“Apocalypse Not.” This is the title of the cover article for the September 2012 issue of Wired Magazine. The cover illustration depicts a clever image of the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb with its upper cap altered into the full branches of a lush, green tree. It is subtitled: “Climate collapse. Mass starvation. Deadly pandemics. Get a grip. Why the world won’t end in 2012 . . . or anytime soon.”
Focusing, as it has for 20 years, on fringe science, speculative technology, and omnipresent popular culture, Wired has frequently addrssed the fascination over the apocalypse. Two years ago it featured a “14-Page Tour of the Apocalypse” (the number 14 having no apparent symbolic significance). One of the columns in this extended feature outlined the history of the scriptural Book of Revelation, from which, it is well-recognized, the concept of the apocalypse originated. That article was complete with an illustration of a red dragon with seven heads: “How John of Patmos’ nightmare spread like a virus—the most entertaining virus ever.”1 By “entertaining,” the columnist cites the frequent depiction of apocalyptic themes in music, literature, film, the Internet, and gaming.
Apparently there are powerful cultural forces like Silicon Valley and Hollywood that are willing to venture forth into inspired subject matter where some otherwise serious students of Scripture fear—or refuse—to tread. And the result of all this attention has led to a universal absorption with end times. One dire prediction of the end of humankind inevitably follows the passing of another. Radio evangelist Harold Camping’s ominous warnings for 2011 have passed, and now it’s the Mayans in 2012. Our culture has become characterized by one writer as just a bunch of “apocaholics.”
The occasion for the reference to the apocalypse in this most recent issue of Wired is the current interest arising from predictions of the end of the world in December 2012 based on some interpretations of the Mayan calendar. “Apocalypse Not” updates the four horsemen of the Book of Revelation to four natural modern-day categories of possible apocalypse: chemicals (DDT, CFCs, acid rain); diseases (bird flu, AIDS, Ebola); people (population, famine); and resources (oil, water, metals). Those who have predicted the end of the world by interpreting the Mayan calendar have not claimed that existence would simply cease in a poof! There is no mention of the supernatural. They have asserted that on or about December 21 some kind of cataclysm will bring humankind to extinction. People will become extinct, they say, not the Earth itself.
By the time of this writing—only a couple months before the significant December 21, 2012, date—the fears of the general public about what the Mayan calendar expects to happen at that time have been allayed almost entirely by responses from scientists, historians, and theologians.2 But the possibilities still make for “entertaining” reading to many who are always interested in the next big thing.
All of which, of course, has created an atmosphere in which it is challenging to represent the authentic scriptural interpretation of the apocalypse. The end times have become dissociated from reality or from significance. The underlying theme in popular culture is usually an emphasis on survival. How will the central figure somehow overcome the end of the world? And the answer is usually dependent on human ingenuity, resilience, resourcefulness. Seldom, if ever, is the apocalypse related in any way to God.
To one degree or another, we are all swimming in the current of popular culture. We are immersed in images and ideas of those depicted in the entertainment industry. So how do serious students of the end times engage? How do they communicate to anyone who will truly listen that the end times are actually an essential chapter in the cosmic conflict in which Satan is doing all he can to destroy us and God loves us and is doing all He can to save us?
This is a concept that is quite alien at first glance. If the apocalypse means only the extinction of humanity, let’s face it: Annihilation doesn’t sound all that appealing. A memorable line from Bill Watterson’s classic Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: “It’s not the pace of life I mind. It’s the sudden stop at the end.”
But the Christian worldview offers a hope—an assurance—that the sudden stop at the end of all things is only an opening of the prospect of a great new beginning. This is a concept that has even been difficult at times for Christians themselves to embrace, because they know that with the apocalypse will come judgment. And all this is solidly scriptural.
So Christians could well find themselves in a situation much like that of the apocaholics: setting aside one danger (extinction) only to face the possibility of the next (judgment). It isn’t difficult to look forward to a sudden stop of all the disease and deceit and death and destruction that goes on all around us. But then what? Judgment.
“Fear as a universal human reaction toward divine judgment,” writes theologian Jiří Moskala, “is understandable because we know that God is holy . . . and a consuming fire . . . , and we are sinners. . . . Consequently, we cannot possibly stand before the awesome Judge of the Universe. . . . At the bottom of our negative thoughts lies the conviction of our insufficiency and sinfulness.”3
Judgment is something to be feared, especially when you know you’re guilty! Going on trial isn’t something you’d volunteer for if you know you’ve broken the law. And, according to Scripture, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, NKJV, italics supplied).
But as is so often the case, there is great paradox in Christianity. All have sinned, but Jesus has died for all. In Christianity, this is the very definition—the ultimate expression—of Divine love.
“Judgment is a revelation of God’s love,” writes Daniel Duda, “and God wants us to love Him, because He first loved us. ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love’ (1 John 4:18, NIV). When we are able to accept a proper understanding of the judgment, we can then experience joy in our lives and a better relationship with God.”4 As the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5: 11, we may “comfort each other and edify each other” (NKJV).
When Wired Magazine asserts that “the world won’t end in 2012 . . . or anytime soon,” it is seeking to address the fear that arises from this so-called “entertaining virus” prompted by the idea of an apocalypse. For many that may be enough. But those who respond to the grace and love of God will question the “anytime soon” and will look forward with the greatest hope to the world’s end—and beyond.
4. Daniel Duda, “One Thousand Years,” in Experiencing the Joy (Stanborough Park, England: Seventh-day Adventist Church in the British Isles, 2010), p. 281.