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Hope of All the Earth?
By Dr. Elizabeth Liebert"How will we know, Teacher, that the end is near?" (Luke 21:7)
The list that Jesus gives in answer is long and, quite frankly, depressing. Wars and insurrections don't even make the cut—they happen even before the end times (v. 9). Persecutions, earthquakes, famines, plagues, great portents and signs in the heavens, distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves—these are the signs that the end is near.
The first Christians believed that Jesus would indeed come again before their generation had died off. Since the end was coming so quickly, every moment and every action counted. As time passed, it became quite clear that they were mistaken. But our mistake is to think that the end time is far off, so far off that it matters not at all.
The truth is, no one knows. The truth is, we are all living, right now, in the end times. To a nation reeling from the collision between Hurricane Sandy and an icy Arctic blast, "portents from the sky and distress caused by the roaring of the sea and the waves" is way too descriptive.
Incredibly, in the midst of all these awful signs, we are directed to stand up, raise our hands and welcome our deliverance. How can this be?
As if to read our minds, Jesus launches in to a homey one-sentence parable. "When you see the leaves sprout on the trees, you know that summer is near." Likewise, when we see catastrophe all around us, war, persecution, family betrayal, and in our day, climate change, it is precisely then that our redemption is near at hand. In other words, right now.
War, persecution, famine, climate change—these are great levelers. They cut down all our attempts to believe we are in charge. But precisely when our certainties die, that is when our redemption is at hand. Through the end of that to which we cling—hanging on for dear life—God, who is with us throughout, can act to save us. This paradoxical message—out of death, new life—is hope for all our poor suffering earth.
Only you, O God, and you alone, the broken heart console;
Only you, O God, and you alone, the wounded world make whole.
[Tune: "There is a Balm in Gilead," Words: Marty Haugen]
Dr. Elizabeth Liebert is San Francisco Theological Seminary's dean, vice-president for academic affairs, and professor of spiritual life.
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