It’s the End of the World as We Know It…

January 19, 2010

Humanity’s Obsession with the Apocalypse.

The Road Warrior

The Road Warrior

It’s the end of the  world as we know it …and I feel fine.”  -R.E.M.

Why are we so obsessed with the end of the world? Every year a new string of threats from leading scientists, well know evangelists, and even secular politicians predict that we are heading for destruction sooner rather than later. When computers didn’t take over the world or self-destruct to bring us back to the dark ages during Y2K, we became alarmed by the inconvenient truth about global warming, which turned out to conveniently have the true facts all exaggerated (I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of the earth, but we should be sensible in our responses to do so, and we should base our policies on solid science). Now we rub our hands and wring our fingers together fretting about the Mayan prediction of the year 2012. Popular movies and art have always capitalized on these prophetic threats of doom, and so the artists have in turn become the prophets that we blindly follow with our wallets and our fears. Even before the dawn of Christianity, Jews and Gentiles alike had already began writing “divinely inspired” apocalypses. With the American Culture being shaped in part by a Judeo-Christian value system, it is no surprise that right up until the present day even secular artists use religious symbolism when dealing with the apocalypse. Unfortunately, their own misunderstanding of the symbolism leads these artists to often become false prophets.

Revelation Revealed, William Thomas Thompson, 1996

Revelation Revealed, William Thomas Thompson, 1996

I have always been intrigued by the apocalypse; I love cult movies like Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Stephen King’s The Stand remains one of my all time favorite novels. Even before I became a Christian, I had already read The Book of Revelation a few times. The Bible states that “The creation waits in eager expectation for the Sons of God to be revealed” Romans 8:19. Since we are all created beings we also, whether headed for destruction or salvation, long for revelation. I believe there is a divine blueprint of the history of the universe, with each of our personal parts in it, deep within each human being. God’s challenge in managing his will on the earth is working around our appointed free-will, yet I think that whether they are obedient to the call of God or not, artists do have the unique ability to reach deep within themselves and draw off that blueprint of eternity, and sometimes while they may get their facts wrong, they touch on a needed truth God wants to communicate to mankind.  

The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks, 1820

The Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks, 1820

Popular culture generally thinks of the apocalypse as the annihilation of the human race; however, a more accurate definition is more like history moving forward to God’s perfect end. When we look at early art in American culture, we can see this hope and faith in religion in paintings such as Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, which he painted over 60 versions of. There is an obvious peace on earth after the destruction of evil. But as America has become increasingly secularized, the view of the apocalypse has changed a great deal. Secular artists usually depict the destruction of the world caused by human cruelty, immorality, and arrogance. Hope, if there is any hope offered to us at all, depends only on humanity making a drastic change to live in peace and harmony to make the world a better place. Christ is not the answer; we can only be saved through the collective moral consensus of all human beings. You would think that by now we would have proven to ourselves that we cannot do it. Neither through religion (look at the man-led Catholic and Islamic Empires of the Middle Ages), nor through humanism (look at the failure of Communism in more recent times). We need help. Strikingly different, the uncorrupted Christian worldview offers that help in the grace of Jesus Christ. Humanity as a whole will never achieve world peace, but we can each gain personal peace and eventually be rid of our selfish nature in the next age. The sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will lead to the coming day when Jesus will return, and all sin will be judged and cast into hell, leaving a new earth free of evil and in a state of peace. Some artists, like Reverend McKendree Robins Long, respond to the secularism of this age by painting God’s coming judgment. In his Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures, Long paints himself with Dante overlooking hell observing those he believed to be against the Christian faith.

Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures, Reverend McKendree Robbins Long, late 1960s

Apocalyptic Scene with Philosophers and Historical Figures, Reverend McKendree Robbins Long, late 1960s

It is interesting that many artists such as Thomas Cole and Frederick Church saw the American landscape as a New Eden, while others of their time portrayed that the idea Jesus brought of “peace on earth, good will to men” would come gradually as eventually everyone in the world would be converted to Christianity. Looking at America today, it is hard to follow such a theory. With blatant immorality on the rise, as well as the growing popularity of other religions, Christians are forced to accept a truth in the hope of Christ’s literal second coming. Yet just as the concerns of every generation’s time becomes the subject of what they think is “the signs of the times” in their apocalyptic works, it is the Christians responsibility to use whatever means exist in our world to warn those who are still lost to God of the judgment ahead; whether it is only a few months away, as some proclaim, or even if we have to wait another two thousand years.

Our Banner in the Sky, Frederic Church, 1863

Our Banner in the Sky, Frederic Church, 1863

So, how are we to know the truth? How should we respond to the many theories that have been put out there? We simply cannot know. Jesus stated that while he was on earth, he didn’t even know the day or the hour he would return (Matthew 24:36). Our response is to simply live life to the best of our ability. Carpe Diem. We take every moment we can and we live it in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, no matter what our circumstances, thus giving our lives meaning. We take every opportunity we can to serve God, and to serve others, thus giving the broken lives we live purpose. I know many Christians who fear the end times because of the warnings of persecution and chaos the Bible gives us. I think of the images of the apocalypse in The Book of Revelation; war, pestilence, famine, death, etc. In that sense, the apocalypse is already here. Think of all the chaos millions of human beings face on a daily basis in third world countries. Think of all the religious persecution and torture millions still face in Islamic and Communist nations today. Many Christians live in the apocalypse everyday of their lives, yet they keep the faith. I don’t think the appropriate Christian response is to fear the apocalypse, but to embrace it. Though the end times are said to surely be difficult, they will only bring us closer to what is on the other side; eternity in peace and joy with our God and with those who chose to serve him alongside of us. What of those who are not yet saved? That is why the Great Commission of Jesus is so great.

The Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole, 1828

The Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole, 1828

Don Henly, of the Eagles, penned the lyric, “For there is no more new frontier, and we have got to make it here.” The apocalyptic artist prophesy’s this warning while simultaneously asking the question, “How can we make it?” I’m with the artists who have placed their hopes in Jesus Christ:

“’Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’” Revelation 22:12-13.  

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ and let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” Revelation 22:17. 

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” Revelation 22:20. 

Peter L Richardson
4/6/1999, revised 1/18/2010

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5 Responses to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It…”


  1. Wow, I really do feel that people today thrive so much on the end coming that they don’t live in their day to fully serve God and live the life He gave us!

  2. Chester Says:

    I also liked “The Stand”, and the apolcolyptic visions of the Mad Max series. I always found thinking about the “end times” more interesting than preparing for them. That was just a little TOO scary. Despite my self-avowed “skills” with firearms and other survival gear, I would still be a little nervous.
    However, having been through a fire-fight recently, I understand what is required in terms of perseverence and patience when trials come. I also have a beter understanding of just what my calling is now, better than before. I am reminded that “I might be the only Jesus people ever know. Act accordingly”.

    Peace – Chester

  3. Karen Says:

    Peace on earth, good will toward man. Every Christmas it strikes me that we’ve got it wrong. As a culture we take it to mean peace among people — clearly a nice idea, and what everyone was hoping the Messiah would bring in Jesus’ day too. But He came to bring peace between God and mankind, to bridge the gap, to make us his children. It’s all about relationship with our Creator…

  4. peterrock12 Says:

    I saw “The Book of Eli” this weekend. Nice film, and worth the watch. Very deep and symbolic. Religion can pervert the Word of God, and use it to manipulate. We are called to not merely know the Word, but to live the Word, or as the movie implies, be the Word (to the best of our ability, anyway). As it has been said, we are Jesus’ hands and feet to the world. Good stuff!


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