The Bible’s Viewpoint
Will the Earth End in Fire?
CHARRED in a nuclear holocaust, incinerated by a bulging sun, or torched by an angry god—the manner may differ, but many people are convinced that planet Earth, the home of mankind, will meet its end in an all-consuming inferno, a cataclysmic apocalypse.
Some cite Bible texts that portend a divinely directed conflagration as retribution for man’s transgressions against the earth. Others echo the opinion of Paul Davies, a professor at the University of Adelaide, Australia, who writes about what he sees as the earth’s unavoidable plunge into fiery destruction. He theorizes in his book The Last Three Minutes: “As the sun grows ever more distended, it will engulf . . . Earth within its fiery envelope. Our planet will be reduced to a cinder.” What is the truth about the earth’s destiny? How are we to understand Bible texts that appear to predict fiery annihilation?
Does God Care?
At Jeremiah 10:10-12, we are informed: “Jehovah is in truth God. . . . He is the Maker of the earth by his power, the One firmly establishing the productive land by his wisdom, and the One who by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” God made the earth and firmly established it. So with wisdom, love, and understanding, he carefully prepared the earth to last indefinitely as a beautiful home for mankind.
Of God’s creation of mankind, the Bible reports: “Male and female he created them. Further, God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:27, 28) When he completed his creative work, he could unequivocally declare that “it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) He wanted it to stay that way. Just as some prospective parents design and furnish a nursery for their expected newborn, God planted a beautiful garden and placed the man Adam there to develop it and care for it.—Genesis 2:15.
Adam abandoned perfection and his duty to care for the earth. But did the Creator abandon His purpose? Isaiah 45:18 implies not: “This is what Jehovah has said, the Creator of the heavens, . . . the Former of the earth . . . , the One who firmly established it, who did not create it simply for nothing, who formed it even to be inhabited.” (See also Isaiah 55:10, 11.) Though man neglected his custodial duty, God continued to execute his contract with the earth and life upon it. The Law given to the ancient nation of Israel made provision for “a sabbath of complete rest for the land” every seventh year. It included humane laws that gave a measure of protection to animals. (Leviticus 25:4; Exodus 23:4, 5; Deuteronomy 22:1, 2, 6, 7, 10; 25:4; Luke 14:5) These are but a few examples in the Bible that clearly indicate that God cares very much about mankind and all that he charged to man’s care.
“The Former Earth”
So how do we reconcile Bible texts that seem to conflict? One such is 2 Peter 3:7, which, according to the King James Version, says: “The heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Another is Revelation 21:1, which states: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away.”
If Peter’s words are to be taken literally and the planet Earth is to be consumed by real fire, then the literal heavens—the stars and the other heavenly bodies—are also to be destroyed by fire. This view, however, conflicts with the assurance found at such scriptures as Matthew 6:10: “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth,” and Psalm 37:29: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” Furthermore, what effect would fire have on the already intensely hot sun and stars, which produce nuclear explosions continuously?
On the other hand, the Bible often uses the term “earth” in a figurative sense. For example, Genesis 11:1 says: “Now all the earth continued to be of one language.” Here, the word “earth” refers to mankind in general, or human society. (See also 1 Kings 2:1, 2; 1 Chronicles 16:31.) The context of 2 Peter 3:5, 6 implies the same figurative use of “earth.” It refers to Noah’s day when a wicked human society was destroyed in the Flood but Noah and his household as well as the globe itself were preserved. (Genesis 9:11) Likewise, at 2 Peter 3:7, it says that the ones to be destroyed are “ungodly men.” This view agrees with the rest of the Bible. The wicked society earmarked for desolation is also “the former earth” referred to at Revelation 21:1, quoted earlier.
Indeed, just as a caring earthly father will take every measure possible to ensure the inviolability of his home, Jehovah God is keenly concerned about his creation. He once evicted an immoral and wicked people from the fertile Jordan Valley and assured the new caretakers of the land, who were in a covenant with him, that if they kept his statutes, ‘the land would not vomit them out for their defiling it the same way as it would certainly vomit the nations out who were before them.’—Leviticus 18:24-28.
“A New Earth”
Today, a society that is sexually depraved, violently brutal, and politically corrupt has polluted the earth. Only God can rescue it. He will do just that. At Revelation 11:18, he promises “to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” The restored and renewed earth will be populated by people who fear God and sincerely love their fellowmen. (Hebrews 2:5; compare Luke 10:25-28.) The changes that take place under God’s heavenly Kingdom will be so profound that the Bible speaks of “a new earth”—a new human society.
When we read scriptures like Psalm 37:29 and we comprehend the statement by Christ at Matthew 6:10, we are convinced that neither blind natural forces nor man with all his destructive power will bring an end to our planet. They will not thwart God’s purpose. (Psalm 119:90; Isaiah 40:15, 26) Faithful mankind will live on earth amid conditions of boundless beauty and endless joy. That is the truth about earth’s destiny, for this is and always has been the purpose of mankind’s loving Creator.—Genesis 2:7-9, 15; Revelation 21:1-5.