What is your picture of the end of things? Most religions present some image of hell and heaven, punishment and reward, eternal torment and everlasting bliss. We’ve seen the paintings of horned demons stabbing emaciated people with pitch forks, casting them into pits of fire. Most seminarians have read a sermon by Jonathan Edwards titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He warns us that we are like spiders on the end of a thin sting hanging over the fires of hell. God holds the string between thumb and forefinger and is ready to let us go. Sinner: beware!
Our images may not be quite that dramatic, but in one form or other we anticipate that a righteous God will judge an unrighteous world. We carry images of coming before the judgment seat of Christ, where the book of life will be opened and we will face and account for how we have lived. For many the images we carry of the end of things are marked by fear and hope: fear of the destructive power of a righteous God, and hope that God’s mercy will prevail over us in Christ.
But what if that is not the final biblical image of the end of things? What if the anticipation of God’s coming is not about fear and retribution, but about new life and the restoration of all things?
My favorite theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, maintains that the coming of Christ has always been a symbol of hope, not of fear. God’s wrath is not the central or final biblical word. At the end of things we encounter the triumph of God’s compassion and grace!
Moltmann offers these thoughts:
“The image of the end-time ‘fire’ has nothing to do with the stake or with the apocalyptic destruction of the world through fire. It is an image of God’s love, which burns away everything which is contrary to God, so that the person whom God has created will be saved!
The purpose is not the great reckoning, with reward and punishment; the intention is to bring about the victory of creative divine righteousness and justice over everything godless in heaven and on earth, and beneath the earth.
This victory of the divine righteousness does not lead to the separation of human beings into the saved and the damned, or to the end of the world; its purpose is to lead to God’s great reconciliation of this earth…The judgment is not at the service of sin and death, as if it were the settling of an account. It serves the new creation.”
(Jurigen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness Arise! God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2010, 137-141)
The image of the end of things then, is about the end of some things, yes: the end of everything that stands against life. Destroyed and swallowed up: sin and death, morning and pain. But more than this, it is an image of the beginning of something: a new creation in which God will be all in all! In which God wipes away every tear, and everything wounded is healed, everything lost is found, everything broken is fixed, and even the dead are raised! It is God’s victory that begins with the resurrection of Christ from the dead!
God is not our destroyer. God is our savior. And that is Good News!