IVP - Strangely Dim - Escape the End

August 6, 2009

Escape the End

I enjoyed a childhood mercifully unexposed to the hysteria surrounding end-times speculation, the frantic numerology that tried to decide whether Ronald Reagan or Mikhail Gorbachev was the more likely Antichrist. I note that the question is as yet unresolved, but I still leave it to others to figure it out. I suppose I'll get a memo when the final word comes down.

Instead of the number of the beast, I spent my childhood fretting over a different kind of apocalypse. mushroom.jpgToday marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, which combined with the bombing of Nagasaki three days later, ended the Second World War and ushered in the Atomic Age. Between the immediate decimation and the radiation poisoning that ensued in the aftermath, the bombings claimed upwards of a quarter-million lives. They also gave us a symbol of desolation that has lingered for the better part of a century: the mushroom cloud.

This mushroom cloud followed me around more often than I would have liked. I had mild doubts that I'd achieve adulthood. I read library books about intercontinental ballistic missles. I fantasized about impressing all the pretty girls in my class, who would survive World War III unscarred but who would need the occasional rescue, which thanks to my radiation-supplied angelic wings, I could uniquely provide.

Some folks view apocalypse as a kind of escape; I viewed it as something to be escaped. I had a professor who suggested that the calendar be recalculated so that it began with the bombing of Hiroshima: that would make this the Year of Our Devastation 64. I resisted that idea because I wanted to live as far removed as possible from termination points. 

Starting a calendar over creates a new beginning--in this case, the beginning of the Nuclear Age--but it also creates an ending, one that no one saw coming. The year before Jesus was born wasn't commonly referred to as 1 B.C. or even A.D. -1. It had a more fluid designation: "the time of Herod king of Judea" (Luke 1:5). Endings--particularly the abrupt endings that accompany regime change or nuclear or cosmic apocalypse--are turbulent and traumatic. More often than not they elicit mourning, and an anxiety about what comes next.

I went to a memorial service last night expecting to comfort people who were mourning. Imagine my surprise when, despite an obvious sense of loss, the room was all smiles and laughter and a wizened joy. There had been an end, no doubt; but there had also been a beginning. And in some respects the end was an escape: no more pain for this woman who had endured so much pain, no more tears for a woman who had seen her share of heartache. The end for her ushered in a corresponding beginning, that beginning we celebrate when we look past the hysteria of end-times speculation to envision a world entirely reconciled to God, a world that need not fear weapons of mass destruction or the other machinations of an inhumane humanity. We count our current calendar not from Hiroshima but from the beginning of Immanuel, God with us; in the end of what we now know, we'll begin to count our calendars from the beginning of us with God, when everything is made new.

So even as we mark the somber occasion of the destruction of life and the dawn of the Nuclear Age, we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. World without end, Amen.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at August 6, 2009 11:40 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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