Whether a laptop, a smartphone or a nuclear missile, the world is moving quicker than ever before. In the 21st century, we’ve seen technology change drastically, and seen the many benefits globalization provides. But have these massive cultural shifts also increased our collective paranoia? There’s an ever-growing crop of media being produced about the apocalypse. Alissa Wilkinson, associate professor of English and humanities at The King’s College, New York City, dove straight into our fascination with and fear of the apocalypse in her lecture “What’s up with the Apocalypse?” Wilkinson was one of three Christian thinkers who dug into faith in the digital age at Redeemer’s Beyond Worldview lecture series.
“We’ve been telling stories about the apocalypse basically since we’ve been able to tell stories.”
The concept of apocalypse is often misconstrued in modern society—many take it to simply mean the end of the world. From the Greek “apokalypsis”, apocalypse is more accurately defined as “the destruction of perceived realities,” Wilkinson says, “or an unveiling, an uncovering.” The key is the hopefulness inherent in the original meaning. “It is destruction, but with the intention of renewal;” states Wilkinson, “hope is included.”
Nowadays, television shows, books and movies are rife with the destruction of apparent apocalypse. The Walking Dead and World War Z portrays humans becoming undead, Game of Thrones depicts a world preparing for an extraordinarily long winter, Battlestar Galactica renders villains with exceptionally heinous agendas.
But stories about the apocalypse are not unique to our culture or era. “We’ve been telling stories about the apocalypse basically since we’ve been able to tell stories,” Wilkinson continues. The Bible is bookended with narratives of apocalypse: the flood in Genesis, and the second coming of Jesus in Revelation. The difference between these ancient stories of apocalypse and our own stories of disaster is that, Wilkinson argues, our stories trend away from hope and are fundamentally pessimistic. This trend away from hope makes our stories dystopian; not apocalyptic in the original sense of the word.
A pertinent comparison is that of the trilogies The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings. While both contain a collapse of social order, the dystopian Hunger Games ends with the continued destruction of society, while the apocalyptic Lord of the Rings sees a redemptive end brimming with the hope of new life and restoration.
“We must remember that apocalypse is hopeful,” contends Wilkinson. Suffering and pain can give meaning to our lives. Christians should examine their own sense of apocalypse—when we plead “come, Lord Jesus,” we plead for the hope we have in Christ.
Wilkinson’s lecture was part of the Beyond Worldview series. Hosted by the Centre for Christian Scholarship, three Christian thinkers dug into faith in the digital age. Read more.