Pastor’s Perspective – October 2014
We live in terrifying times. I write this article while bombs are dropping in the Middle East; I.S.I.S. terrorists are beheading Western Journalists; and the Ebola virus has essentially shut down large parts of Africa. What was supposed to be completed in Iraq has now been upended and the peace dividend (to borrow a Clinton administration term) is now once again turning into war debt. It is enough to make a faithful man’s visage pale.
Many people are wondering what is going on in the world, and they are becoming fearful. Apocalyptic thinking, rarely in decline, is once again highly popular in the United States of America and around the world. To give you a sense of how big End Times thinking is becoming one only has to look at the way the media is jumping on the Apocalyptic band wagon. Television shows like The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, Revolution and The Last Ship all contain devastating apocalyptic themes about the modern world and its dangerous folly. The local cinema will provide even more negative visions of the future as the reboot of Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series vies for position in the local theater with the latest Hunger Games and Planet of the Apes features.
Popular culture has long embraced the end of the world scenario as an easy bet for mass consumption in book stores and movie theaters, but the recent deluge of similarly themed post-Apocalyptic thrillers and series seems to be tracking with the general public’s pervasively negative outlook for the future. This causes people to believe that these apocalyptic tales are overtly negative in both scope and theme due to the destruction that is endemic of an apocalyptic setting. In fact the opposite is true.
Apocalyptic literature has been, from its beginnings, one of the most hopeful of all literary forms. While sharing some of the literary values of tragedy, apocalyptic literature typically inverts the formula of a tragedy. In a tragedy, whether it is Greek, Shakespearean or the many modern offshoots (see television shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy as examples), the hero begins in a good and settled place in life. The tragedy begins as bad news creeps into the life of the hero. A tragic story takes the hero and breaks him/her down often using their previous strengths against them. If they love their family, then the hero will slowly lose them by fault of her own actions. Often times the hero will find their decline triggered by the normal experiences of life, whether it be disease, death or accident. From there the hero’s problems accelerate due to bad decision-making or personal pride, what the Greeks called hubris. From there our hero can descend into madness, debauchery and self-destruction. In a tragedy, the hero can often become unrecognizable from beginning to end, and it always ends in destruction.
In contrast apocalyptic literature usually introduces the hero in the midst of untenable times. Whether it is Rick Grimes (Walking Dead) or Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), the need for an everyday hero/savior is found in virtually every popular Apocalyptic fable. We meet them at a moment where everything has changed, and the changes are never good. From there we follow them through the transitions from weakness to strength; from doubt to faith; from defeat to victory. The hero of apocalyptic stories goes through enormous difficulty, quite literally surviving in the midst of hell on earth. In the end, however, the hero grows, endures and emerges victorious.
Apocalyptic movies and televisions shows are popular, not because they are depressing, but because they lift our spirits. They show us how people can survive difficulty and distress. We root for the hero, not because they are so different from us, but because we can relate to them and imagine that it is us defeating President Snow or enduring through the Zombie Apocalypse. It is for precisely this reason that young ladies have taken up archery at an increased level since the release of the Hunger Games movies. Every girl that watches the movie wants to become the hero!
This is the true context of apocalyptic literature and why the Bible includes it as a part of the canon. This is why the prophets spoke about the end of the world. It was not intended to frighten people, but to encourage them. I have always found it interesting that many Christians get upset and angry when told that there will come a day in which disease and war will threaten their lives. The question that we should be asking is why should we expect anything different? From the bubonic plague to Ebola, humanity has faced enormous challenges from pandemic disease. When the world has been embroiled in war and savagery for its entire history, what unnerves us about wars and rumors of war?
One does not need to rely on biblical prophecy to consider the possibility that we may one day go too far and create a tragedy of global proportions. Political leaders and international celebrities push each other out of the way in order to shout warnings to each other about global warming, the threat of a nuclear holocaust, or the dangers of an emerging global pandemic. Why then are we surprised that the Bible speaks of a day in which these things will occur?
There is a reason why apocalyptic literature is so controversial, and it is not because it posits a darker future. The true reason many are upset by the specter of the biblical future is not because the world ends, but precisely because it doesn’t. Secularists are not upset by the prospect of disaster on a biblical scale. They engage in this style of prognostication all of the time. We are not upset that the Bible predicts that bad things will happen. We are truly upset because we will not be the heroes. The hero of the Biblical apocalypse is not a rouge sheriff or a plucky young lady, the hero of the Bible is God in Jesus Christ!
The good news is that by the grace of God all things can be saved and recreated. Did you hear that? It is not only people who are saved at the conclusion of the Biblical apocalypse. God is preparing to save the entire creation! The work of Jesus Christ is God’s movement to bring about the necessary healing not just of humanity, but of all creation. God is seeking to reverse the damage that sin has wrought on the earth and the good news is that, though we must endure the consequences of our sinfulness, God will act and bring to us salvation.
The world rebels in the face of biblical prophecy primarily because the good news is not found in human initiative, but in divine action. As things continue to get worse in our world it will become more obvious to the faithful that only God’s intervention will be able to save us. As we face many varied crises today we echo the biblical question, “How long will you wait, O Lord?”
During the month of October, we will be exploring the Bible’s view of the Apocalypse and why it contains the best news that anyone can possibly expect. Come and join us as we explore the scriptures and bring glory to the hero of the universe.