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O Me of Little Faith

The End is nigh. Again. It took longer than I expected, but there are now a variety of apocalypse watchers who have connected the dots between the Gulf oil spill and the book of Revelation.

Lisa Miller at Newsweek has the details:

Now blogs on the Christian fringe are abuzz with
possibility that the oil spill is the realization of Revelation 8:8-11.
“The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain,
burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became
blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of
the ships were destroyed … A third of the waters became wormwood, and
many died from the water, because it was made bitter.” According to
Revelation, in other words, something terrible happens to the world’s
water, a punishment to those of insufficient faith. The foul water,
according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, mirrors one of the plagues
God called upon Egypt on behalf of his people Israel.

Though maybe it’s
Revelation 16:3: “The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it
became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing in the sea
died.”

Some interpreters are very sure: The oil spill
matches biblical prophesy and is another predictor of the end…

She goes on to note the irony that end-times fanatics are usually pretty conservative (politically and religiously), and typically their predicted apocalyptic events are seen as punishment for liberal bugaboos and “ungodly behavior.” Only this time the culprits seem to be corporate greed, Big Oil, and what she calls a “disrespect for Creation” — most of which fit pretty neatly into the conservative political camp.

Either way, as someone with more than a passing interest in apocalyptic nuttiness (check out that lovely yellow book in the sidebar), here are two important reminders:

1. There have been prophets and religious leaders predicting the end of the world since the 1st century. They identify events that supposedly match up to the prophecies of the book of Revelation, under the impression that Revelation is a secret, coded timeline for future calamity. They finger-point the Antichrist and prophesy doom. Every single one of these dire end-of-the-world predictions, without fail, have been wrong. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. 

I’m no statistical genius, but 0-for-everything is a fairly poor record. I’m amazed that people still take these events and proclamations seriously — often from the same failed prophets who were wrong in the 1970s, and in the 80s, and in the 90s.

2. Attaching disasters and world problems to some sort of prophetic biblical timeline leads to complacency. If we think this is step one toward the end of the world, then why do anything about it? Let the oil flow! Let the Gulf be savaged! Let the New Testament prophecies run their course, because it won’t end until God intervenes. (I’ve known a Christian or two who thought caring for the environment was useless for a similar reason: that “it’s all gonna burn anyway.”) This viewpoint is dangerous, calloused toward suffering, and unChristian.

———

I understand that many Christians find hope in the expectation of The End, in the tradition of Christ’s return, in his victory over evil and suffering and sin. We all want to see the world “put to rights,” as N.T. Wright has stated it. Hope is a powerful thing, and I’d be the last one to tell you to give it up.

But can we at least stop giving the impression that natural or man-made disasters are good news because they propel us toward the Second Coming? And can we please stop acting like we’ve got the end of the world figured out, or that we can use our secret Bible decoders to deduce when it’ll happen?

Because at some point the 0-for-everything stops looking like hope and instead looks like insanity.

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