People are fascinated with the end of the world and that fascination doesn’t just belong in the world of religion. Many “scientists” have erred just as poorly as the myriad of “gloom and doom prophets” who have plagued Christianity.
The appearance of a comet in the sky has repeatedly heralded the end of the world. For example, in April 1910 Halley’s comet reappeared. This was the first time scientists were able to perform a spectroscopic analysis on a comet and one of the substances discovered in the its tail was cyanogen, a toxic gas. French astronomer Camille Flammarion claimed that when the Earth passed through the comet’s tail on May 19th, the gas “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.” You can imagine the panic than ensued! People bought up gas masks and “anti-comet” umbrellas and swallowed “anti-comet” pills!
Nine years later Albert Porta warned that the combined effects of a planetary conjunction on December 17, 1919 would destroy the world. History has a strange way of repeating itself. In 1974 two astrophysicists, John Gribben and Stephen Plagemann published a best seller, The Jupiter Effect, which warned about the effects of a similar nine-planet alignment on March 10, 1982.
Likewise San Diegans remember the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide here in March 1997. They believed a giant spaceship was hidden behind the Hale-Bopp comet and would take them home if they freed themselves from their mortal shells.
So why are people so interested in the end of the world? It might be because the world seems so overwhelming that a little bit of knowledge feels like power – even if that knowledge means the end of everything. Alex Newton, author of Plan and Prep: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse, wonders if those who hope the world will end need a little excitement in their lives or secretly want society to start over.
Christians believe the world will come to an end and we look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, but Jesus himself taught us not to obsess or worry or even try to predict the end. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only Father,” (Matthew 24:36).