Whenever our lives are touched, however tangentially, with the tragedy that seems to be endemic in the world, and which is presented to us almost too directly and insistently by social media platforms and the news industry, we are given an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and purpose of our own lives. This is especially so for those of us who are Christians, when members of our own community are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with evil actions which snatch away their lives in martyrdom.
But the Christian way demands of us a much more self-reflective consideration of how we live at all times, and not just when there is an event which causes only a short-term interruption to our normal lives.
St Peter speaks about the Day of Lord in 2 Peter 3:10-13 and says…
The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
With all things that are to do with the end, or the eschaton, there is always a very real sense in which the experience and participation of believers is to begin right now. Just as eternal life is not something we might hope to experience in the distant future, but is the life of eternity in which we are to share in this life. So the Day of the Lord is not only the distant end of this universe and a day of judgement, but is the experience now of this coming of the Lord in our own lives.
The Day of the Lord is the end of the material universe, and more than that, it is the end of all worldly and material concerns. The earth and the works that are in it…. will all be swept away. This is a consuming fire, it is the presence of God Himself, in whose glory all those things which are of no eternal value will be destroyed. Elsewhere St Paul speaks of these works of the world as being like chaff and straw, and he instructs us that the Day of the Lord will show us what the nature of our own works and all the effort of our life truly is.
On the Day of the Lord our wealth, worldly prestige, importance and influence will be of no value at all. None at all. It will not matter what job we had, nor the size of our house, nor our academic qualifications, nor our social standing. All that will matter is how we lived each day. What use we made in each moment of the grace of God offered to us freely but often left unnoticed. To what extent we sacrificed self in the service of God and of others. If we wish to avoid the judgement at the end of things then we would be wise to welcome the Day of the Lord into our lives right now.
Everything in our life that is not of eternal value will be swept away in the fire of God’s presence. Everything we own, everything we work so hard to obtain and possess. Everything we value above God and above the spiritual. And we will be left with that little which remains when the worldly treasure has been lost. Will we also be consumed by the presence of God in His glory and majesty? It is a possibility indeed, that we will be left naked and ashamed on that day, unless we experience it right now and in this life learn to make the right judgements about the value of the worldly and the spiritual, about the self and about God.
I have many people contact me and ask that I will pray that their child will pass an exam, or get a particular job. I pray for them all, and ask those who seek my unworthy prayers to be confident in the will of God whatever happens. But I do not think I have very often been asked to pray that a child become a truly spiritual man or woman, and follow the path of the service of God wherever it leads. If we set our children on such a path, that of the service of God, then they may not become wealthy and have prestige in the world, but they will be accumulating treasure in heaven which is of value in this world and the next. Would we allow our child to marry a deeply spiritual person who perhaps did not have the highest academic qualifications or the most prestigious career? Why would we not? Why would we reject a spiritual man for a man with little sign of spiritual life but good career prospects? We venerate St Simon the Tanner, and Pope St Demetrius who could neither read nor write, but would we welcome them into our family? Would we feel very disappointed if a child abandoned the prospect of a wealthy career and followed St Anthony into the Desert? Or woul dwe ask the intercession of St Anthony to prevent our children following his example?
This should not be taken as my own view. It is St Peter and St Paul who tell us that in the end al of those things we have put so much effort into and value so highly, will be like no more than straw in a fire, consumed immediately and leaving nothing bus ashes.
What is the point of it all? If everything we do in this life will be burned up in the presence of God? St Peter continues…
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
Here is the point of it all! If we know that those things which have no spiritual value or substance will not last into eternity then let us make sure that everything we do, everything we hope for, everything we possess, everything we think important, is of spiritual and eternal and lasting value.
These things WILL be dissolved. They really are worth nothing if they are only worldly. THEREFORE bearing this in mind, live your life with this always in the forefront. If we strive to be and become holy and godly, not simply religious, then those things we do may become filled with eternal value, and the choices we make will become informed by our spiritual life. What does this mean? It means that above all else, we wish our children to become spiritual men and women, not worldly ones, and we must set an example of this by our own lives. It means that we ask God to reveal His will for our lives day by day and we seek to be obedient wherever He leads us, not seeking worldly success and prestige and wealth at all. It means that we ask God where and how we should live. It means that we should ask God who we should marry, seeking out a spiritual partner and not being deceived by or demanding wealth and prestige. It means studying so that we are of use to God and others, but not pretending that only a prestigious career is God pleasing.
Above all it means seeking to experience the consuming fire of God’s presence in our lives right now, so that we are always being convicted of pride and selfishness, and always seeking grace for humility and self-sacrifice. When we seek this glorious and consuming presence of God then we may hope to find all the worthless worldly desires being burned away, so that what is left is already that which will remain into eternity.
What is the point of it all? Especially in the face of death and an uncertain future? It is that when we recognise now, in this life, that all that we have done and all that we own and all that we think is important according to the thinking of the world is to be destroyed and will not last, then we may already begin to experience that last prospect of which St Peter speaks…
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
When we seek the consuming fire of God’s presence we are not left with nothing, but rather the possibility of experiencing already the new heaven and the new earth in a life of righteousness with God. But the old earth, the old ways of the world which seem so attractive and which we justify to ourselves, must be consumed in the fire of God if we are to experience the new way of living in righteousness with God in this life, a way of light and life.
The choices we make matter, they matter for eternity and have eternal consequences. But they also determine the quality and character of our lives as we live them now. We may be men and women of the old heaven and the old earth which is passing away and will be consumed. Or we may be men and women of the new heaven and the new earth, in an experience which begins now and lasts into eternity.
This is the point of it all.