Dealing with apocalyptic thinking

Most scripture promotes our careful stewardship of the Earth. And yet, apocalyptic religious traditions welcome signs of the "end times" (environmental degradation, war, oil spills, etc.), considering it the fulfillment of long-awaited prophecy and the beginning of a new age of peace. What's the role of free will in the face of such prophecy? Should we celebrate these "signs" or try to do something to minimize the violence and destruction? If action is called for, how should we rally together to battle our "compassion fatigue" and heal the world's wounds?

 

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iven the speed of modern communications technology and the ratings-focused output of news media — it is hard not to feel that calamities of all sorts are on the rise.

While earthquakes, fires and storms have always battered the Earth, and humans have a long and bloody history of poverty, disease and warfare, we are much more likely these days to be confronted with evidence of their destructive power than we would have been 100 years ago.

However, with the rise of global economic systems, we are also much more likely to be not only beneficiaries of, but also victims of uncapped greed and corruption, thereby becoming more than mere "witnesses" to unfolding events. Examples abound, not only in the waters off Louisiana.

We are becoming aware, if nothing else, of the ramifications of our insensitivity to the responsibility we bear one another as inhabitants of the Earth.

While in the past it may have been possible to read into calamitous events "the will of God" — whether as warning or punishment or for some other mysterious reason — it is becoming increasingly clear (to religious and secular communities) that our individual and collective choices have influenced the world and the future in horrendous ways.

Free will got us in this mess, and, I believe, free will is going to have to get us out of it.

If nothing else, celebrating the destruction of this Earth or the idea of a "selective salvation" of its inhabitants discounts the precious gift of life (contributing to suffering and raising real concerns about theologies justifying these things).

Unitarian Universalists may not be united in their perspectives on God's will. But they are united in affirmation of the relationship between our freedom as human beings, and our responsibility to care for one another, the Earth and its creatures.

While compassion fatigue is always a threat (given human limitations and the wounds of the world), freedom allows us to choose with care and integrity the ways in which we each support the freedoms of others.

•The REV. STEFANIE ETZBACH-DALE is minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills in La Crescenta. Reach her at (818) 248-3954.

 

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understand the thinking of the apocalyptic folk: "Why polish the brass on the sinking Titanic?"

But then, nobody really knows when it's all going to end, and disasters have literally "plagued" mankind for millennia. That's why I don't get excited about any new human dilemma or natural disaster or strain of virus. It's happened forever and will until the end.

Jesus remarked once that it will be life-as-usual when he returns, and that his coming will be without warning (Matthew 24). So we may look at our planet and note its pollution, we may buy into the global warming hype; we might even think that all our petroleum resources are leaking into oblivion. I can hear the revelationists now pinning the "wormwood" designation on the current drilling disaster (Revelation 8:10-11), but I don't believe that anything in scripture truly identifies such signs as heralding the end of Earth except the final one: the Second Coming of Christ. That could be tomorrow or another millennia away. In the meantime, we are still under divine mandate to righteously steward God's property, Earth.

Even the pagans don't want to live and breathe a cesspool, so why would intelligent Christians let the environment go to pot on a hunch or some wild-eyed doomsayer's prognostication?

The 19th century saw the birth of dozens of cults and sects based on the idea that the end was near. History records it now as "The Great Disappointment." And what of the big Y2K meltdown that never happened? Hitler was supposed to be the Antichrist, too, if I recall.

So I tire of all the hoopla. Let's be real-world, live by faith, care for our charge, and it'll all be over when the fat lady sings. Or better, the "voice of the archangel" (1 Thessalonians 4:16ff).

•The REV. BRYAN GRIEM is pastor of Montrose Community Church. Reach him at (818) 249-0483.

 

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ur choices always produce either good or bad consequences for ourselves and others, but they never prevent or change the plans of God: "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all" (Psalm 103:19).

During environmental accidents or even acts of terrorism and violence, God is never out of control. God will accomplish all of his good pleasure, and that will include a seven-year period of time the Bible calls "the great tribulation" in which his wrath will be poured out on the world that has rebelled against him. During that time there will be wars, famine, plagues, attacks by wild animals, persecution of believers, a darkening of the sun, mass destruction of vegetation, pollution of the world's water supply, earthquakes and hundred-pound hailstones falling to Earth. These are not portrayed as natural disasters or the result of pollution or global warming. They will be judicial acts of God that man will not be able to prevent.

We should not consider disasters like the gulf oil spill as part of this judgment. We cannot prevent God's judgment, but we can and should work to reverse the effects of industrial accidents and natural disasters. God put Adam into the Garden of Eden "to cultivate it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15), meaning literally to serve it and to exercise great care over it, and that's how we should treat the planet he gave us as a home. People suffer during these disasters; we should work in every appropriate way to minimize their suffering.

How do we "rally together"? That's been the ongoing problem, hasn't it? For decades the world has had enough food to feed everybody, and medicine to heal diseases, yet people die of starvation and sickness every day. The rally begins in my heart when I choose to help someone who is suffering.

•The REV. JON BARTA is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Burbank. Reach him at (818) 845-7871.

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