Apocalypse Does Not Mean War
Message for Manchester College Chapel Service
April 26, 2012,
Welcome to 2012, the year of the apocalypse, or so it is for those who interpret the Mayan calendar to mean that December 21 will bring on the end of the world. This prophecy is nothing new. Since the year 1800, there have been well over 100 predictions of Judgment Day. The difference is that since the 1970’s, politicians and religious leaders have increasingly used apocalyptic language, invoking images of Armageddon to stir up public support for a hard-line, militant political agenda as we move forward into the new millennium.
Such rhetoric greatly increases risk that the violent interpretation of apocalypse will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even to the point of believing a nuclear exchange is inevitable. It is a belief rooted in an antiquated world view that ignores reason and the discoveries of science.
Ironically, the linguistic derivation of the term apocalypse does not denote calamity or human-inflicted mass destruction; rather, “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word apokalyptein which means, “to uncover,” as if one were removing a veil. The prophet Isaiah uses the metaphors of veil and covering when he writes that the Lord will “destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” (Isaiah 25:7). The apostle Paul also applies the veil metaphor when he describes the veil that lies over the minds of those who are bound by the Law of Moses (2nd Corinthians 3:14, 15). In addition, the veil metaphor is also found in the writings of the Sufi poet Rumi, and in Hinduism where it is associated with the concept of Maya or illusion (lit. “that which is not”). Maya is depicted as a veil that shrouds the soul.
Fire has also been a metaphor associated with apocalypse. You have heard of the fire of judgment? In ancient times, fire was one of the five elements in the pseudo-science known as alchemy. Fire was the transforming element that could change the form of a substance. Add fire to water and it changed from ice to liquid, or from liquid to vapor. While the prophet Malachi writes of the fire that will burn up the wicked, Jesus in the Gospel of Luke uses fire metaphorically. Luke 17: 12 quotes Jesus as saying “I came to cast fire upon the earth.” But the fire of which he was speaking was the transforming fire of the Holy Spirit that descended onto the apostle at Pentecost. It is through the fire of the spirit that we are transformed from selfish, competitive, egocentric individuals to altruistic, sacrificial, and compassionate people who work cooperatively for the greater good.
Another symbol connected with apocalypse is that of “lightning.” Lightning represents a sudden collective awakening, symbolized in the Gospel of Matthew by the “lightning” that “comes from the east and shines as far as the west” (Matt. 24:27). It is more akin to what in philosophy is called a paradigm shift, which is a significant and relatively sudden change in the way humanity defines itself and its relationship with the universe.
The first major apocalypse came in the early sixteen hundreds with Copernicus and Galileo sent earthquakes through the ecclesiastical power structure of the Roman Church with their Heliocentric model of the solar system. This apocalypse was the culmination of the awakened that became known as the Italian Renaissance.
A second major paradigm shift began early in the Twentieth Century. Einstein’s theory of relativity redefined our understanding of time and space, and revealed gravity not as a force but as the result of the mass of an object warping the space around it. Hubble’s discovery that the universe is expanding, along with quantum field theory, forces us to marvel at the infinitely large and the infinitely small. And DNA evidence now demonstrates that humans evolved from a common ancestor, a discovery that forces us to recognize ourselves as a human family. One comes to realize that the idea that there are different races is an obsolete concept. The soul has no color, and the only so-called “race” is the human race. This final phase of the 20th century paradigm shift is triggering a long-sought collective realization that unveils within each individual the divine image in which we are all created. This is our common humanity, and its recognition enables us to perceive the unity that transcends ethnic, religious and nationalistic divisions.
We must also redefine how we deal with international conflict if we are going to preserve and benefit from our fragile but remarkable technological advances. Armageddon need not be our fate or our destiny. Exploitation and the depletion of our natural resources can be replaced with sustainability. God has provided us a means to personal salvation, but our collective survival as a human species is up to us. How long will we continue to delude ourselves into believing we are masters of the natural world? How long will we wage wars over land some see as God-given and holy while in our ignorance we fail to treasure the sacred home in the cold vacuum of space that the earth truly is?
Three weeks ago, I spoke and served as a panelist at the International Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado. While I was there I listened in on a panel discussion entitled “The Lure of Interstellar Travel.” What I learned from that discussion dispelled any romantic illusions about humanity venturing out to the stars any time soon. Given our economic struggles, the present-day limits of our crude space technology, we are not going anywhere. This plant earth is all we have. But its location here, a wondrous inhabitable planet surrounded by light-years of void and lifeless worlds, makes it a miracle unto itself. This entire earth is a holy land, and it’s time we come to cultivate a reverent awe for the home we are so fortunate to have. I mean, would you really want to migrate to the moon or to Mars? Talk about immigration reform!
So rather than make 2012 the year of the apocalypse, let us free ourselves from the veils that imprison us in an antiquated hostile and competitive world view. Let us make 2012 a year of interfaith understanding that will set humanity on a secure path of international cooperation and world peace.