The end of the world is not the end of the story

  • Ken Gilmour
  • 13 January 2020

Have you been unsettled or alarmed by anything in the news recently? Hardly a day goes past when we don’t read or hear some disturbing report. The build-up of nuclear weapons, an economic meltdown, global warming… We cry “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”—but praying for Christ’s return is often portrayed by some as a cop-out, an excuse not to work for justice or care for the environment. And while scientists have come around to the biblical notion that the health of the earth has a connection to humanity’s actions, most are reluctant to go the next step and see that the heart of man is the core problem.

We need to be clear, with Christians and non-Christians alike, that God created our world good and gave humans the task of caring for it and each other, as well as enjoying his creation. In 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 he punishes Israel for not treating their land respectfully and gives it rest. The Bible isn’t to blame for the sinful way we have treated the earth, because it makes it clear that the degradation of the land and the exploitation of the vulnerable are symptoms of the underlying disease: a turning away from the one true God to serve self and man-made gods. 

A great book for these troubled times, Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians instructs us on how we should respond to fears around the world ending. In chapter 2, Paul makes it clear what Christians ought to do: stand firm. He says don’t be “shaken in mind or alarmed” (v. 2); don’t let end-of-the-world reports disturb your faith. God calls us to stand firm against those who are aiming to distract us and bring us down.

In verses 13 and 14 we are then reminded of seven truths about who we are in Christ—the basis on which we stand:

  1. Brothers and sisters: We are not alone; we stand as a body, a family bound together in Christ: Let’s not imagine we stand on our own.
  2. Loved by the Lord: We stand in the unfailing, eternal love of Jesus; we are surrounded, protected, led, supported.
  3. Chosen by God as firstfruits: Firstfruits were set aside as holy to the Lord. He has lifted us out of the morass and set us apart as his own, for his purposes.
  4. Saved: Set free, no longer enslaved to lawlessness and self, we are forgiven.
  5. Sanctified, cleansed by the Spirit: He is at work in us, transforming us, cleaning us up, empowering us in the present
  6. Believers of the truth: Jesus has opened our eyes, and we are no longer captive to delusions but are able to see through the world’s empty displays and the clever arguments.
  7. Called to share in the glory of Jesus Christ: Our future is clear. God has a grand purpose for us, so we don’t need to be crippled by fear for the future.

So, says Paul, on the rock-solid basis of those glorious truthsstand firm.

How? By feeding on God’s word, he explains in verse 15, letting it dwell richly in you, meditating on it. Let it shape your thinking and your reasoning and your reacting, your responding and your relating. Then, even amid turmoil, you will not be shaken. In verse 16, Paul then prays for his readers. We would do well to be constantly praying for ourselves and each other, since it is only with God’s help that we can stand. Our prayers should combine thanksgiving for what Jesus has already done for us, trust in his encouragement and strength, and the desire that God will empower us to obey him through good deeds and words.

Based on all this, who could possibly be in a better position than a Christian to live modestly, humbly, generously; who could be in a better position to consume less, to put self aside and care for others? We are enabled by God to take the very actions that some accuse us of avoiding. But we do it for very different reasons.

What is the root cause of all the injustice, all the exploitation, all the greed, all the consumer frenzy, all the conflict, all the self-indulgence that drains the earth’s resources and crushes the vulnerable? It is the mystery of hearts turned away from the Creator, people living for themselves and their own satisfaction in the here and now, denying any eternal responsibility, any eternal reality, any eternal and absolute truth. Sin is not recognized as sin, so saving the planet can only ever be a temporary stay of destruction. If this earth is all there is, any hope we have is temporary at best (and where do we get any moral imperative to limit our own enjoyment of it for the sake of some future generation)?

Only truth of Jesus saves, only the truth of Jesus lasts. The Bible never makes the mistake of thinking that life is all about me—or for me, by me, able to be rescued by me—nor that it is all about material things, the here and now. God has a glorious plan with Jesus at its centre, because the end of this world is not the end of the story.

Note the double nature of the Christian standing firm: the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth (v. 13) is echoed in “good work and word” (v. 17). On the one hand, this world desperately needs Christians to stand firm for right, for good, for justice. It needs to see Christians taking the lead in social justice and in care for God’s creation, modelling contentment with God’s provision through modesty, generosity, self-control, calmness and joy.

But on the other hand, the world needs Christians to stand firm in proclaiming truth even when it’s unpopular, when Satan twists it and misrepresents it as he did in Eden. Christians should stand out as those who have a deep, unwavering conviction of Christ since the real ‘inconvenient’ truth that saves the world is that there is real hope in Christ, because only the cross of Christ can change and heal human hearts—where the core problem lies—and only the resurrection of Christ gives us the assurance that greed and death will not have the last say.

So let’s stand firm in the word and prayer, reflected through lives lived humbly due to the cross. Let us live like the firstfruits, caring for the world here but looking forward to the forever life to come.