Updated: Sep 6, 2022
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He 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.” (Revelation 21:3b-4 NIV)
A lot of people are afraid of the end of the world, but I feared it differently. People thought that human beings could somehow bring about the end, through nuclear war and its ensuing winter, or by unleashing a deadly plague, or now, through the slow but accelerating climate catastrophe. But those are only ways to kill a bunch of people and make lives miserable—bad situations, definitely, but the Earth would remain. I was thinking about the end of time as we know it, the second coming of Jesus.
For a long time, just thinking about Heaven or the Second Coming gave me a swoopy sense of fear in the pit of my stomach. Occasionally I’d have real panic attacks. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just tried not to think about it. I didn’t read the book of Revelation. If I could, I avoided sermons about Heaven or the next life or eternity.
But my mother frequently proclaimed her longing for Heaven and the return of Jesus. What was I missing? I’ve been a Christian longer than I can remember, so I felt a fair amount of guilt about that—after all, Heaven was supposed to be the reward,* not something to be afraid of!
I knew that part of my problem was a love of this world. I planned to grow up and be famous and accomplish great things, but if the world ended, who would be around to remember them? Another part of the problem was my dislike of anything I couldn’t understand, and I knew that eternity can’t be comprehended by a finite mind. That helped me understand the fear, but I couldn’t get rid of it—not even when I grew up, went to college, moved out on my own, got married.
But sometimes, I have moments when I’m not frightened anymore. The fear crept away and I didn’t even notice. Astonished, I wondered what had changed.
Upon reflection, I don’t think I learned anything new about the life hereafter that made a difference; rather, I had experienced more of this world. More pain. More brokenness. More evil, hatred, ugliness and sin. More wrongs done to innocents. I think the softening of my heart that began with my son helped me feel the depth of this world’s suffering, of its “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21 NIV). I not only understand but feel the immensity of our need for restoration. I have also loosened my grip somewhat on the things that seem important in this world—wealth, power, prestige—because I’ve come to place greater value on things that would transcend the end of the world, namely, my relationships.
I see now how incredibly privileged I was to have a childhood so full of love, so safe from harm, that I could wish to stay in the world. I don’t regret it, nor am I bitter or unhappy now. “The Lord… is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 NIV). I’m glad God knows the right time to wind up his earthly plan, because I can’t wish for him to delay now that I’ve seen how much pain will be succored, how many wrongs will be righted, when the Prince of Peace comes on his white horse and heals the land. Now I can also pray, “Come soon, Lord Jesus. Come soon.”
*I know eternal life and our transformation to become like Christ begin in this life, but at the time I would have called it a reward.