The abounding of (secular) apocalyptic visions

Unsplash/Joseph Chan
Unsplash/Joseph Chan

Two years ago, the elite sages who comprise the World Economic Forum looked into their crystal ball, observed twirling chaos within the nations, and concluded that the “changes we have already seen in response to COVID-19 prove that “a (global) reset of our economic and social foundations” is possibly before us. 

Two weeks ago, it was the Secretary-General of the United Nations warning us that the world is nearing a “pivot point”.

Last week Joe Biden, president of the United States, declared that the nations are at an “inflection point”.

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Apocalyptic proclamations abound everywhere these days.

“Apocalypse” is from the Greek word, apokalupsis, referring to the lifting of a curtain, or veil. The secular world, rejecting the Bible’s divine inspiration and its revelations of what’s behind the veil of time and history, nevertheless has a need to try to punch some peepholes in the “curtain.”

After all, as Solomon wrote, God has put “eternity” in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We suspect there is something deeper than what we experience through the five senses. That desire to discover the unseen is healthy because it drives us to science and the quest for knowledge.

Yet apart from the Holy Spirit and because of human vanity, the vision is obscured, and hence men and women are driven to imagining and “re-imagining” the trajectory of time and its segments.

Therefore, “reset”, “pivot”, and “inflection”, are all before us.

At least.

Apocalyptic visions abound, and so do apocalyptic questions, like:

  • How does the “end” come?
  • Is it telos (achieving of a great purpose) or termination?
  • What does “reset”, “pivot”, or “inflection” look like?
  • Who leads in this global re-imagining?

One might say these are “kingdom” issues since their provenance is the Kingdom of God and its future global manifestation as revealed by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

Here, then, is the hope and the danger.

The hope is for the attributes of the Kingdom of God to characterize all the nations: righteousness-justice, peace, and Spirit-given joy. (Romans 14:17)

And the Bible reveals that all these characteristics are transcendent in their source. The human cannot make all this happen by enthroning himself-herself as God, but receiving God’s transforming presence in his and her inner being.

The Bible describes a radical reset... pivot... inflection... reimagining of the world as one in which “(t)he wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf, the lion, and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them." (Isaiah11:6-8)  And people will swap their weapons for farming implements (Isaiah 2:4).

Therefore, the new world under the “government” of the Prince of Peace will be one that is without exploiters and predators. The absence of exploitation and predation changes everything.

All this is because men and women will operate through the “eternity” within their hearts rather than the hell that sometimes drives their souls and bodies.

Humans in that new world will aspire to this higher quality of living and relating because they have been filled, not with imaginings, but by the very Word of God because “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-9)

Religious leaders asked Jesus when this new world would come. He answered: “The Kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar... Nor when someone says, ‘look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’. And why? Because God’s Kingdom is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21 NLT)

Jesus was not speaking institutionally, but personally. He was the bearer of the Kingdom attributes into the world.

Contemporary prognosticators look first and primarily at function, but Jesus’s focus is on the ontological. Function is what we do; ontological centers on what we are in our essential being.

The secular apocalyptic visions all prize function over being.  History reveals just how frightening this is. When the human seeks to unveil and establish a new vision, the result always degrades into authoritarianism and tyranny.

Jesus calls for inner transformation of the person, resulting in actions consistent with His Kingdom, not human regimes. But when the reset, pivot, inflective re-positioning, re-imagining—whatever— are prescribed by people “without chests” (to borrow a concept by C.S. Lewis) the vision of the future is grim.

That was the surprising conclusion of a writer in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2007: “Secular eschatological visions... have been responsible for more death and destruction in the twentieth century than the minor mischief cause by religious visions of the end.”

Along with the more obvious scary visions like Hitler’s dream of the global empire known as the “Fourth Reich” and a Marxist quest for a classless society, there is also in the West the imagining of the myth of progress through materialism and the market.

It is no wonder that Solomon, in all his God-given wisdom, would write, “Vanity (futility)! all is vanity!” It is all “striving after the wind... there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1-2)

Solomon was talking about the efforts of humans to bring about a new utopian world. But when he turned his focus to God, Solomon could see purpose and order, an “appointed time” (the Greeks would call it a kairos) for everything, and hope for human beings within time and space because God “has set eternity” in the hearts of humans, His image-bearers within the finite world.

In this age of spiritual hunger and the desperate quest for a new, peaceful, productive, and caring world, pulpits need to teach the transcendence of God and proclaim Christ’s Kingdom.

The need is urgent in a world where, among other tools of terror, nations now stockpile some 14,000 nuclear weapons, many at the disposal of leaders who want to impose their apocalyptic vision on all humanity.

Wallace B. Henley’s fifty-year career has spanned newspaper journalism, government in both White House and Congress, the church, and academia. He is author or co-author of more than 20 books. He is a teaching pastor at Grace Church, the Woodlands, Texas.

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