Intuitively we know that humanity has a destiny; that we were created for more than our own selfish pleasure.
There are some ways of approaching eschatology that may help us communicate about this important topic with a secular person or one with a postmodern worldview, a person who is suspicious of end-of-the-world scenarios. Rather than emphasize a view of the end of time focused on escaping safely to a “better place,” we 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.
Here are some key themes that will help you to communicate better:
Justice. Two realities are important here: (a) our innate impulse to fairness, goodness, and justice; and (b) the promise of God to put the world to rights. Every human being who pauses long enough to think about it 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 conclusion come from?
People all over the world, regardless of their religious affiliation, 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 we know what we should do about these issues, but we 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 this happening, we can almost be sure that a faulty eschatology is at work. But, by the same token, the echo of a voice in the heart of each person—whether they realize it or not—is reaching out after a God-given vision of the way the world should be.
By beginning with a passion for justice on earth, we can begin to understand the eschatological prayer of Jesus: “ ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ ” (Matt. 6:10, NKJV). 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.
Beauty. The world is full of beauty, but the beauty is incomplete. Our puzzlement about what beauty is, what it means, and why it exists 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 that (from the evidence before us) might be saying one of several different things, but that, 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.
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 can fade and mislead because it is incomplete. But the point that can be perceived is that in the mind of the Creator, the original masterpiece 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.
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—to love and be loved—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 some idea of how to go about engaging in 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. In all of this, we are better positioned to speak about Jesus to the secular world.*