Thursday, December 13, 2012

Interfaith Forum: The End Of The World

Good morning Mr. Chairman, distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for this honor to speak before you today. Interfaith dialogues are critical to promote mutual understanding, knowledge sharing and respect in a multi-religious society like Malaysia. So I am glad that MMU Melaka has been active in promoting such forums.

Let me begin with a question: How would you react if someone came up to you on the sidewalk, waving a huge card board saying, “Repent, Repent, Doomsday is near”? I guess you might decide to run away or keep a safe distance, thinking: “How gullible are these people to believe in all these Doomsday predictions? Hmph! Another nutcase religious cult…”

I’d probably do the same thing. But then again, the end of the world doesn’t sound so crazy now that we have the technology (the know how) to destroy the earth and wipe out the entire human race many times over. We have atom bombs, hydrogen bombs and nuclear bombs. See how smart we are! If you consider the very real possibility of a nuclear holocaust, of global climate change, of earthquakes and tsunami, of disease outbreak, pollution or a giant asteroid crashing into our planet, then perhaps we are kidding ourselves to believe that our little world is immune to destruction. Contemporary movies such as Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, The Matrix, Resident Evil and Terminator show that we are still fascinated with various plausible end-time scenarios.

DoomsdayNow what do Christians believe about Doomsday (Hari Kiamat)? Well, in order to understand that, we need to first go back to the beginning of the world. Christians believe that this planet and everything in it (the sunsets, the oceans and mountains, the diverse ecosystem of animals and plants, and human beings with the ability to think, love and worship)… all of that is created by God, and therefore they are originally good. But the human race rebelled against the Creator. We wanted to be the boss of our lives apart from God’s way. By doing so, we have distorted the harmony in creation. Relationship with God and relationship with each other were broken. Sin is the root of suffering in the world – the injustice, corruption, discrimination and wars. So God cannot forgive our sins just like that because He is holy and righteous. Sin must not go unpunished.

So what’s the solution? Well, in spite of all that sin and darkness, God did not leave us to rot. He did not just send us prophets and messengers to teach us what is right. He came personally into the world as a human being to rescue us from sin – His name is Jesus the Messiah (or Isa Al-Masih to Arab speaking Christians). He loved us so much that He willingly died on the cross to pay for our sins. That settles the question of God’s justice so that God can now freely show mercy and forgive us. When we turn away from sin and follow Jesus as Lord, relationship with God is restored. Three days after He was dead and buried, Jesus was raised to life again and conquered the power of death. We call it: Resurrection. One day, the Bible calls it the Day of the Lord, Jesus will return to earth to judge both the living and the dead. He will destroy all that is corrupt and evil, and ushers in His kingdom, reign and rule of justice, peace and healing.

So that, in a nutshell, is God’s rescue plan. Christians call it the good news. Instead of an endless cycle of destruction and rebirth, this grand story has a beginning, a climax and an ending. History is linear: it is progressing and moving towards a purpose, an ultimate meaning and final destiny.

The Bible tells us what we need to know about the day of the Lord: “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you… He is giving us time, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come unexpectedly like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter chapter 3)

Let us unpack the practical things that we can learn from this Bible passage

1) Christians are skeptical of any attempt to set dates or countdown to the end of the world. Because the Bible clearly said that the day of the Lord would come unexpectedly like a thief in the night. You won’t know when to expect it. Nobody knows the date and time. Come 21 December 2012, you can sleep better.

2) When many people think of heaven, what do they have in mind? Well, from Hollywood movies and cartoon strips, a lot of people have the mistaken notion that heaven is a place where people float around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. The idea is to escape from this material world into that ghost-like, abstract, spiritual existence somewhere else. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from this present life and passively wait for the afterlife. “Why bother making this world into a better place to live in when we will end up in some other place?”

So we need to be careful with how we use terms like Doomsday and end of the world. What exactly do we mean by that? When the Bible says the present earth and heaven will ‘pass away,’ it does not mean that they disappear or go out of existence. It does not mean that the old car is destroyed so we need to replace it with another one. What we mean is: the same car that was destroyed is now fixed, restored, transformed, upgraded and given a complete makeover into a brand new car.

We might say, ‘The caterpillar passes away, and the butterfly emerges.’ It means that there will be such a radical change that the present condition will pass away but there is also a real continuity, a real connection to the new heaven and new earth.

Through fire, the present earth will be dissolved, refined, and purified to give rise to a future world that will be more substantial, more tangible and more solid than one we know. God did not create this material world only to abandon it. Rather, He will renew and rescue it. So Christians have every reason to care for the material world, to protect the ecosystem and to heal the sick and work for social equality and relieve the suffering of the poor and marginalized. Because our hope of eternal life is not to escape from the world. But to renew and transform it… In the meantime, while we wait for that day, we pray and work so that God’s will is done and His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

3) We see lots of suffering, violence and corruption today. Much of it is caused by people’s greed: consuming and accumulating things as if they will last forever. Often we see the bad guys win and the good guys lose. And we struggle with the question of whether evil that appears so powerful can ever be defeated. Christians do not believe that good and evil are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. Rather the day of the Lord is a promise that Jesus will return as a righteous Judge to put right all that is wrong in the world and restore all that is lost. Evil will not have the last word. It also reminds us not to build our security and significance on wealth and power because they will soon pass away. These things are temporal and provisional. The idea that there will be a final judgment is a comfort, encouragement and strength to those struggling with evil and suffering. For God promised a new world where there will be no more sorrow, pain or violence. He will wipe away every tear and restore all that is beautiful, noble and true.

4) Some people may wonder, “Now, that all sounds very good but it’s been 2000 years and Jesus hasn’t come back yet. Why so slow, wan? How can we be sure that it will ever happen?” Well, the Bible says that God is not being slow. He has his own time table. A day is like a thousand years from the perspective of eternity. He is actually being patient with us. He is giving us time to turn away from our selfishness and be reconciled to him before Judgment Day. He does not desire for anyone to perish in their sin because it would mean eternal separation from God’s presence. Forever.

And how do we know that God’s kingdom will indeed come? Well, the evidence is found in what happened to Jesus after his death on the cross. If He stays dead, there will be no Christian movement starting in Jerusalem. But on the third day, His tomb was found empty and many eyewitnesses testified to have seen Him alive. It changes everything. His resurrection (coming back to life in a glorious, incorruptible, physical body) is a sign, an evidence and guarantee that the future kingdom has already broken into the present. It is like a seed that will grow until it covers the whole earth. It means that death will not be final. It is a foundation of hope when you are faced with the shadow of death or cancer. It is the sign that Jesus has won the decisive battle over evil, the evidence that He is indeed the Lord of the universe and has now received authority and power to judge the nations.

For Christians, the physical body is not evil in itself. It is not a prison from which our souls need to be set free. The ultimate hope of Christians is the resurrection of the body. On that great Day, those who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior will also be raised to life in an incorruptible, glorified and physical body just like Jesus. These are the ones who say: “God, I am a sinner. I cannot save myself with my religious performance, my moral achievements. When I do achieve these moral standards, I feel proud and superior to others. When I fail to do them, I feel condemned and despair. So I will not trust on my own strength, my own merits and performance. I will put my trust in what You have done on the cross for me. You accepted me freely therefore I obey. I will give my life over to You as Lord and Savior to transform me and renew me and forgive me from inside out”.

This is what Christians believe about the destiny of the world, and the destiny of our own personal stories. Thank you.


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