I’m 75 and sense that the end is near. No, not that “end.” I’m talking about the end of days. What got me thinking this way was when the temperature hovered at around 55 degrees and the wind gusted at 15 to 20 mph on May 11. I was in my garden anxiously covering my tender vegetable plants because frost was in the forecast. Frost! On May 11! What’s going on?
With the pandemic raging and cold, windy, and oft times rainy days the apparent norm a few weeks ago, I imagined that this must be what the end of the world will be like, without the fire, brimstone, and false prophets. (Well, OK. There are a few of these impostors misleading the way. Google “I am the chosen one.”) But let’s skate clear of politics this week. Did anyone else have this feeling of dread a few weeks ago?
Some fundamentalist Christians regard COVID-19 as a fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible’s fantastical Book of Revelation. They see the coronavirus as the first of seven plagues brought by avenging angels to envelop the world. The swarms of locusts in East Africa and the Australian wildfires are somehow meshed into all of this. Personally, my bet is on science and the saving angels in the persons of the researchers speedily developing a vaccine.
Predictions of doomsday have accompanied many great world disasters, from the bubonic plague in the mid-1300s to the Great London Fire in 1666. The Book of Revelation is always a rich source of imagery for difficult times, what with its four horsemen of the apocalypse, a mysterious book secured by seven seals, a dragon with seven heads, falling stars, and the mark of the beast, “666.” Scholars are not sure of the Book of Revelation’s author. He is either John the Evangelist or John the Elder. Regardless, his musings have been a boon to Hollywood’s writers and producers. “The Omen,” “The Seventh Sign,” and the “Left Behind” series are just a few of the celluloid yarns premised on this book of scripture.
In my working days, I used a passage referencing Revelation’s “New Jerusalem” in a documentary I produced on Gothic cathedrals. I was fortunate to have Vincent Price do the narration as viewers soared through cumulus clouds to discover the shimmering image of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Most Biblical scholars are quick to deflate the doomsday interpretation of Revelation. They say it describes not the end of the world but Rome’ sacking of Jerusalem to put down a revolt in 70 A.D. The imperial legions also demolished the Temple of Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism. John, a Jew converted to Christianity and awaiting Christ’s promised return and the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel, struggled to understand the end of “his” world, and so resorted to vivid descriptions and complex metaphors. For example, theologians decode the 666 as a reference to Nero, the evil Roman Emperor who exiled or killed countless Christians.
Despite the Book of Revelation’s role as the font of much apocalyptic writing, it does end on a quite upbeat note. Satan and all that’s evil are defeated by the forces of good; Christ returns in a “Second Coming;” and the righteous survive to live in a new city with walls of jasper and a “river with the water of life … flowing down the middle of the city’s street.” Not bad. That positive spin should be our message today, too. We’ll eventually get through this coronavirus business, so don’t let it get you down. Its not the end of the world.
On a closing note, my wife and I have mailed our ballots for the June 2 primary election and hope that you have or will soon. Because of the pandemic, this will be a “vote by mail” election. You should have received your ballot in early to mid-May. It must be postmarked on or before Tuesday, June 2, 2020. You can also deposit it at designated ballot drop off locations or, if you prefer, you can still vote in-person on election day at your usual polling place.
Though it seems like many of us have been on a forced vacation these past months, citizenship doesn’t take a holiday. Who represents us in Washington, on a judge’s bench, and on the school board is always important. You have a voice. Make sure you use it.
Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears every other Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.