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The Modern Malaise and the End of the World

The end of the world is more real than the world. The Creator is more real than the creation. The end of time is the beginning of eternity, when time’s urgencies dissolve.

(us.fotolia.com/nito)

Have you noticed that people have been thinking a lot about the End of the World lately? Okay, so they’ve also been thinking about it for the last few thousand years. But whenever we have a combination of natural disasters, political upheaval, moral decay, doubt, defiance, and the open celebration of sin, some of us start to think: “It’s gotta be just about over…”

And yet, as you have also noticed, the world hasn’t ended. Unless, of course, you count all the times it has ended in the past. History is full of fallen empires, and the landscapes of the earth are littered with the ruins of great cities and civilizations that are no more. It is both a caution and a comfort, direct evidence that the world indeed does end, but that it’s not The End. G.K. Chesterton says, “It is very natural but rather misleading, for supposing that this epoch must be the end of the world because it will be the end of us.”

Have you also noticed that while people don’t want the world to end, they don’t seem very happy about the world that hasn’t ended yet? They recognize that things are coming apart, that the normal is not considered normal, that in spite of contemporary comforts, everybody is miserable.

Chesterton observes this also, in his book, The Everlasting Man, which, keeping right on topic, contains a chapter entitled “The End of the World.” He is referring to the state of society leading up to the birth of Christ. The triumph of reason that had sprung from the birth of philosophy in Greece and spread to Rome had fallen into mere skepticism and pessimism. The pagan religions no longer produced any poetry, only perversion. Wealth and power provided no satisfaction. Chesterton says: “Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.”

If that sounds familiar it is because we find ourselves in the same position today, as we wait for Christ to come a second time. In this age of “progress” where have we have seen improved technology, transportation, communication, and cookies, where we keep telling ourselves everything keeps getting better, we look around and only see how dissatisfied we are. In spite of progress, we seem farther from utopia than ever.

When the guy from the phone company came to hook up my wireless network, we did not discuss the miracle of cordlessness, we instead got to talking about how messed up the world is. He said the word “distopian.” And after he said it, he said, “I try to use the word ‘distopian’ in a sentence every day.” Spreading the gospel.

The thing about the end of the world is one of these days it’s really going to happen. Chesterton says, “The end of the world is more actual than the world it ends.” A characteristic paradox pointing to the ultimate reality. The end of the world is more real than the world. The Creator is more real than the creation. The end of time is the beginning of eternity, when time’s urgencies dissolve.

While the prospect of the end of the whole world has always loomed, it is sometimes a distraction from the more immediate end of our personal world, our own death. But the issue is the same. We don’t fear the end of the world, we fear what happens after that. We don’t fear death, but judgment. At the same time, we are curious about death…and even curious about judgment. We want to know the ultimate meaning of things, the solution to the riddle. Chesterton says, “For the world really has an end, since it has an aim.”

He also makes the valuable point that Christianity has something in common with the ordinary detective story. “The judgment at the end of any silly sensational story is like the judgment at the end of the world; it is unexpected.” Jesus promised that there will be a final judgment, and that it will come when we least expect it. This points to a paradox that I’ve never seen Chesterton point to: it is those times when we think things are so bad that God needs to come and end it, that He is probably least likely to do so. It’s when we think, “Things aren’t so bad…” that we forget about God, and are in greater danger.

In discussions about the end of the world, Chesterton observes that some people demonstrate a very small view of God. This was the case with a certain theologian of Chesterton’s time, who when speaking of the extinction of the material universe, actually said: “What will God have to think about?” Chesterton is astonished at the shallowness of the remark.

He responds with restraint. “Not having seen the Beatific Vision, we cannot, of course, say exactly how it is beatific or how it contains in itself its own beatitude. But one would suppose that anybody believing in God at all would postulate that He has in His own nature the secret of beatitude; and does not require a material universe to amuse Him, like a morning paper every morning…” It is typical of the progressive thinker that he never thinks about the old Church dogmas, “which he has always spurned as if nobody wanted them, and which in this very case offer him everything that he wants. God will have, even in that sense, a great deal to think about; and man will have a great deal to think about; in his final relation to the source of all thought. But would it not be as well if man began to think a little, even now?”

About Dale Ahlquist 23 Articles
Dale Ahlquist is president of the American Chesterton Society, creator and host of the EWTN series "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense," and publisher of Gilbert Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books on Chesterton, including The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton.

9 Comments

  1. Precisely, Mr. Ahlquist. You add to the Chester-canon of paradoxes. The needle will skip off the record only when we’re right in the midst of our greatest jig and unawares. Even the atheists I work with think God is ending things shortly. Only the Catholic Church has ever taught me to not worry about The End nor ignore its reality but rather hold the exactly right position of safeguarding my own soul.

  2. I always recall such cautions, from Dale and others , when things look bleak outside the Church. It’s the tremors within the Church that tempt me to anticipate the End, such as a pope seemingly prepared to contradict the definitive writings of his immediate predecessors. But that’s happened before, too. Right?…Right?

    • It strikes me that in addition to the problems within the Church, there are also some very disturbing signs outside of Rome, too. Take for instance the increased apparitions of the Virgin over the last 120 or so years: Fatima, Lourdes, Akita, Tre Fontane (Our Lady of Revelation).

      In the past when there have been great issues the Lord has sent us Saints. It seems that in sending Mary, it’s more desperate than ever. A human being cannot right the ship or correct the errors before us. Only divine intervention can help. And nobody is listening.

      Sister Lucia of Fatima, in her last interview in 1957, said that the final battle will be over marriage and the family. Well….can somebody tell me what else there is to be battle about with regard to marriage and family other than what we’re fighting over right now?

  3. utinam disrumperes caelos et descenderes a facie tua montes defluerent sicut exustio ignis tabescerent aquae arderent igni ut notum fieret nomen tuum inimicis tuis a facie tua gentes turbarentur (Isaias 64:1-2)

  4. Your article brings to mind something that is sure to happen before the end of the world at some time. A very specific statement in the Bible refers to a “mass apostasy.” The passage I am referring to regards a “coming” of Christ which is spoken of by St. Paul that is clearly not his final coming (i.e. the last judgment). Nevertheless, given the content of the prophecy, it is an event of enormous significance in world history. This one is basically ignored even in the liturgical readings (the passage is not in the lectionary). St. Paul, just after calming his readers about any need to worry that the “day of the Lord is at hand” (2 Thess 2:2), helpfully goes on to give the signs to know when this event would take place. None of this is included in the reading (31st Sunday of Ordinary Time in year c). However, in the Bible reading, the signs of his “advent” are rather detailed. It speaks first of all a mass “apostasy” (i.e., loss of faith, apostasia in the original Greek) and the revelation of the “lawless one” who “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship … claiming that he is a god [the rise of contemporary atheism and nihilism].” “And now you know what is restraining [the papacy], that he may be revealed … whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth [i.e. the Holy Spirit] by the manifestation of his coming” (2 Thess 2: 3-8). By the way, all of his sounds like the Fatima prophesy [Russia will be converted and my Immaculate Heart will triumph and a time of peace will be given to the world, etc.]. Interestingly, 2017 will be the first centenary of the Fatima apparitions and Pope Francis has declared that it was his desire that his pontificate be particularly under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima – he has even made a pilgrimage. Seriously, how could God grant a time of peace to the world without a special action of the Holy Spirit as predicted by St. Paul or “another Pentecost” as Pope John XXIII prayed for at the time of the Council? Mary asked at Fatima for the rosary to be recited daily. Isn’t it time we listened to her to do our part in bringing this about?

    • The Blessed Mother also asked that we honor the First Saturday Devotion…Both reciting the Rosary and the First Saturday Devotion have gone by the wayside…..Only those who attend Mass daily and those faithful who follow the Rosary on EWTN are keeping this devotion alive….People for the most part have forgotten all about the First Saturday Devotion…we can honor this devotion over and over again….We must get back to praying the Rosary as a family after dinner and keeping the First Saturday Devotion alive and well.

  5. Come, Thou Almighty King,
    Help us Thy name to sing,
    Help us to praise.
    Father, all glorious,
    O’er all victorious,
    Come, and reign over us,
    Ancient of Days.
    2
    Come, Thou incarnate Word,
    Gird on Thy mighty sword,
    Our prayer attend:
    Come, and Thy people bless,
    And give Thy word success;
    Spirit of holiness,
    On us descend.
    To Thee, great One in Three,
    Eternal praises be
    Hence evermore.
    Thy sov’reign majesty
    May we in glory see,
    And to eternity
    Love and adore.

  6. The following are not if but when scenarios: The magnetic poles will shift leaving our planet open to cosmic rays; A large meteor could will come crashing into our atmosphere causing a massive percussive boom, sending up debris and radiation into the atmosphere; A massive viral infection will spread throughout the planet effecting much of the human population; A viral plant infection will wipe out much of the Earth’s produce; A sudden shift in the Earth’s climate will change the rain patterns on the planet; and eventually our wonderful sun will run out of fuel and our planet and everything on it will perish. All of these things have already happened on our planet or other planets in the galaxy, but just not within the tiny scope of time in which human beings have been on the planet. Matt.24:36-51. But oh well, if cartoonists do indeed speak words of wisdom, then to quote another great cartoonist and his immortal work, “What, me worry?”

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