RELIGION: Speculation about the end of the world isn’t limited to religious circles

By Canon Gerry Conroy

Despite the words of Christ that nobody knows the hour of the end of the world, it has never stopped people from speculating and suggesting that the end was nigh.

Some people get caught up in the fever of speculation and concentrate all their nervous energy on that
particular event.

It happened in the early church, it happens every now and again in our own day as people await an imminent radical change in the order of the world.

And speculation about the end of the world isn’t limited to religious circles; it’s present in secular preoccupations also.

In the Gospel, Mark presents us with these words of Christ quoting the prophet Isaiah – amongst others. For the prophets, such threatening language was a way of speaking about the frustration and anger of God at the way people’s lives had led to a bad state of things in the world.

We have seen and heard a lot of that frustration and anger from people in the past week or so in the face of what Pope Francis has called one of the great moral questions of our time.

I don’t know many people would frame it in those terms, partly because moral behaviour is not something people want to talk about.

Yet it is hard to talk of it in any meaningful way in any other terms, otherwise it is simply things we do as if the things we choose to do were unrelated to who we are.

The Pope’s message is that if our world is in a perilous state it is because of our selfishness, our interests that are too narrowly concentrated on ourselves, whether as individuals or as families or as nations or as religions.

We will never solve our problems as long as we refuse to look beyond our own individual concerns.

That is a fundamental Christian message not just about the state of our world’s environment, but about the state of our souls.

God doesn’t look down in frustration at the chaos in our world, he looks down in frustration at the chaos in our souls; he looks at the cause of the chaos.

But then again God wouldn’t look down in frustration if we were not capable of something more.

He sees the possibilities of our nature when it works together with his grace, and he sees too what we do when we try to go it lone without his grace.

There is a lot of talk about the peril our world is in if we do not do away with fossil fuels and reduce our carbon and methane footprint, and what moral talk there is, is limited to the consequences of our actions.

There is very little talk about the underlying drivers of our actions and the morality of those.

There seems to be very little understanding of the importance of morals to our identity as human beings, of the place of morals in our sense of ourselves and what we do.

Our actions arise out of who we are and if we have placed our world in jeopardy, it is because of who we are and unless we are willing to address that issue, we will always be creating another threat to our existence once we have solved the latest one.

We have a great gift of freedom from God; we are left free to choose so many things, but our freedom is given to us not simply as free choice to do good or not, it is also about our freedom to be better human beings or not.

That is what our faith is calling us to. It is what the judgment of God we will all have to face will be about.

Top of page caption: Pope Francis meets the Right Rev John Chalmers of the Church of Scotland.

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