On the plane today I was reading Marjorie Suchocki’s The End of Evil. A friendly flight attendant, while pouring my coffee, noticed the book title. “The end of evil?” she said. Do you think there’s going to be an end to evil? “Well…yes…I believe that. I certainly hope for it,” I responded (probably with a measured academic tone that came from just having worked through Suchocki’s comparison of Augustine and Leibniz on finitude and freedom). “Well I know there’s going to be an end to evil,” she said. “Only, it’s not going to happen on this planet. It will be somewhere else. I’ve read the book of Revelation…and I know about the millennium!”
She had already moved on to the next row, before I could suggest that the end of evil just might happen on this planet after all (and I thought about suggesting she read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope for a thoughtful consideration of that possibility). But that quick interaction was another reminder of the popular assumption that this world is pretty much headed for disaster. It’s all going to pot. The economy may be in the tank, resources are growing thin, social problems seem to mount, and our ultimate hope is in escape from this planet we call earth.
Of course, I don’t want to get too dramatic about this. She seems like a delightful, life-affirming, warm person who is enjoying and making the most of the life she has (from what I can tell from my few, tiny interactions). Her eschatological escapism doesn’t seem to emerge from a hatred of life or a distaste for the human race. And yet, I can’t help but wonder about the cumulative, negative impact this pessimistic view of the future role of our planet in the history of God’s salvation plan must have in the way Christians and the church think about some very pressing issues: ecology, economics, social ethics (i.e. gun control), etc. The more we de-link (is that a word?) human beings from our planetary home, the less we may feel a responsibility for what happens not only to the earth, but for what happens to the human race while we’re on it. Perhaps it’s time to imagine our future as if God will actually make his home here with us, as he promised (Rev. 21:1-4).