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Why is predicting the end of the world so popular?

I had this question asked of me by a young Christian who was a new convert. He’s a very intelligent fellow, and it didn’t take him long to see that there was a top-heavy focus on the “end of the world” concerns out there, as any trip down the aisle of your local Family Bookstore will also suggest, both in the fiction and the non-fiction section.

As he also noted, though, it’s not just Christians sucking up all this end of the world hype. The Mayan calendar phenomenon had its own run for a while, and as part of my studies on that subject I found plenty of apocalyptic scenarios presented by people who wouldn’t know the book of Revelation from a Julia Child recipe book.

So back to the question: Why is predicting the end of the world so popular?

To be sure, some make a big deal out of it because it’s a cash cow for them. John Hagee seems to me the classic example of this: Every year or two he hauls out some new scenario for the end of the world, shifting out one scenario for another with the same basic end-times message at the core. Years ago it was the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin that was at the center of Hagee’s end times model. Then it was the Y2K bug. Later it was the 2008 recession. The world has ended so many times under Hagee’s inspiration that he’s given new life to the steady state model for the origins of the universe.

But for most people, I think the fascination is more basic. End of the world scenarios are their version of the emergency exit, the ultimate airlift out of Dodge and away from the humdrum. Easier to look forward to than that sink of dirty dishes, you might say. And of course a much more pleasant prospect for tomorrow than many things that are truly horrible in life.

Christians of course believe in some sort of eschatological endgame, no matter whether you’re a preterist like me, or whether you put the millennial reign somewhere else along the chronological highway. But it seems to be more comforting to be able to appeal to a fixed deadline where the end might be found; it enables better planning, and tells you exactly when might be a good time to sell your house (answer: two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, 1988! – get it?). Put it on your calendar: Jesus comes back May 21, 2011 (so don’t make that June root canal appointment)!

The appeal of end times prediction is the appeal of avoiding our scheduled and expected unpleasantries. I’d say that’s a bad recipe for discipleship.



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