There are many signs of the end listed in the Bible. There is an entire school of “thought” dedicated to deciphering the prophecies and signs of the end—eschatology. The enthusiastic eschatologists point to the increase in earthquakes and natural disasters (Luke 21:11) as a warning that “the end is near.” Of course, Matt 24:7 and Mark 13:8 put the emphasis on wars (nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom) more than the famine and pestilences. There are other places that say it will be a time of trouble such as has never been seen before. Yes, there’s more to the whole of eschatology than this, but these are the main signs of the end.
So, is this the end? The funny thing (if this is the end) is that a lot of people before now have thought it was the end already. Even Christ’s disciples thought the end was going to happen in their lifetimes and they were with him; they of all people should have understood. But in the end, the signs of the times are subjective—times of trouble such as never have been, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes in diverse places, etc. Well, there have always been those things. I say always, but I suppose, technically, the whole “kingdom against kingdom, nation against nation” part of the passages couldn’t have happened until the hunter-gatherer tribes became agrarian villages and eventually developed the concept of the nation/kingdom, but anyway. It’s all subjective.
From a historical perspective, there are numerous time periods that (at the time) could have looked to be the end because of the excess of war and resultant, or concurrent, famines and pestilences and the like. Yet they were not it. Most recently, one could say WWI would be a prime candidate: it was kingdom against kingdom, nation-state against nation-state, and soon after there was the great worldwide Influenza (flu) pandemic that killed many millions more. It was the worst war in human history (time of trouble such as never has been). Yet for all that, the end was not yet.
Very recently there has been an upsurge in the popularity of biblical literalist, conservative christianity in the US. They point to hurricanes, floods, and terrorism as signs of god’s wrath for our sins. With this comes the “the end is near because of all these floods and storms and quakes” talk.
But before packing the camping gear and grabbing a cabin in the woods, or a cave in the desert to wait for the end, some questions need asking: Is this really really the end? Lots of people have thought so before. Why should it be the end now?
What—wars and rumors of wars? There have always been those, and besides the scale and death toll of war has fallen way below any previous levels because of the advent of smart weapons. True, the potential is worse because of the nuclear option, but the biggest time of fear of nuclear war was during the Cold War and that’s past now. Not to say it can’t still happen, but still the prophecy is about wars and rumors of wars and that has been the state of the world since war was invented.
Now, how about “earthquakes in diverse places” and famines/pestilences (or could be read as floods, hurricanes, droughts, etc). The United Nations Environmental Program has a web page showing trends in natural disasters and earthquakes. So, is this proof of the end? Not really. From 1900 to 2000 the number of earthquakes has risen slightly, but not enough for concern. However, other disasters have risen dramatically—even alarmingly! Even though the numbers started going down after about 1998, they’re still extremely high. However things are not necessarily as they seem.
Concurrent with the number of reported disasters has been a dramatic increase in world population to the tune of about 1.65B in 1900 to about 6.64B in 2008. Couple that with the amazing advances in tech in the last hundred years and there are a couple more questions to answer: is the increase in disasters/earthquakes a real increase as a sign of the end, or is it only a perceived increase because of more people in more places (and more of those places being naturally disaster-prone coastal regions and flood plains)? Or because of improved ability to report every big storm and measure every small quake? And to add to the mystery, is the increase in non-quake disasters anything to do with climate change created by 6B humans burning fossil fuels? Note that the increase in climate related disasters does not track with that of earthquakes. The proponents of supernaturally-caused disasters need an explanation for this discrepancy, and they don’t have one, whereas the natural explanation fits the data handily.
In conclusion, before you fall victim to religious hysteria, pause for a dose of rational thought, and ask not, “Are all these disasters caused by sin?” but rather, “Are there actually more disasters in the first place, and if there are, are there any perfectly reasonable (non religious and non hysterical) explanations?”.
So, is this the end of the world as we know it…again? Not likely.