Cheer up! We’re all going to die!
One of my favorite book titles is from Robert Jastrow, former director of the Goddard Space Lab. Back in the ‘70s or ‘80s he published a little book about life in an evolutionary world in which everything depends – at least on this little blue planet – on the continuing vigor of the sun. The book was ominously entitled, Until the Sun Dies.
The universe is running down, and every message that comes to us from the heavens reminds us that we are all doomed. Unlike the seasons of the earth, which hold out the continuous promise of renewal, the drift of the cosmos is toward the abyss. We are riders in a driverless stage coach being pulled by uncontrollable forces which will, sooner or later, plunge us over the edge to certain death.
The witness of the heavens is that cataclysm is, if not just around the corner, certainly inevitable. Whether our view of the universe is oscillating or continuously expanding, death, whether by heat or cold, is still death. Solar flares threaten our wellbeing in regular cycles. Asteroids are lining up to blast our planet to smithereens. And now I read that the Andromeda galaxy is on a collision course with our own Milky Way, a cosmic cataclysm that will surely destroy even the last cockroach.
“And there’s no way to stop it, no there’s no way to stop it…” sang the ingratiating count in The Sound of Music (stage version). The universe is going to destroy us, but not by surprise. The heavens remind us day by day, with all kinds of signs and in all kinds of ways, that our time of flourishing here on earth is strictly limited.
Humankind is doomed.
Get used to it.
But this is actually good news, for it means that, once again, the Scriptures are discovered to be right on.
In Acts 2 the Apostle Peter quoted the Prophet Joel, explaining that in the last days the heavens would be filled with portents of judgment and cataclysm to come (Acts 2:19). The Greek word, terata, translated “wonders” by the ESV, really means something more like “omens” or “signs of portent.” In the last days – the times in which we have been living since that first Christian Pentecost – men would be able to read the signs of the heavens more clearly. Prior to the last days men saw the heavens as signaling stability (the various constellations), pointing the way to blessing and boon (astrology), and in general as a comforting reassurance that everything’s continuing as it should.
But the science of astronomy has shown otherwise. The heavens, it turns out, are just one huge “Danger: Bridge Out Ahead!” sign, warning us that we’d better enjoy life while we can, because soon enough the sun will die and then there will be no one to complain to about the cold.
What the heavens really want us to understand is not simply that the cosmos is coming unglued, but that a “great and notable” day – the Day of the Lord – will be soon upon us (v. 20).
Given that backdrop, however, the Scriptures do not counsel fretting or hiding in a cave. Rather, as Peter continued, the people of God are to expect that He will be making Himself known to them – in Scripture and through the creation – so that they may enter in new and powerful ways into His self-revelation. Armed with the knowledge of God, the people of God go forth, in the salvation of the Lord, to proclaim the Good News of an eternal Kingdom that not even our dying cosmos will be able to take down with it.
So let the cosmos continue to threaten and warn. It’s just as God has said. And let us, reading the signs of the cosmos and hearing the rest of God’s Word, take up – in a universe where the last word is death – our hopeful word of life and salvation, and make known the Good News of Jesus to everyone around us.