(Waking before me, the 4 yo brings me the children's Bible in bed)
4 yo: Please you show me a picture of Jesus (I wake up and comply. The 4 yo flips pages quietly for awhile). Mom, are all these people dead?
Me: In the Bible? Well, yes, they have all died, except God and Jesus.
4 yo: Will Jesus ever come back to earth?
Me: That is a great question, baby. The Bible says that one day, Jesus will return to earth to bring peace and healing, and fix what's broken.
4 yo: Wait, he will fix broken things?
Me: Well kind of, yes. Jesus will bring peace and there will be no more wars, no pain or sadness. That's like fixing broken things. Earth will be like heaven.
4 yo: They will be the same?
Me: I hope so.
Eschatology is a fancy way of saying "the study of the end times," and it's a fascination for novelists, doomsday preachers and movie producers. Isn't there a joke about how every movie with an end times plot features actor Will Smith?
Some take inspiration from the Bible's last book, The Revelation to John (singular, not plural.) It's wild ride, with scrolls and angels, dragons and beasts. Many comb through the puzzling imagery looking for secret messages on the date and hour of Christ's return. Some gleefully name an opposing politician as the anti-Christ. Others preach rapture, in which favored ones are lifted up to heaven while the rest suffer pestilence on earth.
The rapture is a racket, says New Testament theologian and professor Barbara Rossing, in her book The Rapture Exposed. Now that is a relief! Rossing's book helped me see how grace, restoration and healing is found in the Revelation to John. The word "rapture" actually isn't in the Bible, by the way, it's a modern construct that glorifies war and violence. Why would God create a world just so God can smite it? What kind of God do we want to believe in anyway?
Revelation is a category of literature called apocalyptic, which isn't out to scare you. Apocalyptic writings (there are others) were written to those who were suffering oppression and persecution, as a reminder that death is not the final answer and love wins in the end.
That's what I was trying to say to the 4 yo. The vision of the New Jerusalem at the end of Revelation has God coming down into the city to bring light, and there's a tree with leaves that are for the healing of (all) the nations. "See, the home of God is among mortals...he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more." (Rev 21:3b-4)
Does God fix broken things? Eventually, yes, or at least the things that matter. Rossing says that Revelation teaches us to challenge oppression and look for signs of hope, even when evil seems overpowering. If God wants to restore the world, maybe my kids and I can do our part now to speak and act for justice and equity. We can trust that God will one day take care of the rest.