WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE END TIMES? A CATHOLIC VIEW. By William Kurz, S.J. (Servant Books, 28 W. Liberty St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, 2005), 199 pp. PB $11.95.
How should Catholics respond to fundamentalist claims about the end of the world? How should Catholic priests preach about end times? Sermons on the subject from Catholic pulpits tend to be rare, and Catholics (perhaps from lack of much Bible reading) tend to be flummoxed when responding to Bible quoting harbingers of immanent doom. Increasingly unfamiliar with the venerable tradition of the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, and hell), today’s average Catholic can easily feel ill at ease on such topics.
One of today’s best known—and, happily, one of the most solidly Catholic—biblical scholars, Father William Kurz, S.J. of Marquette University, has prepared an easily readable review of what the Bible does (and does not) say about end times. Through a careful examination of key biblical themes, symbols, and images from Genesis through Revelation, Kurt urges that the Bible is not some kind of puzzle designed to allow us to construct an intricate end-times scenario, but a body of divine revelation by which God wants to show us how best to cooperate with his salvific plan, including mysteries like the end times, for which he has chosen to reserve knowledge about the details.
Kurz shows at length that many of the most common fundamentalist interpretations of the scriptures on these questions are faulty. Perhaps it is the understandable desire to supply from the imagination what seems missing, even when it means running beyond the evidence. But whatever the motive for their convoluted reasoning, these attempts often reach beyond what is possible in principle to grasp when claiming to predict the way in which God will conclude history. What will be much more helpful, Kurz maintains, is a careful study of the biblical evidence of how God wants us to be ready at all times, without fear of our personal death or of end times, but always prepared by living faithfully in Christ. The believer should be mindful of God’s abiding intent to free us from our sins and, as the Lord’s Prayer emphasizes, to deliver us from evil. The reason for our hope about the Second Coming resides in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus at his First Coming.
In resisting the exaggerated and distorted approaches to the biblical evidence by some fundamentalists, Kurz is also careful not to fall into the opposite sort of error. All too often modernist approaches to the scriptures see only a moral lesson and little that pertains to history or to the future. They tend to dismiss all talk of eschatology and apocalyptic themes in the Bible and reduce such biblical warnings to the childish fears of an earlier and unsophisticated age. By contrast, Kurz uses his well disciplined biblical scholarship to offer a deeply Catholic account of these matters that takes questions about end‑times seriously.
Because virtually all of subsequent biblical revelation about end‑times simply glistens with allusions to the Bible’s account of the beginnings, Kurz’s book reviews carefully the symbols and images from Genesis that are crucial for grasping God’s design in creating a world that was fit for human habitation and a race of beings made after his own image and according to his own likeness. He then shows how the frightening scenes of devastation and judgment in Revelation and other apocalyptic biblical texts carefully echo the images and symbols of Genesis. He argues that they can only be adequately explained in terms of God’s providential care for creation and his divine judgment on human evil. In a patient review of passage after passage, Kurz shows that throughout the Bible the references and allusions to end times are always linked to what has been accomplished by Christ’s atonement for our sins and the sacrifice by which he has reconciled us to God, our creator and judge.
A lengthy chapter on the eschatological passages in the prophets is one of the most valuable in the book. These texts are often the sort of passages that leave Bible readers and preachers alike agape and wondering how to take them. Kurz explains each of them in turn and also shows them as a group to be the warnings that God inspired the prophets to declaim as a way to correct sin and error. There is also a separate chapter on the apocalyptic portions of the Gospels (Matthew chapters 24 and 25 and Luke 21) as well as chapters on the references to the end times in the letters of St. Paul and in the book of Revelation. This volume is extremely readable as a whole, but will constitute an excellent reference book.
Joseph W. Koterski, S.J.