Once again, End of the World fever has infected a good number of Christian folk.
The first known outbreak of this disease was almost two thousand years ago, when the very first followers of Jesus were convinced that Jesus was soon returning to destroy the Roman Empire and establish what he called “the kingdom of God”.
Since then, scores of prophets, seers, astrologers, scholars, and charlatans have made a living and left a legacy by convincing people that the End of the World was close. The Wikipedia article on “End of the World” names no less than 173 people, groups, or movements that issued such predictions.
In our day, the Christian fascination with the End of the World is associated with two things.
First, there is the Dispensational interpretation of the Bible, a system birthed early in the 19th century but popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible published in 1909. This is the teaching that invented the Rapture, an event in which “true believers” will be suddenly taken from the earth while all others (Jews, pseudo-believers, secularists, and adherents of other religions) are left behind to endure a great tribulation. The Left Behind novels published between 1995 and 2007 sold more than 80 million copies and inspired 4 feature films. Another 40 books in the spinoff series focused on kids! Somebody made a lot of money even if the predictions proved false.
A key component of this vision of the world is the role of Israel as a nation. Adherents view the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 as the most important sign of fulfilled biblical prophecy and positions Israel to be the major player in all End of the World scenarios.
Second, the End of the World fear has been fed by the rise of nuclear power and the potential for global war and destruction. Many of the recent End of the World predictions listed in the Wikipedia article incorporate some element of the nuclear threat. During the cold war, it was widely predicted that the Russian bear from the East would meet the American Eagle from the West in the climatic battle for world dominion, decided by superiority in nuclear firepower.
These End of the World fantasies have inspired such songs as: the Christian ballad “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” with its rapture-rich chorus, “There’s no time to change your mind; The son has come and you’ve been left behind”; the secular Vietnam-era lament sung by Barry Mcquire, “The Eve of Destruction”, with its bomb-focused lyrics, “If the button is pushed, there’s no running away. There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave”; and perhaps the greatest of all, the rock and roll anthem by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising” with its pounding refrain, “Don’t go around tonight, Well, its bound to take your life, There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
In the long run, these apocalyptic fantasies may be harmless if all they do is inspire songs and generate wealth. But when they flood over into mainstream politics the dynamics change, the risk escalates. And that is exactly what has happened—End of the World theorists of the Christian kind have wormed their way into the State Department of the United States and persuaded the President to tilt global strategies toward the Israeli side of the international equation.
Thus: the Israeli capital was moved to Jerusalem, the Golan Heights was declared Israeli property, foreign aid to Palestinian people was deleted, and now, Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank have been declared legal and appropriate, given God’s promise to Israel as recounted in the Bible.
What is next—the annexation of the entire West Bank, the expulsion of Palestinians from the United Nation, the Israeli bombing of Iran?
All because (they assert with breathless anticipation) the End of the World is at hand; and when the eschatological events so fervently anticipated by these Left Behind salesmen begin to unfold, a mega-battle will ensue, Jesus will appear, and the world as we know it will disappear, not with a whimper but with the grandest of all bangs.
Or so they say. But as for me—it is all rubbish, a dangerous roll of the political dice with the lives of millions at risk. For many of us there is only the prayer: God save us from our own silliness.
(November 21, 2019)