Past Futures and the Second Coming

Last evening, I was at an event where a Pastor asked, "What would we do differently in our churches if in 10 years, this would all be over and Jesus would come back?"

It made me think of 2 Peter 3:4, where people argue fallaciously that (a) Jesus hasn't come back yet, thus (b) Jesus won't come back in my lifetime.

Peter cites the story of Noah in the Old Testament, where people argued fallaciously that (a) there had never been a flood caused by rain before (Gen 2:6, Heb 11:7), therefore (b) the world could not be destroyed by a global flood. (2 Peter 3:5-6)

I want to discuss these verses further, but first, I need to take a detour to discuss a philosophical problem that secular scientists have, namely the problem that we cannot have any certainty about future events based solely from past experience. I'll quote to well-known skeptics here:

Our experience in the past can be a proof of nothing for the future but upon the supposition that there is a resemblance between them. This, therefore, can admit no proof at all David Hume

It has been argued that we have reason to know that the future will resemble the past, because what was the future has constantly become the past, and has always been found to resemble the past, so that we really have experience of the future, namely in times which were formerly future, which we may call past futures. But such an argument really begs the very question at issue. We have experience of past futures, but not of future futures, and the question is: Will future futures resemble past futures? This question is not to be answered by an argument which starts from past futures alone. We have therefore still to seek for some principle which shall enable us to know that the future will follow the same laws as the past. Bertrand Russel, The Problems of Philosophy

These skeptics go on to argue that science cannot prove anything, just argue that something is probable based on the weight of a large body of past experience. Both Hume and Russel use the specific example that while science cannot prove that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, it's probable. However, in the end, every scientist must reserve room for doubt, because reality could change due to unforeseen causes that were not extant in the past.

This is where Christians have a markedly different worldview. Contrary to naturalists (who believe only in the existence of energy and matter), we believe in the existence of a God who not only creates the energy and matter, but proscribes laws that govern what that energy and matter can and cannot do (Jer 33:25, Proverbs 8:29, Matthew 5:45, Job 9:7). We can believe that things will happen because we believe in a God that doesn't change (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Numbers 23:19), and that God is faithful in upholding the laws of His creation (Isaiah 40:28, Psalm 119:89-90, 2 Timothy 2:13).

Now, I want to tie together these two things, namely (1) the promise of God's soon coming, and (2) the skeptic philosophers. Skeptic philosophers are absolutely correct that secular science has no right to claim certainty over its scientific predictions based only on empirical knowledge. For theists, it's a different story though, since the Bible shows us a God who reveals Himself as behaving in predictable and repeatable manners. However, there is one place where God is explicitly clear that we Christians cannot appeal to our past experience to predict the future, and that is His second coming.

In speaking of the second coming, we know that many things in nature will begin to change. The sun will be darkened, the moon will refuse to shine, stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Matthew 24:29). Earthquakes will happen in many places, there will be an increase in famines and pestilences (Luke 21:11). God is telling us that, especially near the end, we should not rely on our past experiences of geology, astronomy, seismology, and epidemiology to be authoritative.

Instead, let us rely on God's word. And let us do all that we can to use God's message for the world to encourage others as human wisdom and knowledge fails in the time to come.