The End of the World

by Penrod

I think his name was Gustafson. He came to our church in the early 1950s to lead us in a Bible study on the end times. He charted all history in the light of “Bible prophecy” identifying Hitler and Stalin among the men and countries of whom the Bible had foretold. He put it all on a chart with dates and Bible references and concluded thus: “No one can predict the date of the Second Coming or the end of the world but I cannot see anything beyond 1953.”

People were fascinated and many, perhaps, reassured by knowing—knowing that all had been foreseen. And, though the world was a mess, we were in the hands of our God.

Though I shared this to some extent, I fervently hoped that 1953 would not be the end. I wanted to live longer, to play sports, have fun, find a true love, get married, and have a family.

Though not likely detained by my longings, the “Lord tarried” and my hopes were realized. My interest in this world deepened and along the way I encountered other interpretations of Christian eschatology. I hoped for progress and for peace. I hoped for a good world for my children and for their children. I still do. I have been reluctant to accept the pessimism about the world that many Christians hold with conviction—without illusion, some would say.

Yet, the course of events the past half-century which have led to the violence and risks of our present time is not encouraging. The things that matter are different for a teenager and a person in his sixties. If it were not for the children and the concern I feel for their futures, I could content myself with the hope of living comfortably and enjoyably for the rest of my days hoping I will escape the big troubles of the future.

But without children human life deadens. There is little new and refreshing to provide personal spark. Martin Luther said that if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he would plant a tree today. I can’t escape my troubled moments but what Luther said helps. I keep planting and am heartened by new life around me and I am glad Gustafson’s words were about his blindness rather than prophetic insight.

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

See all articles by Penrod