Sunday, 4 November 2012

The second coming as a dateable event?

Can we conceive of the ‘second coming’ also as a datable historical event?  If not why not?... We cannot take for granted that humankind is the only kind of life that needs to be ‘judged’.  And this must have major implications for any understanding of the ‘second coming’.

... given that [the Universe] has already existed for at least fifteen billion years or thereabouts, we have no good reason to suppose it will not continue for another fifteen billion years or more.  In psychological if not logical effect, the cosmos may continue for ever, certainly long after humankind has begun and ended on this planet.  What then does the ‘second coming’ mean?  What does our resurrection from the dead mean if it is postponed for billions of years?

Perhaps the second coming is an ‘event’ applicable only to us on earth, and does not have cosmic implications at all.  Perhaps it is simply a judgement on humanity only in so far as humanity exists...May we not be resurrected long before the solar system blows up in our face?*

Response:John was one of the co-authors of a Doctrine Commission report on this and co-edited a book with Michael Welker on this topic called The End of the World and the Ends of God and has written a book called The God of Hope and the End of the World.

What I suspect happens is that when we die we “fall asleep” and the next moment of which we are conscious is the End of the present Universe. It makes no difference in principle if this is in a few years or a few billion years – compare ideas of John Penrose where he “identifies” the totally flat heat death of the universe with a singularity in a big bang. We then find the “second coming” in terms of a new heaven and a new earth.   At the End of the universe of course all creatures that are capable of being redeemed, whether human or non-human, are equally present.

Now it’s almost certain that Earth will have perished long before the end of the Universe (unless we get very smart about moving it out of the way of an exploding Sun etc…) and all too possible that there will be some catastrophe which wipes out humanity before then. In which case from a human point of view the Second Coming will occur to a lot of living people at once.  This certainly makes sense of a lot of biblical language but we have to remember that apocalyptic language is not intended to be read “literally” in any case.

One thing that science has certainly taught us is that our view of time is far too petty and parochial by the standards of the universe.  Which of course is a truth often repeated in the Bible.

* The questioner in fact submitted a 4-page essay of which this is the extracted gist. Please do not submit questions as attachments I probably won't have time to respond and I certainly can't send attachments to John

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