END OF THE UNIVERSE, HOPE AT THE END
But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
(Mark 13-24-27 NRSV)
Science interprets present experience but it also extrapolates into the future. There are a number of accounts of future cosmic catastrophe that we can choose from.
Science presents to us a number of descriptions of catastrophic events that can end life on earth, destroy the earth itself or else the sun may change radically in terms of its life giving properties. We know this because we have seen these things happen on this planet in the past or we have observed such things elsewhere in the universe. If we look at our own past we have seen in the fossil records mass extinctions caused collision with meteors. Observing the stars and planets we have seen suns grow to become red giants and enveloping the planets around them.
Beyond what might happen to this planet there are two suggested destinies for the universe itself which would depend on the mass of the universe. The universe is expanding, it may reach a turning point and then contract and collapse and everything will be destroyed in a cosmic fry up or else the universe may continue to expand and everything ends with a cosmic freeze. Currently I understand the freeze is the favoured model. The universe will become so low in density that galaxies will cease to be formed and the universe will cease to be life bearing. Of course both these two potential outcomes are many billions of years in the future.
Jesus speaks of what seems to be a cosmic catastrophe although we need to be careful that we do not associate Jesus’ teaching with scientific models of the end of the universe. Jesus is drawing upon writings of the prophets as he speaks about the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars (Ezekiel 32:7, 8, Joel 2:10, Amos 8:9). The verse concerning the Son of Man draws upon Daniel 7:13. Jesus is seeking to warn his hearers of coming danger and preparing them for a long struggle. Here is a vision of hope whatever suffering Mark’s readers and Jesus’ hearers have to endure, their faithfulness will be rewarded on the last day when they are acknowledged by the Son of Man.
Whether we are thinking about the end of our own life or the death of the planet or the universe itself our faith provides for us a hope that is grounded in the faithfulness of God. Death and catastrophe are real, but the ultimate reality lies in the love and acceptance of God.
You made galaxies and planets stretch way beyond our comprehension.
You made our own wide world beautiful, diverse and life giving.
You made us in your image.
You know each one of us.
You accept us and love us as unique and precious.
Faithful God, thank you.