In ancient Israel, the Day of the Lord was preceded by locusts, but the national disaster could have been caused by frogs, gnats, flies, boils, or hail—whatever would get the attention of the people. Today, we might be hit hard by a flood, a drought, a power outage, a virus, or a Wall Street crash.

Many times through history, reports The Atlantic magazine, people have looked around and felt that the end was near. In the 20th century, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury predicted that we would have to colonize Mars because of a global nuclear war.

Then, on December 21, 2012, the Mayan Apocalypse was supposed to occur. Those were bold predictions, but none of them happened. Astrophysicist Adam Riess says that “the universe has at least 30 billion good years left,” and our sun should last for another four to five billion years. “As for the Earth, its life span depends on how well we take care of it.”

Vision of the Future

In my novel Windows of the Heavens, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden had a vision when he was visiting the Mayan ruins in Honduras. It was a vision of harmony between the natural world and the human world. He later turned the vision into a sermon.

He said, “I want to share with you today a discovery I have made about the Mayans, a people that had an advanced civilization in Honduras, many years ago. I just came across a journal entry I wrote when I was on a dig there in the 1980s, an entry that I think speaks to us today.

What caused Copán to collapse? The expanding population of the city caused people to move to the hills and mountains around the Copán Valley, and there they stripped the trees off the slopes to make room for agriculture. This caused massive erosion of the soil, and the lack of trees allowed disastrous floods to sweep through Copán during the rainy season. Skeletal remains from this period show evidence of malnutrition and infectious diseases. The end of the kingdom probably occurred around 822. After this time, people continued to live in poverty in Copán, but over time they moved away from the ruined valley. The end came not from unhappy gods or defeated kings, but from a population that failed to live in harmony with nature.”

Harley paused.

“That was my journal entry from over thirty years ago,” he said. “But I think it has a message for us today, just like the ancient Book of Revelation has a message for us today. The Mayan kingdom in Copán was destroyed by failure to care for the environment. The people failed to live in sustainable ways. Our town was almost destroyed this fall by a flood caused by excessive development and a failure to manage water runoff.

“We have got to change our ways,” he continued. “We have got to begin with the end in mind.” He went on to make suggestions about how the people of his church could do a better job of caring for the environment by replacing inefficient light bulbs at home, turning off computers at night, and eliminating unnecessary car trips. He also invited them to form a “green team” at the church, one that would promote recycling, replace energy-inefficient equipment, and create a community garden.

Wise words from Harley Camden, whenever we are thinking about the end of the world: Begin with the end in mind. Take steps to reverse the damage that could destroy us. The Mayans did not do it, but we can.