It's Not All Going to Burn
Why good eschatology changes everything
About twenty years ago I was walking on the windy cliffs of a Maine shore with two friends when we met two older folks walking the opposite direction. We nodded to one another, as you do, and one of the older folks said, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” One of my friends replied, “Yup. Shame it’s all going to burn.”
We laughed together and walked on.
In the early 2000s this was a common phrase in my group of friends. Perhaps they didn’t know any different, perhaps they were still stuck in the mire of terrible eschatology that especially took hold in the 80s and 90s, perhaps they were drawn to the drama of it all. To be honest, I don’t know. I know I participated in it because I didn’t know any better and I wanted to be liked and loved.
Here’s what else I know: I have never forgotten that moment on the shoreline of Maine. The juxtaposition of the beauty of the landscape, the majesty of the Atlantic Ocean, the vastness of the sea, the colors, all of it, with this sarcastic comment about the world burning burned itself into me. It was the first time I can remember asking myself, “Wait. Really? Is it all going to burn?”
Like many children of the 80s and 90s, I came of age in the Late Great Planet Earth days. I remember the exact feel and smell of the first Left Behind book. I grew up watching my dad’s heart completely captured by the themes of hell and the mark of the beast and the antichrist. I knew more about the books of Daniel and Revelation than I knew about Matthew or John. I was about seven years old when I watched a terrible video rendering of The Pilgrim’s Progress with a strong emphasis on what hell was imagined to be. It was horrific. From a young age, I heard that climate change (we called it global warming back then) was a hoax but y2k was a near certainty. We were devastation junkies, especially if we were the ones saved from the devastation.
By the time I left for the social security office at age 20 to sign myself up for a number—with the words my dad said to me as I left the house still ringing in my ears, “Good luck selling your soul to the devil.”—I had plugged my ears to any talk of the end times or eschatology. To me, it was a religion of terror. The words I said under my breath as I left the house evidenced my unbelief, “If it means I can get a driver’s license and go to college and get a job and leave this house, I’ll give my soul to the devil for free.” I didn’t care what happened after this life, all I knew was I wanted to at least live a life. Deep within me, the seeds of doubt were beginning to fall in ripe soil. It would be another seven years before they’d begin to sprout in plenty, but bad eschatology planted those seeds.
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