Let’s face it: fear sells. Predicting doom is big business. In the popular Press and Media, demagoguery is standard procedure. The greater the tragedy the more papers it sells and the higher the television ratings. I speak as a recovering doom-monger.
Back in the mid-seventies, I wrote many articles and a few booklets purporting to explain aspects of “Bible prophecy.” The theme was always the same: things were getting worse, coming to a head, and the only protection for Christians was to be a part of God’s one and only true Church on earth – the Worldwide Church of God. During those years, I edited three magazines for that Church: Tomorrow’s World, The Good News, and The Plain Truth. We ran articles on “rings of fire” (volcanoes of the Pacific Rim), earthquakes, our polluted planet, the coming of the “beast” and the “beast power,” the Great Tribulation, and related issues. We believed that there would be a period of tribulation lasting seven years, and that for the last 3 ½ years of it we would be protected in a place of safety – usually thought to be the ancient ruin of Petra in Jordan.
A ten-nation, united Europe was expected to attack America and the British Commonwealth of Nations. Vast numbers of people would die of plagues, starvation and warfare. At the end of it all, Christ would return, we would either rise to meet him in the air, or be resurrected, and return with him to clean up the mess and usher in the Millennium.
Various key dates, “time cycles,” and calendric calculations came and went and none of the above happened. Many – tens of thousands – eventually left the WCG in disillusionment. Was it all a crock?
In those years, just about every major event in world news was viewed as “prophetically significant.” The reason we watched world news so closely was to divine just how it might fulfill Bible prophecy.
Now, three decades later, its time to rethink the whole thing.
Demise of the WCG
The entity that was supposed to be protected from the last half of the Tribulation – the Worldwide Church of God, headed by Herbert W. Armstrong – is no more. Herbert Armstrong has been dead for 20 years, and his son Garner Ted has also passed on. The WCG – what’s left of it – is now Evangelical in its theology, and prophecy no longer seems to be a central plank in its theological platform.
Rumor has it that the WCG is soon to experience a name change to something like “Grace International Fellowship.” Its leaders have been working to put distance between it and its Armstrongian past. For all intents and purposes, the WCG as we once knew it, is no more.
An assortment of spin off organizations has been formed by ministers who seek to maintain the old Armstrongian theology. There is no cohesion among these groups which now number more than 300. (I refer to this group as the Churches of God Pod or simply, The Pod.) Various ones, usually the most ultra-conservative, proclaim themselves to be the authentic representation of the Philadelphian “era” of the Church, and therefore the ones who will be protected from the Tribulation. The rest of us are doomed to suffer with the world.
Meanwhile, an assortment of independent amateur scholars has taken old prophetic understandings and redrafted them to conform to new theories of fulfilled prophecy. The identities of prophetically significant nations have been changed and new predictions have been made. When it comes to prophetic interpretation, truth claims are all over the map. Sorting them out is a daunting undertaking for the average church member.
Outside of the Pod, the Establishment Press & Media have their own versions of doomsday scenarios. Islamic terrorism, global warming, air, water and land pollution, GMO’s, the population explosion, demographic shifts, the growing nuclear club, the antics of the axis of evil, and many other things provide ripe material for the secular doom-mongers. Pressed into service to support these dire prognostications is junk, or “voodoo,” science.
Doom-mongering is a lucrative business. Survivalist magazines, web sites and catalogue sellers are making big bucks on water, food and arms hording. Just about everyone I know is armed to the teeth in anticipation of roaming attacks from gang members, criminals, militias and terrorists. Fear is a powerful marketing force.
Fear hangs in the air like a deadly fog – playing into the hands of all kinds of people who make a great living by it. Bible book stores offer large selections of books purporting to sort out the prophecies of Scripture, and to provide us with scenarios of “what’s going to happen next.” So long as fear prevails, some will capitalize on it to achieve their personal goals.
Those goals may be as simple as personal wealth, or they may rise to the level of absolute political power. The goal of Islamic terrorists is global Islamic rule and the death or forced conversion of all “infidels.” No amount of human sacrifice – Islamic or otherwise – is too much to achieve these malevolent goals.
The goal of eco-terrorists and environmental wackos is also power. They would like to see a pacifistic, socialist, Gaia-worshiping, Big Brother state, that micromanages every polluting aspect of our lives. In this scheme, animals are of equal worth to humans. The human population would be pared down to an “appropriate” level.
Of course world Communism is by no means dead and it too has the goal of ultimate power. The Neo-Nazis of Italy, Germany and elsewhere would like to bring about a new, global Reich in which they reigned supreme. The Catholic Church wants to see itself written into the Constitution of the new Europe.
Each power-seeking group traffics in fear in order to achieve its goals. The Left says the Right is to blame for all the country’s ills, and the Right says the same thing about the Left. Most of the patter on radio talk shows is about politics and power and how the other side is abusing same. Passions run high. Emotions are out there prominently displayed on coat sleeves. What’s a Christian to do?
Let’s focus on facts.
Let’s face it: many of the scenarios described in the 70’s fizzled. The “population bomb” failed to detonate. The environment was damaged, but not devastated. Industrial civilization did some adapting, but it failed to bite the dust. Global disease epidemics didn’t materialize on the scale anticipated. The developed nations did not see massive food shortages and famine.
That doesn’t mean that none of these things will ever happen; they could. We could see worse things than anyone had ever anticipated – but we certainly can’t predict them with any accuracy.
In most western nations, populations, except for immigration, are now shrinking. By mid-century, most experts now believe the global population will stabilize at around 6 to 7 billion.
In the 70’s, they were warning us of a coming ice age. Now it’s global warming and the resulting disastrous weather patterns all of which could be stopped if President Bush would only sign the Kyoto Accords. That means any future hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves and stock market crashes will be George Bush’s fault. He has become Scapegoat of the Century.
As Christians, how are we to view all this?
The Christian Worldview
If we, as Christians, view things from a Biblical perspective, we will believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all that exists in the material realm (Acts 17:24-28). We will believe that “…whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8b). At the same time, we will believe that in addition to material realm, there is a spiritual realm that includes God, angels, the devil and demons. Though undetectable by science, there is an ongoing interface between the spiritual and the material realms. This interface is governed largely by acts of good and evil on the part of mankind, as well as by the sovereign will of God. Choices for evil invite unclean spirits into one’s life, and submission to God puts distance between ourselves and the devil and brings us closer to God (James 4:7).
Where there is idolatry, occult practices, and false religion, there is Satan and his demonic hordes and the misery and bitter fruit they produce. To the degree that the world lives God’s way, there is blessing, order and peace. As we know, “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 13:33) and much of the world is deeply and darkly confused.
Jesus told his disciples (talmidim): “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna)” (Matthew 10:28). The bodies we live in are temporary tabernacles in which we dwell for a brief time. Sooner or later our physical “life cycles” will end – whether naturally, by disease, or at the hand of enemies. If you’ve ever studied the life of King David, you’ll know that his life was in constant jeopardy. Yet he was able to pen these inspiring words: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident” (Psalm 27:1-3).
A World of Danger
We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Murderous madmen have found their way into power in nations that possess, or will soon possess, nuclear weapons. It seems likely that the relative tranquility of Planet Earth will soon be shattered into a thousand pieces by religious zealots who have lost all perspective. All kinds of dire apocalyptic scenarios could be justifiably painted. It’s not even a matter of “fulfilled prophecy” but simply of following present trends to their logical outcomes.
If we, as Christians, take the Biblical worldview seriously, we will understand the nature of what’s happening around us. When evil people make evil choices, the world is bathed in suffering and bloodshed. There is a devil, and he works most effectively through those who are willing to do his bidding. Jesus said of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44b).
The apostle John was acutely sensitive to the damage done by the devil in the world. He wrote: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 3:8). The devil’s work is to seduce people into sinning, then to accuse them, and finally, if God gives the green light, to destroy them. Jesus is the antidote for all that. Our lives, as Christians, are tied in a bundle with the life of Christ. He is our security, our salvation in all situations. He is the Rock in whom we must hide in times of danger.
Theory vs. Practice
It is one thing to quote Scriptures about placing our security in Christ, and another to make it real. We know how we should feel about the myriad of threats to our well-being and lives, but how do we get to the point where those ideals are fully realized? It’s not easy; the insecurities of our fragile flesh drag us down. We realize, especially as we get older, that the difference between life and death is a gossamer film, easily broken. Something as small as a germ or a virus can bring us down. The lives of many productive people are snuffed out by accidents every day. Even “great” people are subject to sickness and disease. Throughout the developing world, people are dying like flies in civil wars, insurgencies, slave-taking, famines, AIDS epidemics and even genocides. Christians are dying for their faith at unprecedented rates. For most people on Planet Earth, life is cheap and expendable. Dozens of dictators and tyrants care nothing for the lives of their people. In the last century, monsters like Hitler, Stalin and Mao murdered tens of millions of their own people out of pure maliciousness. In our century, militant Muslims are more than willing to repeat the same deadly pattern.
We can’t afford to live in a fool’s paradise. Living on this planet could be hazardous to your health. If our lives are not tied up with God, then we have no hope. Before we were converted to Christ, we were, to use Paul’s words, “…without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Now, in Christ, we have hope. He is the Lord’s Anointed One. He is the Savior whom God will send to bring about the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21).
To reach the point where we feel fully secure in Christ in spite of the all the danger with which we are surrounded, we may have to spend much time in prayer. We may have to reinforce our faith in God by studying over and over again the relevant passages of Scripture. And we may have to learn to be supportive of each other, despite our differences of opinion about doctrine, prophecy, leadership and other matters. A Christian is a Christian is a Christian.