First my credentials: I'm twenty-three years old and have been associated with the Worldwide Church of God long enough to know what's going on, or most of it anyway. So here goes: The most nettlesome thing most young people find about the Church is its teaching that the "world" (meaning organized society) is going to end soon. To be honest, the idea doesn't set well with anyone under thirty — or under ninety for that matter — whose earthly existence isn't so bleak that he has nothing to lose by looking forward to a cataclysmic upheaval. I will be blunt — no matter how one intellectually acquiesces to the idea that, shortly, the world will indeed be coming to an end, one is haunted by the notion that something will be missing — that a given amount of the experience of life simply will never be realized. Another point a younger person finds hard to understand is the apparent eagerness of one's elders to want to believe the end is imminent. One recoils at what might be called the "medieval" syndrome: the tendency to put all one's hopes on some afterlife because life now is so bleak. The net effect is to predispose a person against a church which proclaims that the end is near. The problem is that how one feels about truth doesn't change it. Individuals can go into an apoplectic rage against the sum of 2 + 2, but it is still 4, no matter how hard that fact is to swallow. Or, to be more specific, if the world really is coming to an end, sulking about the fact isn't going to change anything. It ultimately is the problem of the "universe," of objective reality: I may not like it, but there it is, staring me in the face. I may have no appreciation for smog, nuclear weapons, or high crime rates, but there is nothing I personally can do to make them go away. They are facts which have to be lived with. It's the same way with the Church. It really has no choice: it must be true to itself, and if it believes that God Himself said for it to collectively say certain things, it must say them come "hell or high water." The More Things Change... Personally, I'm not at all impressed with the world bequeathed to my generation by the one which went before it: a world of inflation, communism, terrorism, and the threat of nuclear war. Why did it have to be my generation which grew up under the shadow of the bomb?... which was handed a world with about as much stability as nitroglycerin? ... which got the privilege of living in a time of potential holocaust? The problem is that my own words remind me of the sentiments of twenty-three-year-old John Franklin Carter who wrote: "The older generation... certainly pretty well ruined this world before passing it on to us. They gave us this Thing, knocked to pieces, leaky, red-hot, threatening to blow up...." Carter wrote those words at the beginning of the 1920s. My sentiments exactly. Yet I can't escape the fact that Carter's generation only managed to make the world, on the net, worse, and I can't conceive of my own generation doing any better. In other words, the mess the world is in is a function of the nature of man and the universe, and not the antics of one or two particular generations which just managed to uniquely botch things up. True, I am a little older than most teenagers today (four years!) and sometimes the gap seems more like eons. My own generation created the historical debris known as the 1960s: we were the "perfect generation" idolized by the media and politicians, infallible, the ones who would ban the bomb, end the Vietnam war, and fight for the civil rights of black people. Remember the idealism of the early sixties? It's gone. Gone like so much old brown grass. It was killed by the reality of human society — the nature of man. The world just wasn't ready for Camelot. Yet. There it is again. The dark figure with the hood and the long, bony finger pointing at you: reality, depressing reality, which won't go away, even though you would like it to. After Camelot vanished, the Vietnam war refused to go away, and poverty stubbornly resisted its abolition by Lyndon Johnson. The creeping realization set in: we live in an imperfect world, a world in which progress was sticky. Cold. Cruel. Not the sort of place one would like to live in. My own generation learned its lesson. So did the one just younger. In response to an imperfect, unfortunate world, both generations immersed themselves in a philosophy known as "existentialism": "live for the moment," the "NOW" generation. The idea was that nothing makes any difference but the immediate moment — the NOW. Since the universe is one chaotic mess, one must concentrate on immediacy. Ah, but there must be something beyond. Life can be fun, but can also be rather fragile also: it doesn't take much to end it. And, however life is lived, it is terminal: "one thing happens to them all" (Eccl. 2:14). But there is something beyond the chaotic physical mess in which the world finds itself. And it is the duty of religion — true religion — to reveal that something. If the world is in chaos, then it is the duty of the true Church of God to tell the world what it knows to be the way out: the return of Jesus Christ. ... The More They Stay the Same. Back to the uniqueness of our generations. I'll be blunt. The return of Christ is "inconvenient," to say the least. There are all sorts of things I'd like to do in the meantime, some of which I will in all probability never get to do. But here's where perspective comes in. While the typical American middle-class teenager has many positive things to look forward to, given the indefinite continuity of this "present evil world," most people in that world, particularly the Third World, don't. For them, grinding poverty is a permanent lot. Furthermore, what about the personal tragedies even in our affluent society: crippling sickness, accident, suicide; the private dramas which take place because the world is the way it is — without Christ. It comes down to this: Christ's return may cut short my life the way I'd like to live it out physically — but for most of the world any change would be blessed relief. After all, if the world is ever going to be straightened out by a divine miracle, somebody's generation is going to have to be "inconvenienced." One of the literary fads when I was in high school was the Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. A passage speaks very eloquently to our generations: "I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," Gandalf answers, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time given us." And what shall we do with "the time that is given us"? Waste it? Gandalf's words echo those of the apostle Paul: "... Redeem the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). Yes, the days are evil. And short. Which is all the more reason not to squander them. "The Present Distress." Now I'm really going to be blunt. The most haunting image that dogs young people who accept the biblical strictures against fornication is the specter of never experiencing a sexual relationship. It is as if one were caught in a vise: God prohibits sex until marriage and then proceeds to end the world before one can get married. It just doesn't seem fair. Bear with me for a moment, and I think I can demonstrate that such fears are largely unnecessary. This is because they apply only to select age groups: those few who are old enough to be baptized into the family of God but not mature enough to marry. Those who are younger, and who are trying to live by God's law, could live over into the time of the millennium and be married then. Those who are older and not married would be in that condition regardless of how far away Christ's return is. Here's the clincher. An individual who isn't prepared to face the possibility of never marrying because Christ might return, really isn't prepared to be baptized anyway. God really is fair and he hasn't plotted to deny this generation what he provided for all the others. When Life Throws You Lemons... Make lemonade. One can look exclusively at what might have been, and which possibly won't be, and proceed to develop a great cosmic funk. But this ignores the good side of the coin, the unique positive opportunities. Our generations have the opportunity to physically escape the holocaust which threatens to cut short our physical lives. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God's supernatural protection on those who "sigh and cry" for the abominations around them (Ezek. 9:4). Solomon pointed out that God would not permit the righteous to famish (Prov. 10:3), while, most importantly, God promises direct protection for His Church in the time of the great tribulation (Rev. 12:14). In the meantime, life can be fun. There's nothing in the Bible against sports, games, hobbies, music, cars, friends or clothes. True, there are some limitations on the use of some things (the Bible does condemn drunkenness, for example), but God never intended that we become monks and withdraw to monasteries where we could afflict ourselves all day because God is in some way pleased by our pain. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment" (Eccl. 11:9). Granted, our generation may never get the opportunity to live out full physical lives. Still, there are better things to do in the meantime than mope around all day, contemplating our navels, transfixed at what could have been. It would be better to focus one's attention on what could be. As long as we're here, we might as well make the best of it.