A few weeks ago, my sharp-eyed wife reported spotting a topless female motorcyclist cruising down Bangor’s Main Street on a sunny afternoon. We’ll probably never know if it was some modern-day Lady Godiva protesting something or other, or just a woman expressing her legal right to distract the neighborhood, but one person I mentioned it to immediately declared it a sign of the End Times.
Since Jesus’ death, Christians have been looking for signs of the promised second coming of the Messiah, and social revolts, millennial calendar dates, natural disasters, and the prophecies of charismatic preachers are only some of the triggers that set off alarms.
The common theme to all these triggers is the deep understanding that we humans deserve it; “it” being some ultimate catastrophe for the way we’ve dissed God, each other and the creation.
In his poem, “The Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats wrote:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned …
The “blood-dimmed tide” refers, of course, to the Bible’s final book, Revelation, and St. John’s vision of what happens after the opening of the Seventh Seal: “The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” (NIV Revelations 8:8-9)
This description closely matches what is happening in ocean water today, the result of the flaming collapse of BP’s mountainous oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The spreading oil is turning the sea a dried-blood color, and turning the ocean hypoxic. In just two months, it has poisoned a third of the Gulf of Mexico. If it continues unchecked into the Gulf Stream, a third of the ocean could turn red, a third of all sea life could die, and a third of all ships — the fishing fleet — could be rendered useless.
Given this reality, I was curious to read what Lisa Miller, Newsweek’s religion editor, had to say in her June 4 article, “Blood in the Water.” As it turned out, it wasn’t much. Miller began by connecting the question, “is the oil spill in the gulf a sign of the coming apocalypse,” to Christian fundamentalists alone — completely ignoring the fact that faith and science are plunging headlong toward the same horrific conclusion.
Miller points out that most fundamentalists are politically right-wing Republicans, and therefore feel conflicted by the fact that “free enterprise” has screwed up the environment so badly. But that is beside the point. The point is that Bible prophecy could eventually prove true. The question Miller avoided: is “eventually” happening right now?
Miller relied heavily on the blogosphere for her information, so I turned to some of the same sources to see how the discussion was going. I was surprised to learn that many fundamentalists were incapable of acknowledging that BP’s catastrophe might prove to be the fulfillment of St. John’s vision.
To summarize, their objections include:
• The Bible says the ocean turns to blood, so “looking like blood” doesn’t count.
• An oil rig in flames isn’t enough like “a huge mountain, all ablaze.”
• The second angel can’t sound his trumpet until the first angel does.
The first two objections, to my way of thinking, ignore the writer’s perspective. St. John wrote Revelation in the first century A.D. while living in a cave on the island of Patmos. Don’t you think, given his primitive perspective, that John’s interpretation of a giant flaming oil rig collapsing into the ocean, and a sea dyed rust-red with oil, is described quite well by the language he chose?
But the question of the first angel is truly frightening, when you consider that these prophecies may be intimately connected:
“The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.” (Revelations 8:7)
Now here’s the possible connection. We haven’t yet seen the effects of the oil and dispersant as it evaporates and then rains down on trees and grass and crops, or the consequences of all the flammable methane and other gases that are escaping, but scientific predictions are not very promising.
Hail could form around particulate pollution created by the massive airborne fires BP is employing to burn off the waste, while the “blood” raining down could be the evaporated oil itself. A third of the Earth could become desertified wasteland, as the green growth gets destroyed.
I have always presumed that if destruction comes to Earth, it will not be by God’s hand but by our own. That said, we had best change our ways before angel three, the angel of nuclear war, sounds his horn. With the arms-rattling going on over North Korea and Iran, we haven’t got much time to change our ways. Maybe that topless rider was a sign of the End Times after all.
The Rev. Dr. Lee Witting is pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.