Enough has probably been said here and elsewhere (quite excellently, Colin) about the upcoming movie, The Road, and the extent to which it will fail to be true to the book from which it derives. It should be no surprise, given the dearth of Hollywood films portraying an apocalyptic Judgment Day in recent decades, that it will contain dramatic scenes of the global disaster that merely provides the (gratefully) un-described backdrop for the book's true focus, which is the grasping for life of a father and son in bare crisis.
Be that as it may. But what I want to think about is why? What is this fascination with the "end times"? To my dismay it seems that my evangelical church experience emerged from the suffocating fear-mongering of "end times" paranoia just in time for the culture at large to pick it up and take it (even less redemptively) from there.
Okay, I don't exactly know why. Its one of those film-trends I don't get, along with Vampire movies and the whole freakish Saw thing. But I've been thinking about all of this ever since reading NT Wright's Surprised By Hope (and before that I'm sure):
What is our fascination with doomsday? Especially in the church. Should our forward outlook not be characterized by hope? And, to take it further, is Judgment Day ultimately even a future event?
I left my copy of Wright's book at home, but what I am reading these days is Karl Barth's Doctrine of Reconciliation, and this all came flooding to mind again as I read the following words from volume IV.1:
"All sin has its being and origin in the fact that man wants to be his own judge. And in wanting to be that, and thinking and acting accordingly, he and his whole world is in conflict with God. It is an unreconciled world, and therefore a suffering world, a world given up to destruction. . . . And as a world hostile to God it is distinguished by the fact that in this way it repeats the very sin of which it acquits itself. . . . And for this reason the incarnation of the Word means the judgment, the judgment of rejection and condemnation, which is passed on all flesh. Not all men commit all sins, but all men commit this sin which is the essence and root of all other sins. There is not one who can boast that he does not commit it. And this is what is revealed and rejected and condemned as an act of wrong-doing by the coming of the Son of God. This is what makes His coming a coming to judgment, and His office as Saviour His office as our Judge" (220, emphasis mine).
Did you catch that? Is it possible, even proper, to speak of Good Friday--and not some future cataclysm however possible or likely--as the paradigmatic Judgment Day? Is that not the day where we see definitively our sin and our judgment? On the cross (condemned) and from the empty tomb (overcome)? And if so, what does it say that we are now, in the present, alive and looking back on it through Easter Sunday?!! More from Barth:
"The Christian community are those who hear the promise given to the world of people, just as they are those who hear the verdict pronounced on it and the direction given to it. . . . They are those who have the perspective that they will "live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him." In "Jesus Christ the promise or pledge of God--which cannot be compared with anything we might promise ourselves--is already given to us. It is actually made to the world. So then (without having to create illusions about itself) the world is no longer a world without hope" (114-115, emphasis mine).
I'm not trying to deny the biblical portrayal of a day of reckoning of some sort, nor that the hope laid out in Scripture is a new heaven and earth that eclipses the old in some way. I do not wish to counter the error of earthly despair with one of naive triumphalism. But I most certainly do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture or a tribulation of the sort envisioned by the over-productive pens of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. I have some thoughts and opinions brewing about such things as hell and heaven and the so-called "end times", but what I believe in and am oriented by is Jesus Christ, the hope of the world.
In Surprised by Hope (which I can't recommend highly enough (if for no other reason than its mixture of readability and intelligence), Wright addresses the question of Jesus' sovereignty over the messed-up world (upon which these doomsday movies seem so intent to fix our eyes), and describes the startlingly hopeful life to which only the risen Jesus can summon us:
Living in this hope is not a matter of “simply taking over and giving orders in a kind of theocracy where the church could simply tell everyone what to do. That has sometimes been tried, of course, and it’s always led to disaster. But neither is it a matter of the church backing off, letting the world go on its sweet way, and worshipping Jesus in a kind of private sphere. Somehow there is a third option, . . . [and we] can glimpse it in the book of Acts: the method of the kingdom will match the message of the kingdom. The kingdom will come as the church, energized by the Spirit, goes out into the world vulnerable, suffering, praising, praying, misunderstood, misjudged, vindicated, celebrating: always—as Paul puts it in one of his letters—bearing in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed” (112).