Updated: Aug 5, 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)
Well, the date which the Mayans supposedly predicted would be the end of the world has come and gone, and we’re apparently still here. No one I knew actually thought the apocalypse was coming, but I think everyone probably stopped for just a moment and thought, “What if…?”
I remember when I first learned about the Mayan calendar. I was watching a children’s documentary, and the pronouncement came complete with spooky music and a reverberating intonation: “and it [the calendar] also has an end.” I intentionally tried to forget the date because thinking about it made me ill. Even though I was fairly young, probably around 10 years old, I was already afraid of the end of the world.
Never mind the Mayans, 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.
My mother frequently proclaimed her longing for Heaven and the return of Jesus, and I truly didn’t understand her. 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 couldn’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.
Then, when the date of the Mayan apocalypse finally came around, I realized that I wasn’t frightened anymore. The fear had snuck away and I hadn’t even noticed. 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), and understand the immensity of its need is for restoration. I had also loosened my grip on the things that seem important in this world – wealth, power, prestige – because I had come to place greater value on the things that would transcend the end of the world, 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, 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 that eternal life and our transformation to become like Christ begins in this life. I like how Pastor Doug put it once: “Heaven is the destination, but not the goal.” Still, at the time I would have probably called it a reward.