C. S. Lewis wrote that “The past is as much an act of the imagination as the future.” What he meant, I think, is that the way we think of the past is an act of imagination. I touched on this in an earlier post. And this relates directly to Cindy’s question about changing views of the End in the Bible. We tend to think of our own past as one of settled doctrines.
In fact, as a people, SDA ideas of the End have undergone significant changes. For a while, early pioneers believed that the gospel going to the whole world meant reaching the world through ‘hyphenated Americans,’ that is, reaching Germany through ‘German-Americans,’ China through ‘Chinese-Americans’ and so on. In the earliest days, they really didn’t have a missionary outlook in the truest sense. That came later.
These changes need not be a source of embarrassment. It’s clear that the Disciples originally expected Jesus to return, for the End to come, in their lifetimes. There are strong indications that Paul intended to “take the gospel to the whole [then known] world” all by himself! Only later, in places like Thessalonians and the writings of John do we see an awareness ( a changing awareness) that the End will not happen for some time.
This is simply part of the human condition. God knows the end from the beginning, we do not. Until it happens–and even afterwards, to some extent– our knowledge will remain incomplete, partial. No doubt a good portion of the millennium will be spent sharing stories about what we experienced in those climactic events! As we get closer to the End, our understanding will grow, and probably become clearer and more detailed, just as our image of an object grows clearer and more detailed as we approach it.
Our very name, “Adventist,” proclaims that we have an interest in the future. That is as it should be. But what really matters is what we do, how we live, how we build relationships now. The End will come. But who, and which of us, enjoy what comes after the End depends upon how we live and reflect God’s love to others today.
It is my hope and prayer that my understanding of the End continues to grow–which necessarily means change– and that my reflection of Christ’s character will increase every day. I’m 59 now, and hope to live many years. But violence, accident, or disease might take me at any time. That will be the End for me.
Leaders tell us that the best long-range plan makes clear what we should do today. In the same way, our understanding of the End should inform our daily walk with God, and with our fellow creatures.