How Does it End?
Dec. 1, 2018
What a story we are, evolving as bipedal mammals with opposable thumbs, rising to extraordinary biological “success” on the benefits of brains capable of language and cooperation. We are often critical of ourselves as a species — focusing on our violence, selfishness, and reckless deployment of technologies. Grim views of humanity exist because we compare ourselves to visions of what we could be, but we are always resetting the scale. Every generation feels they live in the most troubled of times. Actually, right now violence, extreme poverty, and hunger across the world are lower than they have ever been. Lifespan, literacy, democracy, wealth, and leisure time are higher now than any other time in history.
Can we continue? Can creativity, market forces, and social structures borne of clashing political theories lead to continued improvement? Maybe. Humans are wildly clever and adaptable. However, factors loom that we have yet to fully face. Our ascendance correlates with extraction of energy — first from domesticated beasts, then from fossilized carbon. Can we replace fossil fuels before we use them up or harm our climate irreparably by burning them? The population of earth is two-and-a-half times what it was when I was born (1960) and is predicted to peak near 10 billion mid-century. Pressures on resources and environment intensify with increasing population, as does the rate at which new human-triggered challenges arise. Can we thrive or even survive through the crest?
To sustain or improve our condition as we approach peak population, humans need to consume responsibly. We need to selectively apply technologies with eyes open wide to the benefits and risks. We need to become better at science-based, collective decision-making (governance). Let’s hope our current dysfunction is only a blip. If we fail, homo sapiens may experience an uncomfortable decline, and nature wouldn’t mourn another extinction.
Humanists understand we are responsible for our future. Some religions narrate a pre-scripted “end” or simply leave it “in God’s hands.” This removes believers’ sense of responsibly and agency and hurts our chances.
How will it end? Life? My life? The world? Doesn’t really make much difference. How will it all end? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say.
Sure, there are stories. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Lakes of eternal fire. The many mansions of God’s house. Choirs of angels around the throne of God. The Messianic banquet and the communion of saints. The heavenly temple of God and the thundering voice of the Most High. Jesus riding on a white horse, his robe dipped in blood. Christ, the Lamb of God, seated with the Father. There are pearly gates. Jeweled walls. Streets of gold. The promise of a life free from suffering and the hope of mortal enemies living in peace.
Some will devote their lives to searching these stories for some clue, some assurance, that when all is said and done, however it ends, they will be in the right place at the right time, and on the right side. Others will use these stories to justify earthly suffering or appease their guilt, trusting that the reward of those who suffer will be great in heaven. Still others will use these stories to mock people who believe in God, calling them irrational or naive. “Where is this house of many mansions?” “Where are these streets of gold?”
But unless you’re a Gnostic, life’s purpose isn’t to know the inner secrets of God. How will it end? What is heaven like? According to Jesus, no one knows these things, not even the Son; only God. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
No, ours is not to know the mysteries of God. Ours is to trust that the God who gave us this precious gift of life will provide for us all the more in the life to come. “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain … ” (Isaiah 11:9a)
Bill is sensible in not seeking a preview of how the world will end by dissecting some rather psychedelic stories in the Bible. But how does he decide where to stop applying that caution? Bill has faith that there is a life after this one and that God will provide for us “all the more” in that life. I assume this belief is rooted in other stories from the Bible (a collection of sometimes imaginative writings of men from a prescientific time, affected by politics of the day, and assembled by committee).
Secular projections of the future also have their limitations, but focusing on using our best understandings to sustain livable conditions here on earth is a rational and caring priority.
Scott, some 3000 years ago, King David made a similar observation. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth ... What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor …” (Psalm 8) To answer your questions, “Can we continue? Can we thrive or even survive through the crest?” Yes! By God’s providence and grace we will not only continue and thrive, we shall become the people God created us to be. All creation shall be made new, in God’s time. As you have identified, faithful stewardship of natural resources and ever-evolving technologies will be required. Collective government, where, as Christ commands, we place the needs of others before our own is also a necessity. King David would agree we have a role in creating our future: “We have been given dominion over the works of God’s hands.” Left to our own devices, we fall short. But with God, all things are possible!
Scott and Bill agree, while life on our planet may come to an end, we don’t know when this may happen or what it might be like. In the meantime, we must carefully and wisely use the resources we have been given, for the good of those now living, the welfare of generations to come, and the health of the environment.