Eschatology: The World’s Last, Best Hope

The world is in crisis—more profound, desperate, and menacing than ever before. It is difficult for a Seventh-day Adventist to say this with credibility because we have been saying it practically non-stop for well over 160 years. Yet, possessed with a consciousness of the wider world that now extends more than 50 years into the past—to the late 1960s—I can say without hesitation that the world of 2023 seems more brutal, deranged, and volatile—in fact, closer to implosion—than ever before.

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Yet the truth is exactly the opposite.

A scant 150 years ago, everyone on the planet was one bad harvest away from starvation. A greater proportion of the world’s population eats every day than every before.

People live longer on average than ever before.

More people than every before participate in the “information economy”, where we live in houses we haven’t built, wear clothing we haven’t made and eat food we haven’t grown, trapped or caught - by trading skills and knowledge in the market.

In developed countries, children are given the opportunity to learn.

Travel and vacations are no longer the province of the ultra-rich. Many can participate.

Fewer children are being raised under the threat of violence from their parents.

Wars in general are far shorter and less destructive than they were 85 years ago or 109 years ago.

Most parents in developed countries fully expect never to have to bury a child. Most children survive their parents. This has not been true for most of history.

In developed countries, young adults can choose their occupations.

By virtually every single measure, life is better, more secure, healthier and longer than at any time in the past. The challenge is to bring the benefits enjoyed by the developed world to those living in the developing world.

The developed world currently contains about 17% of the world’s population - that’s about 1-in-6. At no previous time in history did 1/6 of the population of the world enjoy the standard of living, education, healthcare, and food security that the vast majority of people in the developed world enjoy.


Have you seen any news lately? One “emp” event, and we’re all back into the stone age.

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And again, I’m the one with an uncanny knack trying to turn a positive into a negative?!?!


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You got me there! When it comes to human nature, I have no illusions.

That’s been the case since the 1960s. Nothing that is happening now is anywhere close to the Cuban Missile Crisis or the Berlin standoff between USSR and USA tanks.

The notion that things are more precarious today that in 1962 is ludicrous.

The notion that things in the USA are worse today than they were in 1862, when millions were legally enslaved, and the country was locked in a civil war that would claim around 500,000 lives, is laughable.

As terrible as the Russia-Ukraine war is, it doesn’t compare in death toll or human suffering to the Stalin-induced famine of the 1930s that claimed millions.

As terrible as the unpleasantness in the Near East is, it’s far from the worst the world has seen. The Rwandan massacres of the 1990s and were an order or two of magnitude worse. But these goings on tend not to capture the imagination of the Western media.

I agree that November 2023 is probably worse than September 2023, and July 2019 was probably better overall than July 2020 or July 2023. But we’re nowhere close to the worst of all time.

And of course for those who give credence to the alleged uttering of Jesus recorded in Matt 24 & 25, the fall of Jerusalem was the worst time of trouble "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."

(Yes I know that by sleight of hand SDAs like to put this part in the far future, even though the text is clearly referring to the destruction of Jerusalem. - so much for simply reading the bible “as it is”!)


Yes, by many metrics the world in both the Global North AND teh Global South are better off today than ever in history. We can be thankful!

But, simultaneously, we must recognize that the same ingenuity and technology that have helped us accomplish so much simultaneously pose the greatest threat. The pollution our wonderful machines create dramatically accelerate Climate Change with its impending consequences for all of humanity. If we think current immigration is a problem for the developed world, we haven’t seen anything yet: where will the hundreds of millions of impoverished folk who live in low-lying areas of the world go when the seas rise by feet, not mere inches? How many years will elapse before a world leader will unleash ICBMs, given the recent tirades of such by Trump and Kim Jong-un? I think it was Yuval Harari, who in Sapiens, saw the downsides of admitted societal advances, thinking that our ancestors, the hunter-gathers, may have had a more sustainable life-style. Sobering!

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Thanks for this piece, Doug. Now this is the sort of eschatology we adventists ought to be concerned about, as opposed to the ecclesial narcissism too many of us read into obscurer passages of Revelation.

The only small difference i’d suggest concerns your reference to the fact that secular “communities that are trying to do and be what the church was supposed to do and be, but without recourse to the one who sustains the church’s life.” I appreciate your calling us Christians to address current social ills… But many of us Christians, particularly evangelicals and fundamentalists, aren’t. I, for one (and I am sure you are here as well–although this wasn’t the point of your fine article), am so gratified that our God is working through so many honest and hard-working secular folk to address the crises facing the human race and world ecology!

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I’ve said on multiple occasions that human are basically good.

For example, the number of people who have hit me in my life I could count with one hand and is infinitesimal in relation to all those I’ve met who didn’t harm me in any way.

I could, and have, gone on to cite countless similar cases where people behave in ways that are either neutral, polite or even kind and which greatly outweigh the percentage of bad experiences in my life.

But I know those wouldn’t impress you.

Maybe it’s a Christian thing as opposed to one of Jesus’ “kingdom inside you” concepts?!?!


For starters, I’m fully aware of how the destruction of Jerusalem figures into Mat 24; but I have also observed that every generation has a similar event. Only the faces change, and maybe the nationalities, but the annihilations keep “rolling along” to include most cultures. This time we’ve come full circle to where we once called others Nazis, and now, with an about-face, we spew Nazi rhetoric ourselves - and “the beat goes on”.

I’m curious what measurements you use on your graph, comparing the Cuban missile crises with at least four nations pointing missiles at us, as a senile old commander-in-chief fumbles the simple act of walking from point A to point B. I hope you’ve factored in the “improvements” that have been made in the armaments now available, as compared to what the Soviets had, heading to Cuba.

What really galls is calling what happened in Israel an “unpleasantness”. An unpleasantness is when you step into pile of doo-doo; not when drugged up terrorists set out to kill a whole population. I’m sure it’s happened before, but none of it an be categorized as just an “unpleasantness”.

Back to Matthew - the telling part of this declaration is in calling this “unpleasantness” one that can’t ever be surpassed. I think a nuclear war might qualify.

There is value in both of these viewpoints. On the one hand, yes, people are living longer, healthier lives with more prospect for peace than at most points of human history. (Even though this leads to consequences of over-population, pollution, competition for scarce resources, loss of natural ecosystems, etc.)

On the other hand, each generation and each individual has its experience of crisis. While it is important to maintain perspective, that other times and places have endured worse by orders of magnitude, at the same time each generation has its own heightened perception of threat.

This is an emotional correlate of the hygiene hypothesis. If an individual is not challenged by significant infection in childhood, there is a propensity to develop immune responses against benign targets, eg. allergy and autoimmune disease. In a similar way, each individual perceives the threats they navigate as difficult, even, “the worst ever”, and responds with psychological defences.

So, while despairing that, “the world is going to hell in a hand-basket” is shallow, fails to appreciate the bounty we have and discounts the suffering of other times and places, each generation does face significant challenges and has reasons for existential threat.

And the gospel provides an important counterpoint for each generation, whether to undermine imperialism in Roman times or challenge consumerism, militarism or narcissism in ours. Hope for a different future is an intrinsic part of the gospel, providing courage when we might be otherwise immobilised by fear.

In social science ideas often flow in cycles and being over 70 and SDA it does seem like things are more bad than good. Still, I find this quarter’s SS lessons prompt some serious thought. Do we have that relationship with Christ that is demonstrated in acts of love to those with whom we interact? I believe there are sufficient witnesses in the scriptures to convince one that “the end” is immanent. One need not compare the condition of society NOW with THEN. And belief must result in action. I have recently begun to reread GC with my 96 yo mother. We just finished chapter 2 reading only a few pages every day before doing the adult bible lesson. AD 70 cannot be compared with 2019-2023 and the last few paragraphs of chapter 2 reflect nicely on the need for actions to match our beliefs.

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