Would you rather be turned into a zombie, or watch everyone you love get turned into one? Would you rather share supplies with someone and risk running out, or hoard your supplies and be alone?
Those were just two of several ‘would you rather’ questions posed about the apocalypse in what BuzzFeed last week designated ‘DisasterWeek’. Also featured were polls on ‘design a luxury bunker and we’ll tell you if you would survive the apocalypse’ and ‘what actor should be your survival partner when the world ends?’
It’s not too difficult to detect behind the humour an anxiety that things feel worse now than they’ve ever been. Yes, we’re aware that history is littered with doomsday warnings, but there’s something about the speed at which current events are moving which heightens concern. Our fears are increasingly shaped and intensified by the threat of global disaster – climate change, nuclear threats, cyber attacks, terrorism, pandemics – all reinforced by nonstop media.
In popular culture, we see end-time angst most pointedly in films, TV programmes, and games which portray the apocalypse or life in its dystopian aftermath. Sometimes the end is brought about by our own stupidity, and sometimes it’s imposed by outside forces like monsters or zombies, asteroids or aliens. Such cultural products expose human anxieties and reveal our yearnings for a better, more secure hope. Indeed, while the threat of the end is inevitable, hope that the final destruction of humanity is avoidable – or in some sense survivable – runs through virtually all apocalyptic tales.
We are hope-shaped creatures, in need not just of a sense of hopefulness, but a hope-filled story, one which leads somewhere.
For Christians, hope is not an optimistic belief in our capacity to meet every eventuality. Rather, hope derives its shape from trust in the God who has acted in Jesus Christ, who is working out his plan of redemption, and who will one day inaugurate a world free from ‘the old order of things’. Christians believe not in the end of the world, but in the beginning of a renewed world.
That hope frees us up to live expectantly and confidently, though realistically and wisely, in ways that seek to transform the here and now of our bit of the world, in line with what will be – not out of fear, but as a response to God’s gracious promise.