Reference Mark 13:8-23
Mankind seems to have a fascination about the end times. Many spend a great deal of time on calculations or speculations as to the nature of the last days. They even try to guess when they will occur, despite the clear message from Jesus that the information is not available to the mortal man (see Mark 13:32). Whole fantasy scenarios are spun about the “rapture,” and some stockpile supplies to survive the expected scourges involved with the end times.
Causation is discussed less. Certainly many simply assume God will make it happen, inserting himself into the human scene at a time appropriate to him. But suppose Armageddon is a do-it-yourself project of humans, that our species is creating the conditions leading us to an Armageddon of our own making, without God’s help? In Jesus’ discussion of events leading to end times, human behavior is the main driving force (the sole exception being earthquakes). God is involved only in counteracting human action to shorten the time allotted. It is instructive to note the comments of Pope Francis on the subject, introduced as follows:
“This sister [the earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. That is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (in Laudato Si,’point #2). He also quotes Pope Paul VI (point #4); “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.”
The last few weeks of the Church Year, which draws to a close November 29, are traditionally a time to contemplate “the last things.” The message from the lessons speaks to how completely lost and messed up we are. In common with the evening news, these lessons drive us away from our illusions into repentance, and the realization that our only hope is the mercy of God. The question as to when Armageddon will happen is irrelevant to this. As the popes point out, it is happening already. It may go on for a very long time, or God, as Jesus mentions, may apply the brakes early to short-circuit the misery. As to where the center of Armageddon will be, Armageddon itself is as good a guess as anywhere. It is on the disputed border between Israel and Syria. Ask any Syrian if the description of the events of the last times as mentioned by Jesus, sounds familiar, as he or she copes with a nation drastically wrecked by the clashing of international interests being played out right on top of the average Syrian, causing untold misery. Ask any Israeli how the peace process is going, as hostilities fester into their eighth decade without any real sign of resolution. Major eruption could indeed happen right at Armageddon. But that is beside the point. Armageddon represents all the disaster of the self-inflicted human condition just as Jerusalem represents all human habitation. The geography is ultimately unimportant. Armageddon is everywhere.
Americans have been conditioned to expect life in a bubble of happiness sealed off from all this. “It can’t happen here.” In many ways, the expectation has been met. In over a century of major worldwide wars, governmental and economic collapses and epidemics, the U.S. has been significantly spared, making the few exceptions such as Pearl Harbor, gun violence and 9/11 stand out all the more. More than a few point to this as a sign that America is indeed the new promised land, the modern Chosen People, uniquely blessed and protected by God. For others, it simply means that life can be conducted as usual, without having to worry about the consequences of wars, exploitation, limitless consumption and the indifference to the damage to our earth noted by Pope Francis. Others are passive, seeing the end times events as not influenced by us. Some are even enthusiastic for the disasters to come (usually those who have never experienced disaster), so that we can get on with the Rapture, or whatever it is they think is going to happen. “It is all in God’s hands,” they tell us. Those who separate Christianity from the activities of daily life agree. Making a big profit or turning on the air conditioning have nothing to do with religion, they will tell you.
But there is nothing passive or fatalistic in Christian life. If Armageddon is the cumulative consequences of human behavior, and if humans have been created to steward the earth, a modification of behavior is very meaningful, if done before it is too late. Jesus, as he wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), laments, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace.” There is no automatic Armageddon. It is an event with a cause, a malfunction in mankind, in a word: sin. It can be countered only by that which truly brings peace, the love of God as reflected in us towards our neighbors and towards his earth. As we experience more and more the growing consequences of our own earth-destructive and ultimately self-destructive way of life, it surely becomes harder to be in denial about what we are doing.
More understandable is the response that, since I am not a multi-national corporation nor do I have influence with senior government, I feel helpless. What can I, one poor soul, do to make a difference? The realistic answer is that you can’t.
Except, of course, where you can. Rosa Parks individual action on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama seems a very small, humble and nearly helpless gesture. Yet it sparked an entire movement that has made America a much better place. Parks attributed her optimistic courage to a high school teacher who told her, “You are a child of God. You can do something.” What should be self-evident to a Christian is that we can act individually, but we are never alone. Rosa Parks initiated action, but she did not succeed by herself. It is possible to feel very alone when you attempt to do your best to love your neighbor and God’s good earth. But the invisible ranks who march to enable God’s love need only your initiative. And sometimes, good people who, in despair, are doing nothing, need a witness in action before their eyes in order to no longer be blind to the futility of their inaction.
It is beyond our power, individually or together, to reverse the fallen condition of mankind. We can, as mentioned, only hope for God’s mercy. But in the life that we each have been given to live, we have choices and the choices have consequences. We can choose to be the stewards of his earth and the vehicles of his love, or not. I don’t know the full impact of my choices on the coming Armageddon. But I do know that doing nothing about the present state of our world is a surrender to an awful evil. In the history of mankind, I see before me the humble obedience of one who, by her individual faithfulness, was the means by which salvation came to earth. She sings, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but he has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). She must have felt very alone, terrified even, “greatly troubled,” Luke says(1:29). But she acted, doing what she was asked, to be an instrument of God for the love of mankind. Our assigned task may not be as heavy as hers, or fraught with as much personal danger. But we are also challenged to act, to do whatever little we can, individually or preferably together, in obedience to God who mandates us to be the stewards of the world, not her destroyers.