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Eschatology and Fatalism: Doing Right, Fighting Evil, and the End Times

Apr 16, 2015

When I write on something over and over again, it is usually because it is a very important matter, or because some folks just don’t seem to get it. Thus I have often written on eschatology, and the need to not let end-times fixations become excuses for inactivity or even fatalism.

There are many concerns about those believers who are inordinately fixated on all things eschatological. The fact that they seem to spend all their time setting dates, but doing little to make an impact in the world around them can be a real worry.

excusesWhile the biblical teaching on the return of Christ is a wonderful doctrine indeed, it was never meant to become an excuse for laziness, for apathy, for carelessness, or for failing to be salt and the light in the community. But that all too often in fact happens.

One of the really problematic outcomes of such end-times fetishism is that it produces a fatalism and inertia in too many believers. “It is all inevitable.” “It was meant to happen.” “This was all predicted long ago.” Far too many believers offer these unhelpful copouts.

They are so convinced that Jesus is coming back tomorrow – if not sooner – that they have their bags packed and their feet up as they await the Lord’s return. They stop doing anything useful and constructive in other words, and just sit back in idle, going nowhere.

I get this all the time as I seek to alert people to what is happening all around us. I will point out how our freedoms are being lost by the militant homosexual lobby, or I will warn about the grave dangers of creeping sharia and stealth jihad. But far too often I will get misguided believers coming back with rather useless replies such as these:

“Yep, it is all happening according to prophecy.”
“It is just as Revelation says it will be.”
“All this has been prophesied about.”
“We are living in the end times.”
“Jesus must be coming any moment now.”
“We have been told all this would happen.”

Now all these replies in one sense may be more or less true. But all too often they are used as a cheap excuse. The idea is this: ‘well, Christ is coming back real soon and all this was prophesied about anyway, so don’t worry about it.’ They use their eschatology as an excuse for inaction, for complacency, and as a smokescreen for doing nothing.

That my friends is certainly not very helpful. I could offer plenty of concrete examples of this, but let me provide just one recent example. I had written on a concerning trend on the radical sexuality front, and got this in reply: “Not sure we are meant to prevent this social engineering process because it is clearly prophesied in the Holy Bible that these things would happen in the end times of our World”

Oh dear. Another unhelpful and rather unbiblical fatalist. I responded with words along these lines: Of course we are to fight against this evil with all our might. The fact that we are warned about evil to come is never meant to be an excuse for passivity and non-action. Undoubtedly Wilberforce was given similar words, but it is a very good thing that he ignored them.

We are always to stand for righteousness and always to fight against evil. God will take care of his end of things, but we must always do our bit. We must do the right thing. We must always get involved, and not use end-times fixations to become a lousy excuse for doing nothing.

And related to all this is an unhelpful emphasis on God’s sovereignty when it detracts from our own responsibility. Of course God is sovereign, of course God is in control, and of course God is working things out in human history towards his desired ends.

But that does not mean we therefore have no role to play in his work. He calls us to partner with him. He calls us to share the gospel with the whole world. He calls us to stand for righteousness and oppose unrighteousness. That is our calling as believers.

Yes God is sovereign, but he has also chosen to accomplish his purposes with and through us as well. If he wanted to, he could just zap everyone into salvation, or holiness, or obedience, or righteousness. But his normal means is by way of our cooperation with him.

His normal means is for us to exercise our wills to cooperate in the work of the Kingdom. He expects us to do the necessary spiritual exercises in order to grow. He expects us to tell other people about the gospel in order for them to get saved. He expects us to work for righteousness in this world. So please, no more unhelpful copouts by appealing to God being in control, while ignoring other biblical truths.

A similar line that often gets thrown at me is that we should not really fight any of this, because this is God’s judgment on us. But there are problems with this line of thought as well. Firstly, how can we be absolutely certain a particular sinful agenda or evil ruler is indeed a God-given judgment?

In the Old Testament we had prophets telling us this quite often. But they had the inspiration of God to make such claims. I am not sure we have the same such authoritative voices today. Back then we had “thus sayeth the Lord.” Today we need to be a bit more circumspect, relying on the Word of God, the canon of which is now closed.

I am not saying God is unable to speak to us today, but we must always treat all such claims with great care, and make sure they all line up fully with Scripture. But there is another problem with this kind of statement. Even if God was judging us in certain ways or at certain times, what are the implications of this?

We already know that the entire world will one day be judged by the Righteous Judge. But what does that have to do with throwing in the towel now? Of course he is coming again to judge fully and finally. But until he does, we have work to do. Jesus said ‘occupy till I come’ and he meant it.

Knowing that he is coming – maybe soon – to judge should not stop us from doing what is right. Should we stop evangelising, helping the poor and starving, caring for loved ones, etc., because he may even now be judging the West? Should we stop eating, sleeping, and putting our clothes on because of this?

Even if a wicked leader like Obama is part of the judging and sifting process of God, does that mean we just sit back and do nothing? Do we stop standing up for the sanctity of life? Do we stop standing up for the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family?

Do we stop praying for the lost because it is of no avail since God is judging? Even if he were judging the West by horrible leaders like Obama, that does not absolve us of our responsibilities to do good and resist evil. We must always do the work of the Kingdom until he calls us home or he returns.

So I for one tire of these rather lame and biblically unhelpful excuses so often thrown up. Whether it is a manic obsession with all things eschatological, or a faulty understanding of God’s sovereignty, we must reject these misguided approaches and get back to work.

We have a job to do – so let’s do it.

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11 Responses to Eschatology and Fatalism: Doing Right, Fighting Evil, and the End Times

  • Reminds me of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We have to be ready to do what God wants us to do when He wants it. Slacking off is not acceptable.

  • Thanks, Bill.
    While I can largely agree with your sentiments above, that the hope of Christ’s Second Coming (hereafter SC) can be misused as a fatalistic cop-out, there is another side to the story. And since you raised the subject I feel constrained to voice my concerns.

    Christians today feel so helpless in the face of bone-headed, ideologically-driven political leaders who are hell-bent on their evil agendas that any idea of doing what is right, or even listening to the voice of the people whom they purport to represent is as far from their minds as night from day. One only has to look at the state of things in our work now compared with even 30 years ago: during that time Christians have testified, fought, witnessed, protested, etc. and meanwhile things have gone down, down, down. And what is their hope in the midst of all this? Why, the “blessed hope” of the return in glory of our Lord and Saviour (Titus 2:13). Is there something wrong with this? Surely not!

    Likewise, for all those Christians suffering persecution around the world: as so often in the past so also now; the same blessed hope is their stay and comfort in the face of it all. Is there something wrong with that?

    Christians will, in the face of all the evil that is coming over the world, and evil men, comfort themselves with our Lord’s words, “When you see all these things coming to pass, look up, for your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28) Is our Lord to be criticised for this, or all the people who even now recall this and similar texts?

    Following this last point, while “prophecy buffs” can indeed be obsessed with the prophetic passages of Scripture, surely an equal and opposite error is to ignore them altogether, using the type of observations in your essay above as a pretext? Are passages like Matt.24 (and parallels); 2 Thess.2; 2 Pet.3; the many references to the SC in the epistles; and the entire book of Revelation to be regarded as so much decoration or padding in the Scriptures? What is wrong with at least raising the question as to whether the wholesale apostasy we see in our world is indeed the “apostasia” of 2 Thess,2. I do not for a moment see such a question as in any way wrong. Sure, we continue to raise our protest and a prophetic voice, but at the same time we keep an eye to what is going on in the world, and indeed, “look up, for our redemption draws near”.

    And just in case either you, Bill, or anyone on this blog, throws up the post-millennial hope or the preterist interpretation of Revelation, I reject these views as unscriptural fantasy. I am a-millennial, rejecting all forms of millennialism – which I believe is important to do, and so focus on the “blessed hope”.

  • Thanks Murray. Yes his return is indeed a blessed hope and a great comfort, especially for those who are suffering great persecution. I of course never said it was not. And even more so, his coming to judge his enemies is something to look forward to, as I have often written about. See here for example:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/16/there-is-nothing-wrong-with-payback/

    See more here on what great news it is that he is coming again and will deal with his – and our – enemies:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/05/jesus-justice-and-vindication/

    billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/03/on-having-enemies/

    billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/18/when-vengeance-is-an-honourable-and-a-god-honouring-thing/

  • Well, I am fully expecting Jesus to turn up right around dinner time to take me home, in the mean time, I have my veggie gardens to prepare.

    In other words, the Lord could turn up at any time, day or night, but that does not mean we can sit on our backsides and wait for it to happen. That’s a good way to get told “begone for I never knew you”.

    Neil Waldron.

  • The biblical apostles and prophets lived in times that were far from golden ages of community spirituality and virtuous living: They refused to acquiesce in the evils of their days and spoke out fearlessly, calling their contemporaries to that change of heart and life direction we have come to call repentance. The message of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ is part of the people of God’s calling to live for Him in a world living on the eve of destruction.

    True biblical eschatology is no theological “sleeping bag”. On the contrary, real eschatology is a call to follow in the footsteps of the True and Faithful Witness who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.

  • Can’t agree more Bill.

    And the “oh-well-the-world-must-get-more-evil” crowd tend to act separate like they are saving themselves for God. Rather like the servant who dug a hole and hid his talent in the ground. Words of Jesus: “Wicked and lazy servant”

    More words of Jesus;
    “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.
    On earth as it is in Heaven…”

    Final words of Jesus:
    “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (Matt 28:19)
    “You shall be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8)

    Hmmm, don’t see too much room here for sitting by while the world goes to Hell in a handbasket.

    Besides, we don’t quite yet have the evils of the Roman empire that the early church confronted. So how did our culture improve in the first place? Through the evangelism of our ancestors and the likes of Wesley, Whitefield, Moody, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Edwards, Wycliffe, Calvin, Carey, Booth…

    Our culture is going downhill now because of lazy Christians, not because God ordained it!

  • Me again. Sorry – I have to say this…
    There are those who believe there will be a last great revival. Well, I might as well join them. Seems like this idea could go some way in combatting the fatalistic “whatever will be, will be” attitude to the last days.
    Assuming, of course, that one intends to be part of the initiation of some bit of that revival, not just simply “waiting”.
    Can’t hurt to aim high now could it?

  • You are 100% correct. We are meant to be the “body of Christ.” Yes God does have to intervene from time to time to overcome evil but it is to out great shame that He does.

    I am, however, very grateful that He does.

  • Its the last days, and thus we push even harder than before that others might be saved..great article. Check the latest craze of ‘doomsday preppers’, do a little research and youll see there is a great wisdom in this BUT, a balance is needed as fatalism and the running away and hiding, being useless and failing to be salt and light, support the local church and work together in unity etc is being abandoned.

  • For those of us who are end times prepping, it is all part of the same program.
    1/ prepare so we can live off grid, thus be self sufficient from the world, for the most part.
    2/ invite others to come unto Christ.
    3/ Teach them to do number 1 and 2.
    Many of the doomsday preppers do not have God’s kingdom in mind as they prepare, most of them are secularists.
    Hope this helps (from a Christian doomsday prepper).

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