Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Psychology of the End

A Different Kind of Look at Eschatology

Here's a series I did a while back about the psychology of thinking you know when the world will end.  God doesn't tell us because it will radically affect our behavior...for the worst.

Psychology of the End (Part 1) - A Different Kind of Look at Eschatology

In sports, each team has a game plan. In football it might be to establish the run, then develop the pass, all the while controlling the line of scrimmage, field position and the clock. Following the game plan will result in victory. In baseball it might be to have the starting pitcher go six or seven innings, then turning it over to the bullpen to finish the game. In higher education, the student can have a game plan. Before the semester, he buys all his books. Then he studies hard, does all his homework and uses all of this to become familiar enough with the material to not only pass the midterm and final exams, but to get an "A." Living in a home with a yard might consist of mowing the lawn, painting and general maintenance. A game plan for these things consists of routine, repetition and consistency. But the game plan is best when it is a comprehensive one. One where all the situations are considered and can be addressed when faced. One that will not let small things grow into big problems.

But when the end of a thing is near, game plans and strategies change, sometimes radically. A team that is losing in the last minute of a football game will ditch all of its routine strategies and engage in acts of desperation, doing things it would never do at any other time of the game. With a runner on third early in a baseball game, the defensive team may concede the run to get an out. When it's the winning run in the 9th inning, both the infield and outfield are pulled in in a desperate attempt to get the out at home plate. A basketball team will purposely foul the other team in hopes that it misses the free throws in order to get the ball back. A hockey team will abandon its goalie for an extra offensive player to try to tie the game. A student will suddenly cram for finals. If a house is to be torn down to make way for a bigger project, the lawn won't get mowed. A graphics project with a deadline will result in long hours, plenty of coffee and scraps all over the floor at the last minute. Conversely, a team that is winning at the end of a game will be lazy and slow on purpose, substituting inferior players, etc.

The same things occur in real life with regards to eschatology. If somebody believes the end is really and suddenly near, life will be lived in a completely different manner, even if in desperation or laziness. In my next post, I will deal with this reality.

Psychology of the End (Part 2) - A Different Kind of Look at Eschatology

In my first post, I looked at how people change their behavior - sometimes even radically - when the end of a thing is approaching. Each of the examples I gave was for things where the timing of the end was generally known at the beginning. There are also things for which the end can come suddenly or unexpectedly. In life, we generally are born, go through childhood, become grownups with our own life, engage in a career, plan for retirement, retire, then eventually die. But a diagnosis of a terminal disease part way through life will change somebody's behavior radically. Some people quit their jobs to be with their families. In baseball, rain can threaten to bring the early end of a game. The team that is leading will hurry to get an official game in by completing the 5th inning, while the losing team will delay. Then, once the 5th inning is complete, the teams reverse their roles. Behavior changes with an unexpected facing of the end.

With regards to the end of the world and the return of Christ, Jesus tells us not only that we won't know the day or hour, but that we will not even know the times or seasons. I believe that God is wise enough to know human behavior, and if man knows the time of the end, he will most certainly change his behavior - radically. This is why God doesn't let us know. God has a plan of normal, routine behavior for us, and He wants us to stick to the plan that He laid out. If we know the end (really, if we think we know the end), we will change our behavior accordingly so that in anticipation of the end, we will change our focus from obeying God to obeying what we think about the end. We will have ceased to obey God. We will have changed from walking by faith to walking by sight. Next, I'll look at how this has fleshed its way out in history, including my personal history, and how different eschatological viewpoints affect our behavior.

Psychology of the End (Part 3) - A Different Kind of Look at Eschatology

Many "ends" have come in the history of man. Many groups have predicted the end of the world. Other ends have been postulated, such as Y2K. People's behavior has radically changed as a result. Although Y2K wasn't the "end of the world" per se, many people stockpiled arms in bunkers in Montana or Idaho in waiting for the collapse of the government following the global failure of computer chips. My church gained a few families from a church up the road because their pastor moved his family to a bunker in Montana in mid 1999 and closed down the church. In December, I bought several months of canned goods to protect myself "just in case." In the year 999, people feared the end of the world because it was a thousand years since Christ came to earth.

In 1994, my first church, led by Harold Camping, had quite a shaking up as a result of Camping's end of the world prediction. He first made his prediction public in 1992. Many people did strange things while facing the end. Some people quit jobs, some people cancelled bible studies, some people out of jobs delayed getting new ones, some people gave huge sums of money to Camping's ministry - even entire life savings - to "get the gospel out" at the last minute. Although I wasn't at that church until the week after the prediction date, I heard plenty of stories about odd things. Just two days earlier, their church picnic had people giving tearful goodbyes to one another. Church leaders were up late at night answering phone calls from terrified parishoners. Some people dropped out of life after the end didn't occur.

In the bible, Paul warns Timothy that men named Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection already took place and that it was upsetting the faith of some believers. The end has a powerful affect on people, so it should come as no surprise that one's view of eschatology can greatly affect how people live in the here and now.


  1. Oh, my word! Harold Camping! I was a young girl when my parents bought his teachings. We listened to Family Radio all the time on our short wave radio. LOL. By the time the date came around (Sept, maybe???), my parents were doubtful. My dad even joked about blasting Handel's Messiah on the stereo as a joke to scare us in the wee hours of the morning the end was supposed to come...


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