“What is this world coming to?”
You may not be familiar with terms like "eschaton" or "eschatology." But if you’ve entertained thoughts similar to the above question, you definitely entertained thoughts of the eschaton and engaged in eschatology.
While these are not everyday terms, they nonetheless carry implications about how we live in relation to the world around us. They’re kind of a big deal.
What do eschaton and eschatology mean?
"Eschatology" refers to theology dealing with beliefs about the eschaton. To unpack "eschaton": Oxford says it is “the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.” While that’s a fair definition, it falls short of being complete. The eschaton is what we believe the world is coming to. Christian perspectives differ on what exactly the eschaton looks like. But most viewpoints agree that the world ultimately terminates in some kind of perfected state. The world doesn’t end. Rather, its journey of transformation ends.
So to say that that the eschaton is about the end of world isn’t completely accurate from a Christian perspective. It’s more about the transformation or renewal of the world than it is about the obliteration of the world.
That sounds like a lot of talk about far off events. But what we believe about the eschaton actually holds serious implications for how we conduct our lives today.
Why does the eschaton matter today?
The eschaton matters because you matter. Your life matters. What you do matters and what you bring to the world matters. Our individual actions hold implications for the rest of time. In short, your actions are not inconsequential blips in the face of eternity. They are not mere sands in the hourglass passing the countdown to annihilation.
A majority of Jesus’ teachings dealt with “the kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven.” The “kingdom of God/heaven” is another heavy term. Simply defined, it is the state in which God’s will is enacted. It is a kingdom of the heart (Luke 17:21).
As Jesus spoke about this kingdom, he spoke about something that was present--and his teachings spoke to the spread of this kingdom in the present day. The people he spoke to had agency in spreading this kingdom (Matthew 18:18). They enlisted as operatives in spreading the good news of the kingdom. They welcomed others in. Their actions mattered in relation to spreading a message of good news. For some, the good news was that their lives were, in fact, consequential.
When we ask, “What is this world coming to?” we often do so with a sense of exasperation. We do so understanding that the world is not completely what it could or should be. An uneasiness rests within us regarding the condition of the world. We have a sense the world isn’t right. We long for a better world.
Theologian N.T. Wright suggested that this longing to see the world “set to rights” is one of the ways we bear the image of God. It is a mark of our shared creator. We carry this urge to see the world set right because it is what God longs for, as well. It is a longing that is in process, but is not yet fully realized. Meaning the world is in process of being set right--and someday, we hope or believe, it will be completely right.
If we believe the world is in process of being set to rights, then our actions matter in terms of how they either stay that journey or carry us closer to a transformed world. Our actions are the seeds of the eschaton. So if we hold that the world will someday be free of racism, war, xenophobia, injustice, and so on… then we feel a sense of urgency in taking actions that erase those injustices today. This does not exclude God’s action in setting the world to rights, rather it recognizes God’s spirit working in us to establish God’s will of a just and perfect world set to rights. You have the power to accelerate the transformation of the world.
There certainly is much more to the eschaton than what space allows here (people write books on this stuff). This is merely an introductory--and invitational--post. If you’d like to find some co-agents in spreading the good news, check out our find-a-church feature. You may also have interest in this article about things like judgment and the second coming.
Rev. Ryan Dunn is the author. He is the Minister of Online Engagement with United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN. Ryan is an ordained deacon from the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.