It amazes me that, despite the warning from Jesus in today’s Gospel, (Luke 21:5-19) some people still try to link disastrous events, like the one now in the Philippines, to the end of the world and the Day of Judgement. Certainly some of the writers in the Old Testament do make that link, and it was still a view held by many in the time of Jesus. (See Luke 13:1-4) But Jesus will not allow us to believe that God sends suffering to the world. Yes, as we just heard him say in the Gospel, sufferings of various kinds will happen, but these are NOT to be seen as signs from God.
I noticed one comfortable Western journalist making this mistake when he described the Typhoon disaster as a test of faith. It was worth noticing a few moments later a weeping father who said quite the opposite. “Only with God can I manage to face this.” Sometimes we forget that such natural disasters, as well as awful wars, have always happened in our world; the only difference is that nowadays because of modern technology, we can see them for ourselves. Happily, most of us here in England do not just weep for those poor people, and then turn on one of the Soaps, but do what we can to help them, as the wonderful response to the DEC Appeal has shown.
Judgement Day, as described briefly in our 1st Reading (Malachi 3:19-20), is certainly something that Jesus tells us will happen, but he more often uses a different and more positive term. He talks about the coming, or the breaking in, of the kingdom of God, and he tells us that although that kingdom with its final judgement will only happen when the world ends, it is also happening here and now. So he says “The kingdom of God is very near” (Luke 10:9) and then, to make it more explicit, says that it is like the seed growing in the ground. We cannot see anything and yet it happens right in front of us. And then on one occasion he actually says “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:20-21)
One of the reasons that Christianity became popular first amongst the poorest of people, as it is today, is precisely because it gives people hope. It tells them and us. when we are faced with our own disasters, that God is not some fearsome force, or even a number of fearsome forces, that we must try to persuade to help us; but is a power of love and goodness that seeks always to help and support us whatever troubles we face. That is precisely why the God we believe in comes to us as a man and suffers and dies on the cross. But further, that knowing such love, we are then inspired not only to hope in him, but also to imitate him, and always to work to bring his love to others in need. For us Christians, faith, hope and love are always intermingled.
At the end of our lives, of course, or at the end of time, all of us will find ourselves face to face with God. This will be a moment of fear and love, as we see how often we have failed to love as much as we could have done, and realise fully how much he has loved us and how often we have ignored him. For some, hopefully a very few, that will be their end, their entry into hell; but for most of us, hopefully, this will be the beginning of our final purification – what we call purgatory – when we will be drawn fully into the love of God that we have known only a tiny part of here on earth. That is what the Day of Judgement will be like.
This is the wonderful message that we Christians have to offer our suffering world, and that is why we must do all we can, as a church, to spread this message of hope and love in every way we can.