When will the world end?

Published November 18, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



In today’s gospel reading, Jesus warns us about the end of the world and the various frightening signs that precede it (Mk. 13:24-32).

Interestingly, one common prayer that I used to say when I was young goes: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” This short hymn of praise, called doxology, seems to contradict what Jesus says.

Actually, “world without end,” found in the King James Version (the most celebrated and authoritative English translation of the Bible for many centuries), is a translation of “saeculasaeculorum,” a Latin phrase that occurs 18 times in the New Testament.

But in the other 17 passages where “saeculasaeculorum” is mentioned, it is translated as “forever and ever” or “and will be forever.” It is only in the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 3:21 that “saeculasaeculorum” is translated as “world without end,” an English idiom which, when taken literally, makes us conclude that the world, like God, is endless. Many contemporary English Bibles have done away with this translation.

 So, if you’re not doing it yet, you should begin praying the doxology this way: “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” Although many experts still consider this as not completely accurate, at least it no longer implies that the world will not end.

The world will have an end. People have long speculated when that will happen. Terrifying doomsday predictions and end-of-the-world movies abound. We all fear the collapse of the visible universe.

But if we come to think of it, we fear the end of the world because we are afraid of death. Death is so disturbing that we even go to great lengths to deny it. We fear death because we see it as nothingness and extinction. And we see it this way because we cannot envision the future in terms different from what we have been accustomed to.

We want to see the future from the perspective of sameness. We want a future where our idea of happiness is preserved, if not prolonged to infinity. This future, thus understood, leaves no room for surprises, for uncertainty, for radical change.

Ultimately, our fear of death derives from our refusal to accept that change is inevitable. Despite centuries of Christianity, we have not yet fully understood what a priest says during a funeral: “Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended,” taken from 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.

We deny the reality of death because we are afraid that the change involved might be too drastic for comfort. We have an aversion for the unknown. We regard the unfamiliar with distrust.

But when Jesus talks about the end of the world, He actually reminds us that the last word in death is not despair or fear, but hope. That is why St. Paul wrote: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of anyone, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1Corinthians 2:9).

The world will surely end and all of us will die someday. There is no use asking: “When will the world end?” or “When will I die?”

The crucial question to ask is, “What am I doing, the rest of my life?” Making ourselves worthy of what God has prepared for us is our lifetime task.