Apocalypse When?

“If hope means a number of things, it certainly means the ability to wait…. Pure religion and pure Christianity, therefore, call both for the power to wish and act and the equal power of ascetic waiting.”1—William Lynch

I belong to a religious tradition which believes it must be watchful and active as it waits for the end times to begin. Many believe that we are living now in those end times, that the generally decaying sense of order — civil, social, political, and environmental — are sureties that the world is ending, and Christ will soon return. My grandparents felt that way under different, but no less alarming, circumstances. And in 1844, the founders of my church left everything to wait for the imminent return of the Lord. He didn’t come, the date passed, and now we somewhat ruefully remember every October 22 as “The Great Disappointment.”

Like every community which has looked for the return of the Christ, we have had to answer — if only to ourselves — why the Second Advent hasn’t happened yet. It isn't as if we are daily confronted by the jeers of the cynics or the accusations of those who feel betrayed in their belief. People have their own problems, making their way through the world from day to day; they don’t add to their own burdens by worrying about a cosmic event for which they have only the word of the professionally nervous.

The imminence of Christ’s return was always part of my own consciousness as a child. It was the far boundary of my imagination, the limit of what was possible in my lifetime, yet my mind refused to linger on the details of the chaos and horror that would precede it. We knew the natural order would be thrown over, earthquakes and violent storms would prevail, the moon would turn to blood and the sun be darkened, the stars would fall, and the seas would rise, and plagues would slay millions.

The unspoken assumption, as I remember it, was that we — those who had been faithful — would survive this peril and would live to witness Christ’s return. We would be spared, although our neighbors might not be. Like a tornado that rips through a town, taking out a swath of houses, but leaving one miraculously intact, we would have a force field around us that kept us safe. We would be preserved. The lesson for us children was to be ready and righteous.


Woody Allen said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” That’s how I felt about the Second Coming when I was a teenager. This was more than a simple desire to dodge a raging conflagration, although there was, naturally, a low-grade fever of fear at what those times could bring. There was a whole welter of tangled emotions churning through me, along with confusion and bewilderment. Couldn’t we go from things being unpleasant, but not deadly, to the resolution of justice in the world and peace forevermore? Scripture said, “He shall wipe away every tear and sin shall be no more.” That sounded good — let’s just do that and skip all the stuff in between.

What I came to realize in time is that none of this is under our control. There were those who claimed that God was preparing a people who would perfectly reflect his character. Once that was achieved, God would feel free to return and claim us all as his own. But surely in all these thousands of years there were times and peoples who could be trusted to be more faithful than us? And doesn’t that mean that we who claim to follow Christ are holding up the Earth made new for everybody just because we can’t stop lying or coveting our neighbor’s ox?

There were others who claimed that God would step in when the world reached a crisis point, to save us from ourselves. But haven’t there been innumerable times when it seemed we had finally pulled the pin from the grenade in our mutually assured destruction? Two world wars, constant regional conflicts, genocide, oppression on a vast scale, human trafficking, corruption in high places and policies that destroy the social fabric and corrode trust among people — add them up. And, of course, if the Holocaust wasn’t enough for a divine intervention, who could predict a worse event? How much suffering is enough? This is about moral evil, what we do to each other from within our God-given freedom.

Then there is the natural world and the diverse ways in which we harrow, poison, tear, smash, pollute, and foul our oikos, our home. The ice caps are gushing like rivers, the seas are rising, and we’ve just had the hottest decade on record. If God intervened to save the Earth from our recklessness, wouldn’t now be a good time?

For some, the optimistic ones, the cure is to live on this side of that threshold of pain, to deny the reality of it and turn away, rather than allow themselves to be overwhelmed and distracted. Focusing on the good in life raises the spirits and keeps the heart uplifted. Don’t worry, be happy.

Others of us, myself included, struggle continuously to rejoice in the good that we see. We live precisely on the pain threshold, neither in nor out. On one side lies the optimistic life, an attitude of heartiness and good cheer. There are no problems that cannot be solved, God smooths the path before us — we have only to wake up and sally forth into the world. Some versions of this believe that sadness shows distrust of God, and more extreme forms find melancholy intolerable. God wants us to be happy — and rich. Pull yourself together, they say, God wants to make you a winner.

On the other side is the pessimistic life, those whose first thought is of failure and despair. They cannot believe that goodness and joy could ever be theirs for they do not and cannot deserve it. God looms over them as a terrifying presence and their every mistake further condemns them in their own eyes. There is no comfort to be found in God, only judgment and anger.

For those of us living on the threshold, the pain of this world is continually before us. Like the pessimist, we see how dark the human experience is. Our eyes glaze over. These horrors appear embedded for eternity as our folly. There is always another place and another people worse off than we are. Every day is a breaking point for millions in this world. For millions of people, this life is apocalypse now, and they die without justice or remembrance. Why should tomorrow be any different?

“Do you want to change the world?” asks the Tao Te Ching, “I don’t think it can be done.” I resisted that idea because it seemed so passive, even defeatist. Protestantism believes we are malleable, that we can change, we must change. Not too long ago, American optimism believed that enough of us changing together for the better could create a better world. Surely, as the saying goes, we should be the change we want to see. I also resisted the virus that seems to afflict the old — expecting the worst of people and finding some perverse pleasure in fulfilling that prophecy by goading others into being their worst selves.

The question for those of us who default naturally to the tragic, and who smile wistfully at the heroic, is whether the stoic is enough. The light version of the stoic is to endure without complaint, doing one’s best under the circumstances. We could all do with more of that. The deeper, more philosophical version, what is called Stoicism, has a nobility about it that is attractive. But there is also a coldness toward the world and one’s life that sidesteps the joy that is possible for the Christian.

The tragic view of life takes account of the world’s pain, remembers it, and honors it. To live as much as possible without adding to the pain of others is the ethical minimum; to share in the suffering as God may lead us is part of discipleship. To have a tragic sense about life is to live in revolt against the sin that besets us, to know the price that sin exacts, and to live with gratitude for the hope that is within us.

For those of us who find ourselves on the threshold, the prosperity gospel in all its mutations horrifies us, the church triumphant raises suspicion, a blinkered certainty confounds and distances us. But for that very reason hope means a great deal to us. We “hope against hope” and live constantly with the refrain, “I have faith! Help my unfaith!”

“In some, then, what is present is to be nourished,” said Augustine in a famous sermon. “In some, what may be lacking is to be kindled; so that we may all rejoice together in one single charity. Where there is charity, there is peace: where there is humility, there is charity.”2

Augustine is speaking of a community of hope, for charity, peace, and humility emerge into the light between people and are insubstantial when trapped in theory. And that’s the rub for people like me: feeling at home in a community. Naturally reticent, introverted by nature, belonging comes easier than joining. Yet, the Old Testament testifies, above all, to a people who are in a relationship with God together, as fractious and ragged as it may be. The New Testament amplifies that theme, now expanding the community to include anyone — in fact, every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. That’s the invitation, open and waiting.

I don’t know if we are in the last days. Sometimes, reading the news, it feels that way. It certainly felt that way to people suffering during the Mongol invasions, or the Black Plague, or the Soviet gulag, or genocide in Rwanda. For all those who were burned out of their homes, beaten and harassed, and finally lynched, those were the last days.

The world goes on, and as long as it does the invitation to make a community that loves in spite of itself, that resists all attempts to monetize itself, that actively waits in hope and creates beauty — that invitation stands.

Notes & References:

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, ethics, and communications for 37 years at universities in Maryland and Washington, DC. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. Email him at [email protected]. His first book, Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery, is now available.

Photo credit: Jason Wong on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10162

I come from the same tradition, but after much thought, soul searching, and prayer, I concluded that the point of a second coming was not to know when it was coming but being always prepared in case it did. It seems to me that there is a scriptural basis for not knowing when. The coming would be as “a thief in the night.” The answer is, don’t worry about it. It is very much like death. We know death will come. We need not fear or dread it. For those who believe in Jesus and scripture and God, fine. Believe. Do not fear. Do not worry. At my advanced age, I no longer believe in the concept of Jesus and God that I was taught as a child. I am agnostic about God and whether or not there is a person behind the creation. It looks to me more like creation is a process than the work of a person. I find that sufficiently comforting. Others don’t. So, anyway, I’m happy and not worried. I see death as my friend into whose arms I will someday tumble with few regrets.


In John 11 at the discussion with Mary, Jesus became angry, as a
number of translations put it.
Jesus was angry at the senselessness of Death. In Lazarus Jesus met Death head on.
Not only in the person of Lazarus, but also met Death as He was heading
toward His own death on the cross.
By the power of the resurrection He [the Godhead, Trinity] destroyed death.


Hey Joe, glad to see you back home again! Looking forward for your comments, always so mature and educational!


I have never understood why Christians would fear the return of Jesus. I think the Adventists must be one of the few, if not only, group of Christians who have a built-in fear of Jesus’ return. Actually, it’s not Jesus’ return, but the “judgment” that is feared, and the t wo are lumped together. That is unfortunate for those who can’t separate the two. Why is that?

True Christianity is simple - maybe too simple for people to accept its power. We crave ritual, (as described in another article). Religious ritual is a way of painting religion on to the surface of our being where everyone can see it, making us secure in our religion since everyone else is doing what you’re doing, and pronouncing it all good. Jesus rejected religious ritual, driving our faith deep into our being. He said that process is un-natural when Nicodemus wondered how that could happen. We don’t understand it, and therefore, distrust it. We want proof that we’re OK with God - we work to achieve it - we want to be “ready”.

We are all broken people - none “better” than another; and we can’t make ourselves better by how we dress - what day we worship - what we don’t eat - where we don’t go (that one I take back). We heal from the inside out, not the other way around. Someone said, “we become what we cocentrate on”. If we keep focusing on everything we should shun, then we can never know where exactly we can be heading. If we are always concerned about “unconfessed” sins we will never grow trust - trust in what Jesus accomplished for us. Jesus came to give us peace.


Probably having the 1700,1800 position on “fear God” and
“judgment” words of Rev. 14, and elsewhere in the King James
is how we see God in 2020. It is also promoted by our SDA
books as we QUOTE certain persons in our literature.
If one reads Paul, James, even Peter and John we have a different
picture of the Christian life with the Gifts of the Spirit [1 Corinthians
letter] and the Fruits of the Spirit lists in the several letters of his.
The 12-Steps of AA and NA are Paul and James.
And the Churches of Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
are probably the largest in the world and the most effective with their
members. “Keep coming back, It works if you work it.”

For Agnostics I would like to recommend this book.
The Cloud of Unknowing & the Book of Privy Counseling.
It was originally composed in the 1300’s.
Get the one edited by William Johnston with forward by
Huston Smith.
It IS a meditative type of material so one needs to read it slowly
so can think and envision the material.


Beautifully said and imagined. Thank you for your thoughtful comments week after week. Hope to see more of your writing in Spectrum.


A process implies intelligence. Science follows strict rules as it investigates all these processes, but never asks where these rules come from. Science says “nothing comes from nothing”.

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The last century was prolific and replete with egregious evil, resulting in the deaths of millions and untold misery and suffering — the Armenian, Pol Pot, Bosnian, Rwandan genocides — topped by the HOLOCAUST.
— Stalin’s gulag, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the London Blitz, trench warfare, AIDS, EBOLA, mass starvations / famines / plagues / pestilences, ad infinitum.

How can the heavenly angels have viewed all this mayhem dis compassionately and with apparent equanimity??

Why were they not clamoring to God to end the carnage ??

Because, in a heart beat God could have FAST FORWARDED the Second Coming and prevented all these atrocities.

That He did not, makes Him complicit with all these horrors.

If we view an ongoing rape of a women in our street and do not intervene nor call 911 to stop it, we are as guilty as the rapist!

On the cross Christ made the most significant statement :
IT IS FINISHED — meaning all the work of atonement for sin had been completed.

His mission was eminently accomplished— evil and Satan were supposedly vanquished!

So why more than two millennia later, is humanity still enduring evil, just as if no atonement had been made?

What is the point for endless millennia of misery for mankind?

Had The Second Coming been fast forwarded centuries ago, untold misery, death and atrocities would have been forestalled / avoided / eliminated .

How much longer must this charade continue?

Why is Christ Himself not demanding that His atonement be recognized and finalized?


Because Christ is God incarnate. Who is God going to complain to? We have set up God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as if they are people.

By your reasoning, God should have finished “project earth” right after Adam sinned. To arbitrarily call it quits any time after that would have been unfair to those who had to suffer any time at all after Adam. I do understand your frustration; but we are the ones causing the misery. Maybe God is waiting for all of us to get disgusted with ourselves. It’s a matter of degree. Very sensitive people will be horrified with x amount of suffering, and that increases to where nothing will reach the very hardened. So what would bring the entire world to its knees (literally) - when one more day/minute wold mean total annihilation. Not until the pain becomes personal will there be an “ha ha” moment. Not until it becomes clear that mankind can’t fix anything. We still think, given enough time to create technology and proper ideologies, we can fix this. Nothing is what it seems to be. We have no idea. All some of us know is that love changes things; and there’s not enough of it.


Apocalypse Time.
In the current [Feb 2020] Adventist World, there is a 3-page
report on the Voting of the Executive Committee Members
on the proposed actions resulting from the 2018 Compliance
The 1st motion to warn the four [4] unions from the European
Divisions passed by a margin of 164 to 124.
The now amended motion to warn the two [2] unions from the
North American Division passed by a margin of 190 to 94.

Apparently these Unions will have to GIVE UP woman pastors
in their fields!

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I respectfully disagree— much misery is caused by God events — EARTHQUAKES, TSUNAMIS HURRICANES, BLIZZARDS, VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS, TORNADOS DROUGHTS ( causing famines ) FLOODS, AVALANCHES and a multiplicity of “ natural “ disasters.

Not to mention malaria, Ebola, AIDS, small pox and the plethora of other God created viruses / germs/ bacteria / fungi —- Satan has ZERO creative power— these are complex organisms unlikely to have evolved “by chance “ —- God created them.

Not all human misery is self inflicted, nor caused by human actions!

You should have seen the place before “the waters were parted” and dry land appeared; and when the continents spread themselves apart, forming land forms we have named. Nature is chaotic. There are black holes out there, where when you go there, you get sucked into the hole where not even light gets out.

The universe and everything in it, is what it is. On earth, there’s a thing called geology that studies how the earth works. There are laws that govern climate, erosion, and everything else. We blame God when tragedy happens when people build their mansions on fault lines, and at the base of volcanoes? Extravagant buildings just teetering on the edge of cliffs and we complain that God can’t stop the rock slides.

Diseased birds are sold in unsanitary markets and the world battles yet another flu epidemic. Our streamlined jets disperse the diseases around the globe in minutes and God is blamed.

I see you’re a six-day-creationist, where God created everything, including Ebola and pneumococcal pneumonia? I think not.

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If God did not create these viruses / bacteria / parasites then who did ?

Satan has ZERO creative powers!
Was some alien from another planet involved ?

The malaria parasite though minute and tiny has an extremely complicated life cycle in the mosquito vector— and another completely different, and very complicated life cycle in the human host. — an amazingly involved / complex organism for something so very tiny and minute.

Also, of the hundreds of different species of mosquitos on the planet,
only a very few mosquito species are able to host, and be a vector for this malaria parasite. ( which over multiple millennia, has killed MILLIONS of mankind )

This amazingly intricate / complex parasite can never have magically merely “evolved “ .

Someone, somebody created it.

As a life long Adventist ( now 84 years ! ) I was always taught that ONLY God was the creator and only He had creative powers!

Was I misinformed ?

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Good questions. For that matter, why mosquitos at all? Mysteries all around.

Bacteria were necessary to get rid of excrement, and, I believe fallen leaves etc., otherwise there would have been a planet full of (you know what); and I don’t think there were eternal leaves that would not fall when a gust of wind happened by. Which brings up more issues - immortal cockroaches etc. God has a sense of humour.

Like it or not, evolution happened.


A good philosophical article will cause you to ask questions of it - and yourself. This is a good article, thank you.

I too wonder when is enough. Certainly after WW2 with roughly 70 million dead, mostly innocents and including 6 million of God’s original chosen people - wasn’t that enough? So when fellow church members say that because of this awful news story or that, we surely must be in the last days? I have to bite my tongue.

As the author notes, all tragedy is local. Rwanda genocide was a horrible abstract for those of us in the west. Not so for those who lived it.

As to the issues of the day, I cannot help but be positive, but that does not mean denying the reality of pain. I can but live for this day and choose to the best of my ability to be that which is good in the world versus that which is not.


That was my life growing up. The things that were happening to me; that were being done TO me without my informed consent or permission were the very things God was coming to destroy, and of course, I, being a kid, believed it all to me my own inherent evil. So I grew up i a church that unknowingly condemned me. The Second Coming? It was something abhorrent, something to be feared above all else because it would result in my death, then to be raised again after a thousand years only to be burned to death by God in the presence of the Holy Angels and my saved family.

Yeah, like that’s something to instill love of God in one’s heart! LOL

So as an adult I’ve reached the healthy place where all that stuff about the second coming and the judgment of the wicked? Forget it. It’s not something any human on this earth needs to concern themselves with. Only to live the best life we can, loving those we can, for as long as we can, and trusting God in his infinite love and wisdom to take care of the rest. because all that stuff we were taught growing up? Probably a fabrication at the outset, designed as a means of scaring people into converting to a favored religion, and to keep them and any children born to the religion, there by any means possible, usually fear.

It’s the religious human nature it seems to rule by fear. But Jesus came to set us free from that fear so why do we as a church cling to it so tightly? God will do what he will do, and it will be done in mercy. That’s really all we need to know.


Nicely said. I have also come to believe that our religions have corrupted the message Christ came to deliver. God is not to be feared by anyone. What ever we are, wherever we are God is unchanging in the love that is shown on the cross. If we could only shed the false narrative that the judgment of this world is something God does to us versus something we do to God. How do we judge that character which is revealed in Christ. That revelation of Love, Freedom and Universal Grace can be reflected in us. Religion is a construct man has made and it has been mostly antithetical to the Christolgy even a casual reading of the life and teachings of Christ reveals. Morality and ethics flow from Love Freedom and acceptance not from religious forms or beliefs.


Isn’t it amazing that the universe goes on as though there is no unseen ghost running it. Maybe Jesus just died 2000 years ago, as all others did, and his followers perpetrated a delusion that he was really alive somewhere in the cosmos and would be coming soon, and countless generations kept that ball rolling. One wonders when reality will overtake fantasy.