Donald Trump will be America's next president and yes, the world is coming to an end. The "last days" are upon us, but don't worry, they have been for a while.
In popular culture we often think of the 'end times' or 'last days' as some kind of hellish, harrowing, dystopian future where the sun is blotted out, the world is in ruin and the Antichrist rules. That vivid imagining is exciting but we don't take it very seriously, probably thinking the end of the world, if it's coming at all, will always be a bit further down the road.
But according to the Bible, the 'last days' are already upon us. In fact they've been here for about 2,000 years.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul is warning his disciple Timothy about life in the future, because the end of Paul's life is near. When he talks about 'the last days', he means the time before Jesus will return to finally bring peace, justice and restoration to creation.
Paul seems to imagine these days to be imminent, something Timothy must be prepared to experience. As many scholars have noted, there seems to be a sense of Paul expecting Jesus' return to be quite soon. Except, of course, Jesus didn't, and unless we've really missed something, still hasn't. Which means of course, that we are still living in the last days. Paul's warning seems eerily prescient, though: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people...their folly will be clear to everyone" (2 Timothy 3:1-5,9b).
Some might say Paul's prophecy is a remarkably concise description of America's president-elect. Trump's campaign has been defined by his indecency: his constant insulting of opponents, his boastings of sexual assault, his demonisation of minorities and his liberal approach to to the truth. Columnist David Remnick didn't hold back in his assessment, calling Trump a man who "cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment."
Trump's advocates suggested his actions were merely an issue of 'tone', highlighting Trump's appeal as a straight-talking outsider, a man whose prolific, unashamed offences were somehow outweighed by Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. Trump's critics say he is a destructive, dangerous, self-deluded narcissist.
Half of American voters disagree, but the point here is not really about Trump. Paul's point is that we live now in a particular age and moment, a stretch of time marked by injustice, unkindness, and madness. We tend to think more optimistically than this, celebrating all the good that has advanced in the last 2,000 years. Indeed, much rich, profound progress has been made, and yet a moment like the election of Trump reminds one that nothing is certain. We are not waiting for 'the last days' – they're already here.
In the light of this knowledge, what should one do? Rush into the nearest high street to declare that 'The end is nigh'? Attempt to discern which leading political figure the Antichrist might be?
Funnily enough, no. When the world's losing its head and when injustice reigns, Paul says that you've got to remember who you are and where you've come from. He points to an alternative way of life: "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings...In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it..." (2 Timothy 3:10-14).
Paul points to the power of "God-breathed" Scripture to guide people to the salvation that is in Jesus, equip them for good works, and make them more like Jesus. He points to a way of life that walks in the midst of this broken world, still pursuing the good even if everyone else has given up on it.
The 'last days' are a call to read the times in which we live, to have a wise, mindful view of reality that lives hopefully in the present, but isn't naive about its harsh realities. Paul calls us to remember the bigger picture.
These may be 'the last days', but that doesn't mean 'the end is nigh' – at least as we might normally imagine it. What awaits, whenever it may come, is the consolation of the broken, the triumph of love and justice, and the restoration of all things.