Saturday, December 22, 2012

What if the world had come to an end yesterday?

Well, that was awkward, too ....

So ... apparently the magic apocalyptic decoder ring doesn't work so well with either Christian scriptures or Mayan calendars.  If it were me, I'd put it back in the Cap'n Crunch box and send it back to General Mills.

Send them your copy of The Prophecies of Nostradamus, while you're at it.  And I'm still waiting on my Jetsons car and Dick Tracy two-way wrist TV.

I can't rag these people too much.  After all, I'm prone to fits of the-end-is-near prophecy as well.  I'm still convinced that the economy will irretrievably tank by 2030 (I qualify for full SSI benefits in 2031, of course), triggering the second collapse of Western civilization.  If it's not inevitable, I find it a lot more likely than Ray Kurzweil's "Singularity" and the childlike belief that advances in medicine will help "us" (read "the rich") achieve "actuarial escape velocity" (yes, in 2045 the most happy state will arise).

The whole point to predicting the future with such hubris is to convince ourselves that we have more control over events to come than we really do.  Whether your prediction tool of choice is a hidden code in St. John's Revelation or a mathematical algorithm you've applied to history, whether you're predicting the end of the world or the beginning of Man 2.0, you're still trying to assert a certainty to the future that doesn't exist in the real world, where the unexpected, the counterintuitive and the overlooked combine to turn inevitabilities into non-events.

But of all people to engage in the modern equivalents of casting runes and reading entrails — I gotta say it — the people with the least excuse are Christians.  Yeah, that's right, I'm looking at you, Harold Camping and Jehovah's Witnesses.  How can you read the Bible so stringently and so piercingly as to come up with clues that give you the exact date of the Second Coming and yet manage to miss such bald statements as:

  • "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Mt 24:42-44 NIV).
  • "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard!  Be alert You do not know when that time will come. ... What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch'" (Mk 13:32-34, 37 NIV)!
  • "Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape" (1 Thess 5:1-3 NIV).
  • "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief" (2 Pet 3:10 NIV).
  • "Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you" (Rev 3:3 NIV).

 Remember the scene in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda excoriates Luke for "always looking to the stars ... never his mind on where he was! on what he was doing!"?  Okay, then, how about the country song "Live Like You Were Dying"?  This is very much the point, not only of all these statements but also of the Parable of the Rich Fool (Lk 12:16-21: "You fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?") and the similes of the birds and the lilies (Mt 6:25-34: "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day").  

In so many ways, what happens to us tomorrow is contingent on what we do today, right now.  So what would you be thinking right now if the world really were coming to an end?  Or not even that drastic — what if you were lying in bed in the final moments of cancer?  Or staring a gun in the barrel, knowing the next shot is coming at your head?  (I've been there, by the way, and every day since has been a gift.)  What have you done to leave the world a better place than you found it?  What have you done for the people around you that couldn't be done, say, by a government agency or a benign but distant philanthropist?

Even if you're not Catholic, or in any meaningful sense a Christian, you should be able to agree: What we do with the time we have matters.  There is no other day — today is the day.  Live every day as if it were your last, and leave nothing on the table ... nothing to regret, nothing to be ashamed of.  Live today like the world will end tomorrow.  Live like you were dying.

Clich├ęs?  The easiest thing to forget about truisms is that they are true.