What about the end of the world?
Richard R. Crocker
November 30, 2010
What about the end of the world? Is it something we think about? Is it something we should think about?
I seem to spend a lot of time telling students, that it’s not the end of the world. To a student in my writing 5 class who gets a B on her first paper and is absolutely distraught, I say “It’s not the end of the world.” After a student breaks up with a romantic partner, I say “It’s not the end of the world.” When someone has been found “responsible” for a violation of college policy and is suspended from the college for four terms, I say “it’s not the end of the world.” I know, in all of these cases, that it may seem as if the world they have known has suddenly and irrevocably collapsed, but it hasn’t. All of them will live and incorporate this experience into their growth and will have new opportunities for life and love.
But then, in other pastoral and personal situations, it gets harder. When someone has committed a crime and is sentenced to prison, it seems like the end of the world. When a person receives a medical diagnosis for a serious illness, it seems like the end of the world. When a child hears from her parents that they are divorcing, it can seem like the end of the world.
But then, it can be even harder. When you sit with a family whose child has died, it really seems like the end of the world. When you are in a car accident and, through your negligence, have killed another person, it sure seems like the end of the world. These are events form which there is no recovery. Sure, life continues, but the world has, in a sense, ended.
We can say as a people that our collective world sometimes ends. The world for my parents’ generation ended, apparently, on Dec 7, 1941. For this generation of Americans, things changed irrevocably on Sept 11, 2001. Life goes on; the world did not literally end, but something of infinite value was lost.
In Advent, we think about the coming of Christ, the return of Christ, the end of the world. Mark chapter 13 is called the little apocalypse, in which we commonly understand Jesus to be talking about the end of the world. Is he talking metaphorically or literally? Does it matter?
Yes. We know that this world will literally end, eventually, in fire or ice. It can go on for many generations, if we conserve it and act wisely. It could end in a much shorter time if we act stupidly.
But I think the metaphorical interpretation of the end is just as sobering. Our life in this world will end, both literally, when we die, and metaphorically, when we feel as if we have died.
In the season of Advent, we are encouraged to think about the end of the world. It is important. The teaching of Christ leads us to believe in judgment: who we truly are, apart from all our pretention, will stand revealed. It also leads us to believe in a mercy and love that transcend our finitude. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” And those words are the words of eternal life. Amen.