Friday, March 11, 2011

Do Earthquakes Like Japan's Suggest the End of the World?

Matthew's Gospel reads:

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”  And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray.  For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.  And 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. (Matt. 24:3-8)
The common interpretation is that Jesus was giving us signs to look for as harbingers of the end of the world. I don’t think that this is correct.
For one, it would be very inconsistent with His firm, explicit instructions from the same discourse not to worry about or to look for when the end is coming. In fact, in this quoted passage, He actually seems to be cautioning His listeners that reading into these kinds of events can lead one astray.
However, another interpretation of His words exists which is consistent with these messages, namely, one could understand the passage such that Jesus is telling His disciples precisely that these kinds of events are not signs of the end. Remember, He is speaking here to a group of mainly Jews living in an age and with a theological outlook wherein every negative event was taken as a sign of God’s anger. These are the people who asked Jesus whose sin was responsible for a man’s blindness, and who assumed that the fall of the tower in Siloam was yet another punishment. Moreover, He knows that within a generation the terrible disasters of Nero and the destruction of the Temple were to come. It is this people to whom He’s trying to give His message not to see the end of the world behind every falling rock or crashing tower and so be led astray.
Thus, it seems probable to me that His message was, rather than that the terrible events He lists are signs of the end, that they are just simply everyday events which will happen time and time again as the years carry on. “Over the thousands of years until my return,” He says in a sense, “there will be many earthquakes, wars, and famines. These are normal. They don’t mean the end is near.”
And indeed history has been filled with wars, famines, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other such events, and there will be more in the future. I have seen claims there more occurring now than in the past. I don't have the data to evaluate that claim, but if it is true, so what? Geology and climatology are defined by long cycles of increased and decreased activity. If we are in a cycle of increased activity, all the more reason to pray and be vigilant that we may be ready when Christ calls us by name and demands of us an accounting – but no reason to read in these things that the end is near. I dare say Christ told us not to.


Matt Calvey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Calvey said...

Ugh, typos.

Shane says "Sola Dei Caritas", Martin Luther says "Sola Fide". Who has the right of it?