Sunday, July 23, 2006

Armageddon Blues, Part II

Revelation 22:16-17 (New International Version)

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

On Friday night I channel surfed for a while, getting everyone’s slant on the news from the Middle-East. Fox had the conservative view, MSNBC the center-left, and CNN the left. Each outlet trumpeted its resident experts, most of whom were retired generals, colonels, diplomats, or graduates of prestigious journalism schools. As the evening wore on the rhetoric slowly heated up till about nine o’clock, when one network proudly proclaimed the world to be on the brink of World War III. Some guru, retired colonel something or other, lined it all up. On Israel’s side there were the United States, Great Britain, and India. On Hezbollah’s there were Iran, Syria, China, Russia, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Trobriand Islands sitting it out.

It was all reminiscent of a doomsday preacher I heard in the late sixties when I was stationed in Panama. I’d only been a Christian for a year and had never heard of Gog or Magog, let alone a lot of the rest of the lineup of nations who were going to be involved in Armageddon. That one hour at Balboa Baptist Church was a real eye opener, a real education for a novice Christian. It was like the day trading that was in vogue a few years ago. “Buy Egypt, Syria, Gog and Magog, hold Iran and Saudi Arabia, sell Pakistan and the Aleutians.” It was beautiful, fluid, and poetic, a masterpiece done in iambic pentameter. I’ve often wondered why no-one ever made a board game out of it, something along the lines of Stratego. It would have made a bundle.

One of the curious signs of our times is that Evangelical Christians are often derided for their inordinate focus on eschatology. I suppose there’s validity in that criticism, but as I watch the media today I also see the same focus being played out on a minute to minute basis along the world’s airwaves. What’s really fascinating about it all is that the doomsday preachers have been replaced by network pundits, retired generals, journalists, and diplomats. Christians aren’t fueling all this speculation. The media, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah are doing the job for us.

By about nine-thirty Friday night my mind was tied up in an intellectual pretzel. I had a serious case of the Armageddon Blues. At about nine-forty I saw my need for detachment from it all and took refuge in a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice.

That’s one of the other curious things about these times. It’s really easy to detach ourselves from what’s going on in the world. We can just tune out and kick back. It’s really easy. It’s easy to talk of Armageddon and the lineup of the nations when the missiles aren’t raining down on you, when you can turn off the television and grab a sandwich and a cold glass of juice as it all becomes too overwhelming. It’s easy to be an outhouse lawyer when you’re sitting in the comfort of an air-conditioned studio, waving your sheepskin or pedigree like a badge of honor.

So, then, how is a Christian supposed to act and think at times like this? About the best I can come up with is that we have to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly and leave the reading of the tea leaves to others. Armageddon will come soon enough and with it the Parousia. When it does it will come in the twinkling of an eye, when no-one will be able to detach themselves from it.

That’s the hope I hold. While I’ve taken sides in this current battle I know that in the end that only Jesus can fix what ails the world. George Bush can’t do it, nor can Kofi Annan. And, while I greatly admire Condoleezza Rice and her negotiating skills, I know that Jesus is the only one who will ever be able to settle every international dispute. He’s promised those who love his appearing that He would return to the earth and do just that, at a time when “the Spirit and the bride (my emphasis added) say come.” It’s that hope, not the detachment of a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice or expert opinion, which must be at the center of this Christian’s life.

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