March 30, 2011

Ancient prophecy in modern headlines

Once upon a time, back in the days when a 24KB modem was a blazing fast internet connection, HTML was an obscure protocol used by universities to organize text files, and 256 color VGA graphics were the hotest ticket to realistic computer gaming, those of us who were the earliest explorers of cyberspace used to hang out in a place called "Usenet". Buried in amongst some 40,000 or more discussion forums was a desert of red sand vistas, colorful bazaar tents, camel jockies and crumbling stone ruins known as "". The community was mostly wandering bedouins in small tribes of five or ten swaggering young warriors with gleaming swords, ancient family traditions, multi-generational fueds, and long-standing rivalries. Women were rare, respected, and fought over, and some of them were men in disguise. Flame wars were as common as peace treaties and neither lasted long.

I had wandered into this particular desert valley in search of someone to debate theology with. The vitriol, caustic rhetoric, and intense personal attacks that passed for "open-minded discussion" caught me completely off-guard. It didn't take long for me to gather battle scars of my own, sharpen my sword until it gleamed, and learn to scale up my defenses in accordance with how I was approached. There were no moderators or "rules" in those days; none that anyone could enforce anyway. I have to admit, sometimes I miss it. The modern internet is far too civilized and as a result, hackers who hide in the shadows and strike from behind have become far too commonplace.

The reason I mention this relic of bygone days is because one of the first duels I survived was a fiery discussion on the veracity of the Bible with a devout atheist. Militant atheism is quite common in today's world, largely due to the influence of Dawkins and Hitchens, but in those days it was still quite rare. My attacker opened with standard moves related to Noah's Ark and the Seven Days of Creation and I of course countered with standard millennialist blocks of epochs and ages. As battles go it started rather slow. Things quickly ramped up though as we worked our way through scapegoats, Levitical dietary restrictions, and a rapist being forgiven if they married their victim. Then he surprised me with a feint into false redemptions followed by a quick double thrust of unfulfilled prophecy and the Millerite's Great Disappointment.

That hurt. I hadn't done any prophecy study in over a decade. My parry was feeble, misdirected, and inappropriate. The killing blow came when he casually slapped my parry aside with, "Can you seriously imagine the Arabs joining together with the Europeans to invade Israel? The only thing Arabs hate worse than the Jews is each other! And the only people Europeans hate worse than Jews are Arabs!"

Our encounter ended there and I went off to tend my wounds and restudy end-times prophecy. At the time, he was right. Resentment between Sunni and Shia ran so deep they used suicide bombers on one another as often as they did on Tel Aviv. At the time, France and Italy had both just finished repatriating thousands of Tunisians and Algerians. On one occasion they had even allowed a ship filled with Algerian refugees to sink within sight of land while the shore patrol stood by casually watching the victims drown. No one in their right mind seriously argued that Revelations 9 and 19 were on the verge of becoming reality.

That was then, this is now:

Wall Street Journal: Cairo Revolt Finds New Target: The Free Market
New York Times: Democracy is Messy
BBC: Turkey, the Growing Power
Today's Zaman: Turkey's 360-degree Foreign Policy
The Palestine Chronicle: Who Will Protect Freedom Flotilla II?
Defence Web: Israel Says Seized Arms Justify Gaza Blockade
International Business Times: Egypt Extends Olive Branch to Iran
Council on Foreign Relations: Messages to Americans from Muslim Brotherhood
People's Daily Online: Iran Seeks Better Relations With EU
Post and Courier: Iran Behind Escalating Attacks on Israel
The Trumpet: Iranian Propoganda Film Claims Mahdi Is About to Appear

If someone were to hit me with the same comments today, a mere fifteen years later, I would not even have to open my Bible. I would simply point them at the news headlines of the past twenty-four hours. They would, of course, parry with accusations of "hypothetical" and "you can't know what's going to happen", which would be true. That does not change the simple fact that over the past day or two, we have entered into an entirely new world. Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime. While it is entirely possible that Biblical prophecy is not coming true right before our very eyes and in a few months all of this will blow over, it is equally possible that the great chessboard of the world is being set up for the final clash between God and Satan.

For someone steeped in Biblical prophecy everything that has happened since the year began is both frightening and joyful to behold. If these are the very last days, then some of the worst chaos, pain, and horror the world has ever known is about to unleashed on planet Earth. There is no guarantee that believers will be snatched away before the worst of it begins. Those who are counting on the Rapture to deliver them (and I am not saying they are wrong!) are overlooking Revelation 6:9-11. If these are in fact the very last days, then those martyrs are today's believers. On the other hand, it is possible that over the next few months the world will turn over a new leaf and peace will reign in the Middle East. Should it turn out that despite the many parallels with end-time prophecy the final judgment does not happen then there is no reason to be disappointed. After all, 2 Chronicles 7:14 still holds true: if God's people repent of their sins and return to fellowship with him judgment is forestalled.

This is the aspect of God's wrath that tends to confuse both believers and non-believers. When Jesus declared that "no man knows the day or the hour", he was not being cryptic. The end of time is wholly dependent on the faith of God's people. When people believe, judgment is forestalled. When the world falls into sin, depravity, and arrogance, they make the same mistakes they have been making ever since Adam took the apple from Eve. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the result is still the same. Sin is not sin because it's fun, and evil is not evil because it's selfish. The acts and behaviors that the Bible describes as "sin" are all self-destructive. Sometimes it takes a generation or two for the result to be realized, but the consequences of those actions do not change. When people drift away from God they indulge in behavior with very negative consequences. If the people repent and return to God, their behavior changes and they prosper.

Watching events now unfolding in the Middle East fills me with both expectation and trepidation. The end-times is not some kind of game. A global dictator, a global war centered on Jerusalem, a global plague that weakens and makes miserable but does not kill, these are not consequences I would expect anyone to actively invite! If the cycle is not broken, the consequences are as predictable as tomorrow's sunrise. The same cycle has been repeated periodically right down through the ages starting with the fall of the Sumerian city-states in about 2000 B.C. There is only one way to break the cycle: God's people must align themselves with God. Greed, ambition, self-promotion, acceptance of sin as something normal, corruption in all aspects of life, deal-making and compromise instead of strong integrity, all these things weaken the ability of the individual to reach their full potential. When enough people fail to realize their potential, all of society begins to collapse.

Is this the end of the world? Is the next step a global dictator, a global plague, and a global war? Maybe, maybe not. It all depends on you and I.