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An ancient Mayan prophecy supposedly predicts that a day is coming when energy flowing to earth from the stars will be interrupted. The results will be catastrophic, or, more precisely, apocalyptic. Volcanic eruptions will cover the planet in darkness and ash, the sun will be destroyed, and the earth will become lifeless.

The predicted date is December 21, 2012. A Friday.

In the cinematic adaptation of the Mayan prediction titled 2012, and starring John Cusack, a solar flare causes the earth to be bombarded with a massive dose of tiny particles called neutrinos, which heat up the earth’s core. The resulting climate change unleashes natural disasters unlike the world has ever seen, and everyone is killed except for a select group who, having been warned, escape unharmed in specially built “arks.”

A scary world out there

Hollywood is, well, Hollywood, and therefore few of us are very concerned about the Mayan prediction of a December 21, 2012, doomsday as depicted in the movie. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t somewhat worried about the end of the world in general.

One doesn’t have to be a bearded, barefoot “prophet,” walking the streets with a sandwich board that reads, “Repent! The End Is Near!” in order to sense that our earth has seen its better days. After all, we live in a world where there is, it seems, one natural disaster after another: tsunamis that wreak havoc over huge chunks of land, sometimes in several countries; tornadoes and hurricanes that tear up towns; earthquakes that destroy cities; droughts that devastate crops—the list goes on and on.

Some of the world’s most serious thinkers fear that our time here may be more limited than we’d like to imagine. No less a luminary than Dr. Stephen Hawking, arguably the world’s greatest living scientist (Dr. Hawking holds the chair at Cambridge University in England once held by a fellow named Isaac Newton), has warned about the demise of life on earth. For Dr. Hawking, global warming is our biggest threat.

Meeting with college students in Asia, Dr. Hawking said that unless things change (and he’s not optimistic that they will), the earth “might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulphuric acid.” A 250-degree-centigrade world raining sulphuric acid is not going to sustain human life (the only beings that might survive are cockroaches).

In fact, Dr. Hawking said that things are so bad, our only hope is to get off the planet. That is, we need to colonize space, because this old earth just isn’t going to make it much longer. “Life on Earth,” he said, “is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers. . . . I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”

Others see it as well. Foreign Policy, one of America’s top journals of international affairs, ran an article called “The End of the World.” Though written in the context of the media hype about the movie 2012, the article started out with words that sounded as if they were lifted from an evangelistic sermon: “While the apocalypse is pretty unlikely to come in 2012, it does have to happen sooner or later. Here are five possible scenarios for the end of the world.”

The article goes on to list what the authors believed were the five most likely catastrophes that could end our existence:

  1. Asteroids
  2. Climate disaster
  3. Nuclear war
  4. Plague
  5. The unknown—something that we haven’t yet thought about. For instance, some have feared that the big atom smasher along the Franco-Swiss border could cause an uncontrollable chain reaction that would destroy the planet!

None of these have anything to do with the ancient Mayan prediction of some mysterious energy being interrupted from the stars, or from solar flares, but they do show that “the end of the world” is on people’s minds.

The bigger picture

All the possibilities we have been looking at so far are, in the scheme of things, fairly short term. And they might not happen in the near future. Long term, however, the prospects are much worse—such as, for example, the big freeze.

“The Milky Way,” wrote British physicist Paul Davies, “blazes with the light of a hundred billion stars, and every one of them is doomed. In ten billion years, most that we see now will have faded from sight, snuffed out from lack of fuel. . . . The universe, currently aglow with the prolific energy of nuclear power, will eventually exhaust this valuable resource. The era of light will be forever over.” That’s sobering, to save the least.

Not all scientists, however, expect the universe to end like that. They expect the big crunch instead, when gravity pulls all matter together and the universe collapses into a superhot glob of dense material about the size of an atom. Of course, by the time that happens, we can pretty much assume that life on earth will be long gone.

Then there’s the big rip, when the forces of nature in the cosmos just tear each other apart and we, caught in the middle, are destroyed.

In some of the most famous words of the twentieth century, atheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.”

The good news

The point in all this is simple: many people, and with some valid reasons, too, fear the end of the world. And the fact is—our world will end. But, contrary to what most people think, that end doesn’t have to be bad news. The Bible does indeed predict that our world, as it now exists, will not last forever. The good news, however, is that in its place God will create a new and better world—one without sin, sickness, suffering, and death, all the things that make life on this world so hard, even, at times, miserable.

An ancient biblical prediction says this: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Another says, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:11–13).

The Bible and science agree that this world, as it now exists, will not last forever. Science, however—with the exception of far-fetched fantasies about humans getting themselves out of here in spaceships before it’s too late—doesn’t offer us much hope, as the above quote by Bertrand Russell makes clear. In contrast, the Bible, when talking about the end of the world, offers a wonderful hope, a hope found in Jesus, who died for our sins precisely because He wants to give us eternal life in a brand-new world where all the things that make this one so hard will never again arise.

No question, at the second coming of Jesus, this world as we know it will end, and that end will not be good news for those who have rejected God’s saving grace. That grace, however, is still available. It is still being offered to all who will claim it by faith. For these, the coming end of the world will also be the start of something much better.

We can believe in the Mayan prophecy of doomsday on Friday, December 21, 2012. Or we can, through faith in Jesus, beleve in the prediction that God will “ ‘wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ” (Revelation 21:4, 5).

And that “everything” includes our doomed planet!

Good News About the End of the World

by Clifford Goldstein
From the November 2011 Signs