to us reveals something quite different.
The conception of the ‘reign of the Antichrist’… makes it clear that it will be we ourselves who bring about the end of history.
According to the unanimous information of tradition, the outward ‘success’ of this [Antichrist] regime will be immense; its success will be a great apostasy… “As in the days of Jesus of Nazareth, Herod and Pilate, Pharisees and Sadducees were drawn into friendship by their enmity to Christ, so in the days of the Antichrist everything that is called World will unite against Ecclesia.” The enemy of the World will be the Church; Thomas Aquinas seems to case the circle still wider, one might almost say more hopelessly, when he says, “that final persecution,” whose prototypes are the “persecutions of the Church in this age,” will be directed “against all good men.” The final form within history of the relationship between the State and the Church will not be “controversy,” and not really “conflict,” but persecution, that is to say, the combating of the powerless by the power. The way in which victory will be won over the Antichrist, however, is by the blood-testimony. (End of Time)
God has turned the world over to men to do with as they see fit. This is the terrible dowry of freedom, which necessarily involves the possibility of abuse.
The world ending in total disaster? Nothing is more natural than to find this notion terrifying. And nothing is more understandable than to wish simply to drive such thoughts out of one’s mind. But, what use is there in denying God’s promises? We must accept it; but, also challenging ourselves with this question:
What reason do we have to hope if we must expect temporal history to end in catastrophe?
For starters, because it is tremendously comforting that Jesus says this:
When these things begin to happen, stand erect and hold your heads high, for your deliverance is near at hand. (Lk 21:28)
The main reason for hope is that this is the end of history, but it is not the end end. It is the “birth-pangs,” the labor that must happen to bring about supreme joy. And in that “New Earth”…
Not one iota, not one jot or tittle of everything in this life which was good and right, just, true, beautiful, fine and salutary will ever be lost. “The world will be harvested and the harvest will be brought home”… but… it will not be brought home “by mankind itself.”
And the fact that we screw it all up eventually and that our ecstatic transformation doesn’t come about by our own merit, is actually a very good thing. It is, in fact, what preserves our hope.
Hope is always directed toward something which we cannot achieve ourselves. Thus when we are talking about something which we can bring about ourselves… we are in fact not talking about hope. Furthermore – and this is the most important fact to bear in mined – human hope (not hopes, but hope, which is always singular) is directed toward an ultimate and perfect satisfaction of desire. What we truly hope for is: fullness of life; the restoration or healing of man; a homeland, a ‘coming home’, a ‘kingdom’; ‘Jerusalem’; the absolute satisfaction of all our needs; beatitude of a kind we have never known before.
Do you feel the world shaking? It sure looks like ultimate catastrophe is right around the corner; but, then again, the world has looked that way before. No one knows the time or the hour. But, either way, brothers and sisters, as disciples of Jesus we must a) expect different things from history than the world does and b) thus, look to the future differently. We must look at a catastrophic end to history with hope, with a certain, “Yeah, of course it ends that way, but I can’t wait for what comes after”. We may still be nervous, to be sure, but ever hopeful, ever joyful, ever reliant on the Spirit to get us through.
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)
Be strong and courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed. God will be with you and will never forsake you. (Joshua 1:9)
Note: all quotes in this post, unless otherwise specified, were taken from the chapter entitled, The Art of Not Yielding To Despair from Josef Pieper’s Anthology.