This week, I talked with my students about eschatology. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it basically refers to one’s beliefs about how this ol’ world is going to be wrapped up, and what happens to people when they die. Does the world end with a bang? Or a whimper? Or something else?
I used to be one of those people who smartly called myself a “pan-millennialist.” It’s all going to pan out in the end, har har har. I didn’t really think much about it for most of my life, and if I did it was with a frisson of panic. I didn’t buy the whole pre-tribulation rapture thing (the idea that God’s going to snatch Christians up out of the world before things get too bad), so eschatology scared the bejeebers out of me because I figured that if I were around when Jesus came back, my life would have sucked real bad for a long time before that. It was not a happy place inside my head, so I just kind of pushed it to one side, comforted myself with the fact that I believed the Scriptures were true and God was kind, and forgot about it.
And then, a couple years ago, I had to teach about it. So I found a few good resources and some good visual aids and summaries of the four major Christian views, and I realized I already believed something about eschatology, and it wasn’t scary at all!
One of the things that came up in the course of my recent conversation with my students was that some of the views of “end times” (though I shudder to use that term) are very optimistic about the world here and now and where it’s headed, and others are very pessimistic. If you think the Scriptures teach that things are getting worse all the time, and that this world is going downhill and headed for destruction, but that believers are going to be zapped out before things get catastrophic and their souls rushed to an eternity-long worship service in heaven… OR if you think the Scriptures point to an age when the Gospel will go forth triumphantly into the nations, and the influence of Jesus’ kingdom will extend and extend and extend until the whole Earth is filled with the knowledge of God and then Jesus will return to judge the world and reign forever on an eternal throne in a renewed creation… how could that not influence your understanding of everything in this life?
So, what do you believe? Is your eschatology optimistic or pessimistic, and why? I’m putting together a quick overview of the four major Christian views, and I’ll tell you why I basically completely reject two of them and bounce indecisively back and forth between the other two. 😉