Looking for the Day of the Lord: Reflections on 2 Peter

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Looking for the Day of the Lord: Reflections on 2 Peter

A consistent query that has been emphasized over the past few blogs has been “What does the fulfillment of prophecy look like?” I ask the question again because there is a subtle but critical dilemma occurring the world over that impacts people’s perceptions about faith and the validity of biblical truth. Namely, how will the world end? I asked a friend who specializes in philosophy and science, “What’s the deal with climate change?” I asked because those of a religious bent who typically deny it do so for theological reasons and those of a more secular mind believe it is a most pressing “scientific” dilemma. Of course, there is nuance in between, but the battle lines are being drawn between “faith” and “science.” While this dilemma is not new, it does have implications for one’s Christian witness. My friend wisely answered, “the issue is tangled in a web where there is not much agreement on either side of the issue.” So, how does the word of God inform and instruct on these issues? There seem to be two issues that Peter addresses: (1) our attitude towards the end of the world, and (2) how the world will finally end.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Peter first deals with our attitudes towards the sources of our belief (2 Pet. 3:1–7). Unfortunately, many scientists think modernity and the subsequent Enlightenment provided the philosophical tools for scientific inquiry about the origins the world, the laws of earth’s maintenance, and the end of the world. However, anyone who has studied early Greek philosophy and the inquiry into nature (Gr. phusis) knows the quest and the dramatic arguments debated by the Pre-Socratics (ca. 6th-5th B.C.) over the substance and the physical makeup of the world and the heavens.[1] The source of ancient cosmologies was based on myths of the gods (e. g. Hesiod’s Theogony; Enuma Elish), or some type of supernatural intervention (e. g. Genesis 1 and 2). As the revolution in the worldview of the Pre-Socratics emerged, the supernatural, religious orientation of the ancient Near East was rejected in favor of more naturalistic approach. The who and why moved to the what and how of reality. Basically, by the 2nd century AD, the apparently irregular movements of the heavens were described in terms of observable natural explanations. The principles of this model were known to earlier Greek scientists, including the mathematician Hipparchus (150 BC), but they culminated in the predictive model with Ptolemy. The dialogue and dialectic centered around this worldview in a religious context of different “faith” traditions[2] until the Earth was displaced from the center of the universe in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Copernican system and by Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Of course, we know Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics are the pillars of modern physics. Yet, the notion that faith and science form two separate visions of reality is naively or biasedly asserted. So, how should we think about our sources for understanding reality and what does that imply for our daily living?

Skepticism, Hope, or Paranoia

Peter insists on a Creator-Creature cosmology. In fact, he notes that skepticism occurs because people “deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God” (v. 5). So, scoffing (i.e. skepticism) does not stem from the “facts of science” but rather from a denial of creation, and unbelief is not based solely on observation, but mainly on one’s faith disposition (Heb. 11:3). In her insightful book on the notions of scientific laws, The Dappled World, philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright writes, “we live in a dappled world, a world rich in different things, with different natures, behaving in different ways. The laws that describe this world are a patchwork, not a pyramid.”[3] Her point deals with the problem of causality, science is not representable by a unifying pyramid of theories. Peter’s argument for causality is that the “predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” are something we should remember. Previously we learned that in Hebrew thought remembering means to act? So, to remember is to live ethically (v. 11) knowing that the source of our belief is a coherent, harmonious, life-giving revelation from an eternal loving Creator about our origins and the end of the world which gives us hope. What would likely happen if we thought we lived in a fragmented world where the source of our knowledge is constantly changing[4] and we seem to be hurtling towards an imminent clash with the second law of thermodynamics (entropy)? Paranoia.

The Day of the Lord and the Days Ahead

It would be easy to write Peter off as an alarmist, but I read his book with a sense of hope and expectation. Yes, the earth groans in its “bondage to corruption,” (Rom. 8:21) as its resources are abused and misused. The dwindling of nature’s resources is a fact, but we know that God supplies our needs (Ps. 65:9–13), so we do not despair. So, how should we look forward as the “world” seeks to find improbable solutions to their perceived cataclysmic reading of earth’s future? It seems necessary to point out that ‘we shouldn’t be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good’ on the one hand, and to point out that our efforts for preservation are creation-care in honor of our Creator on the other. We live in hope. We live, meaning we engage, we interact, and we exemplify wholeness to God (holiness and godliness, v. 11). We must show people that our belief in the Day of the Lord (salvation for the righteous and judgment for the wicked) leads us to honor God in how we strive to maintain His world as good stewards, and proclaim His name as those who are “according to His promise…waiting for new heavens and new earth” (v. 13).

There are two current streams of thought where I see the scoffing, that Peter addressed, stemming from: impatience and indifference. The inability to live in hope (waiting in Hebrew is the same word for hope, qavah; cf. Isa. 8:17) leads even some believers to lose heart at the devastating realities of this sinful world. But knowing the world is going to end can also make a heart indifferent to the problems of the world. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel captured well the problem and solution stating,

“The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”[5]

God’s love should compel us not only to combat erroneous cosmologies and eschatologies but also to give a sense of hope that human destiny is integrally tethered to the Lord of Creation, not the world’s decimation.

Read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “The Day of the Lord.”

Read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.

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Notes.

[1] Plato and Aristotle really provided the logical and metaphysical footprints into which most subsequent thinkers have stepped in validation or rejection. Their impact on modern notions of intellectual inquiry are hard to quantify. See Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light; Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (New York, NY: Random House, 2013).

[2] I say “faith” because the notion of a secular “faith-free” world was not taken as a viable worldview until the Enlightenment and even in that movement many skeptics weren’t atheists, they were mainly deists. See James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and The Nineteenth Century (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997, 2006); Michael Allen Gillespie, The Theological Origins of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 1–43, 255–287; Paul Hazard, The Crisis of the European Mind 1680–1715 (New York, NY: The New York Review of Books, 1961).

[3] Nancy Cartwright, The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 1.

[4] Most honest scientist would admit that the theoretical nature of scientific inquiry shifts in exploratory epochs with a priority on paradigms. See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, [1962] 2012).

[5] “The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement” (1972); later included in Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (ed. Susannah Heschel; New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996), 224–226.

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Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.