Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, my children were leaving the little Presbyterian church in College Place, Washington, where they had been attending a program. They looked up at the sky, and a verse they had read in the Bible leapt to their minds. Jesus said that in the last days, the sun would be darkened, and the moon would not give its light. The sky was so preternaturally dark that my girls thought that the end of the world was upon us. They joined hands and ran the several blocks to our home.
What had happened was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Mount St. Helens had blown its dome, killing 57 people and destroying 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railway, and 185 miles of highway. The ash cloud darkened our skies, and the nasty stuff settled on our houses and yards and cars, making it impossible to drive without clogging the air intakes and harming the engines.
It was tricky to cope with the event for the next few weeks, but the damage near our home was minor compared with what people in western Washington had to deal with. But for my little girls—for just a moment—it was the end of the world.
Christians have consistently been end-of-the-world people, with at least one eye on matters related to eschatology or "last things"—final judgment, the second coming of Christ, death and the resurrection of the dead, the renewal of Creation, and the coming of God's rule in its fullest and most visible expression. Yet contemporary realities have forced Christians to explore what it means to be an anticipatory people with a strong orientation to these last things when facing environmental degradation, and perhaps even environmental disaster.1