Much of Adventist and evangelical understanding on the broad topic of God’s final victory is tied to vivid scenes of end-times fervor. However, there is a larger picture we should consider, as well.
Rather than emphasize a view of the end of time that is focused on getting oneself out of here safely and to a “better place,” you can speak about God’s “ends” in terms of healing a broken creation and our privilege to be a part of this process by working for justice, peace, and fairness in the world.
But even this may be too advanced a place for a person to begin. What if the person to whom you are speaking seems to have no basis for understanding God whatsoever? Imagine that your friend is a self-professed atheist but is nevertheless interested in why you believe that there is a God. More to the point, let’s say your friend is curious about two specific things. First, she wants to know, “Why do you believe that your God, who you say created a perfect world but somehow let the whole thing fall apart, wants to destroy the whole thing in an apocalyptic ball of fire?” Second, she wants to know what this belief has to do with the reality of life today.
Here are some issues that are relevant to us all:
1. Justice: Two realities are important here: First, our innate impulse to fairness, goodness, and justice, and second, the promise of God to put the world to rights. Every human being who pauses long enough to consider the point, knows that the world is out of kilter. The human race is out of joint. Things are not right.
When children in Uganda, for example, are armed and told to shoot and kill other people in a war they are not capable of understanding, you don’t need to be super spiritual or religious to know that’s simply not right. When people die of starvation, from lack of clean water, or from preventable, curable diseases, it is not right. When wars of ethnic cleansing are fought, we intuitively know this is terribly wrong. The question is, where does this intuition come from?
People all over the world, regardless of their religious affiliation, if any, are working to solve some of the greatest problems the human race has ever faced. Why is it that we all want the world to be made right but we can’t seem to do it? Even more disturbing, why is
it that more often than not I know what I should do about these issues, but I don’t do it?
One more disturbing question: Why do Christians sometimes use their faith as an excuse not to be involved in putting the world to rights? When we see that happening we can almost be sure that a faulty view of end times is at work. But, by the same token, the echo of a voice in the heart of each person is, whether they realize it or not, reaching out after a God-given vision of the way the world should be.
By beginning with a passion for justice to be done on earth, we can begin to understand the prayer of Jesus: “ ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ ” (Matt. 6:10, NIV). The desire for justice is a desire for the kingdom of God. The longing in our hearts for fairness and peace and right is a longing for our internal sense of the way the world should be. This is the seed of God’s kingdom that is planted in every person’s heart.
2. Beauty: Another “echo” is in the realm of beauty. N.T. Wright writes, “This is the position we are in when confronted by beauty. The world is full of beauty, but the beauty is incomplete. Our puzzlement about what beauty is, what it means, and what (if anything) it is there for is the inevitable result of looking at one part of a larger whole.
Beauty, in other words, is another echo of a voice—a voice which (from the evidence before us) might be saying one of several different things, but which, were we to hear it in all its fullness, would make sense of what we presently see and hear and know and love and call ‘beautiful.’ ”1
The beauty that we see in the world—in people, relationships, nature, music, art, children—is not equal to God or even necessarily an accurate picture of God. Just as a desire for justice sometimes misdirects people into violence (one of the great paradoxes), so beauty fades and misleads, because it is incomplete.
But the point that can be perceived is that in the mind of the Creator, the original master-piece still exists. Though we don’t see the complete picture—just shadows—the beauties we perceive around us are like signposts, pointing to something greater. And they point
to the beauty that will one day arrive when God the Creator rescues, heals, restores, and completes the beautiful creation.
3. Community: Like justice and beauty, relationship—the longing for community—is an “echo of a voice.” And, like beauty and justice, relationships are not uncomplicated. Indeed, they are perhaps one of the most complicated features of being human. But this is also an echo. We were created for each other, to live for something beyond ourselves.
There is a deep longing in the human heart to know and to be known. This is confused with lust and sex. People end up exploited and broken, but the longing for true love is undeniable and points toward a reality that, once again, lives just out of reach. Much more could be said about all three of these categories, and others, but this will give the presenter some idea of how to go about engaging in conversations, whether through public speaking, lecture, small group or one-to-one conversation, about the way the world ought to be. This sense of how the world ought to be is a sign of the eternal that God has placed in every heart.
Intuitively we know that humanity has a destiny, that we were created for more than our own selfish pleasure. This intuition is an opportunity to introduce people to what the Bible says God has in mind for creation, a plan to restore God’s whole creation to its original beauty and to eradicate sin and pain and brokenness once and for all.2