Baylor Theology Professor Responds to End-of-the-World ScenariosSept. 14, 2001
Baylor University theology professor Chip Conyers, the author of "The End: What Jesus Really Said About the Last Things," wrote the following in response to "end-of-the-world" scenarios and also to several circulating e-mails that claim that the 16th-century prophet Nostradamus predicted the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in his writings. The text from these e-mails has since been demonstrated not to have been written by Nostradamus at all or to be revisions of existing quatrains.
Conyers can be reached at Truett Seminary at (254) 710-3755 or Chip_Conyers@baylor.edu.
The recent terrorist attack brings to the surface, even more forcefully than the earlier Y2K scare, the public's anxieties and curiosity about the end of the world, or the end of the world as we know it. As many people know, the New Testament has much to say about the "last things." In Christian doctrine this is known as "eschatology," and it plays a central role in the gospels, in Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of God, in Paul's teachings about the second coming of Christ, and in the book of Revelation (or the "Apocalypse").
Yet it is important to know that these teachings are not directed toward the intellectual life as much as toward the moral life. Jesus himself said, "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36). There are no exceptions when Jesus stated that "no one knows"; neither, therefore, is Nostradamus an exception! Jesus and his disciples saw the kind of curiosity about the end, which essentially relieves us of responsibility for the future, as an evil temptation. "Don't believe anyone who tells you they know," Jesus said, in effect.
Instead his teachings on the end were directed toward the moral understanding. When such things happen as we have just witnessed in New York and Washington, then they become reminders that peace and security are fragile, that nothings lasts forever. And when we think of the end of things, it causes us to take stock of our present lives, and to think seriously about how we shall live.
This is what Jesus meant when he said, "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42). This is a teaching about the attitude of the heart in regard to the everyday affairs of life, not a teaching about knowing things in advance ("for you do not know...") so that faith, fortitude, patience and persistence, are no longer required, but only clever self-interest and a cagey hedging against the future. Looking for occult forecasts is a temptation to listen to our fears, but acknowledging the fragility of life and the limits of all things is the beginning of wisdom.