As I write this, Jerusalem—the city that many Jews, Christians and even some Muslims consider the navel of this world—quietly slips into the early hours of September 23. While most of its citizens sleep and dream, thousands of Christians around the world hold their breath in anticipation, hope and, for some, even fear. A little more than a month after a rare solar eclipse traversed America, an even greater sign has now appeared in the heavens: the constellation Virgo (the virgin) finds herself situated with the sun and moon near her feet; Jupiter (the king of the gods; representing for Christians the true God revealed in Jesus the Messiah) shining in her midsection (womb); while nine stars and three naked-eye planets (Mercury, Venus and Mars) crown her head. And so, we are told, for the first time since well before the Apostle John penned the words of Revelation, the heavens align in perfect fulfillment of a key aspect in his divinely inspired vision of the Apocalypse:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. Revelation 12: 1-2
And if that weren’t enough, other supposed prophetic teachers and seers have noted the wars raging around the Middle East as well as in other parts of the world; the severe earthquake that struck Mexico three says ago; the unprecedented fires burning across America; the incredible devastation hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought to the Caribbean and the United States; and the current nuclear smack-down between Trump and Kim Jong-un and have interpreted them all as fulfilling—or at least pointing to—the dire warnings Christ gave about what many interpret to be the end of the world:
“There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences… And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21: 11, 25-28
But wait, that isn’t all. For even as the great alignment in the heavens takes shape, two more hurricanes dance their way across the Atlantic: Jose and Maria, Spanish permutations of the name Mary, the virgin mother of God, and her human husband, Joseph. (Note that the storms never touch one another, echoing the great truth that Joseph played no part in Jesus’ conception.)
Add it all up and it’s little wonder so many believers who hold to a particular brand of eschatology (the study of last things) are thinking something momentous is about to unfold.
The return of Christ, the rapture and the beginning of the end it all triggers, perhaps? More than a few think so and are shouting it from the proverbial housetops of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The final countdown to Jacob’s Trouble and the Great Tribulation? “Amen!” say others. Some more cautiously speculate that the signs are to be understood as but a major birth pang in redemptive history (Roman 8:22); perhaps a trumpet blast calling the recently eclipsed America to repent: that her lampstand is about to be removed—something, by the way, Kim Jong-un would only be too happy to help with. Others are more focused on the canary in the coal mine of nations, Israel. After all, some say this great heavenly sign will be most prominently manifest in the sky above the “Holy Land.” And not only that, Rosh Hashannah will have begun, leading up to the highest of the High Holidays in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
Are you ready for Armageddon?
More than a few people, impressed by the data points noted above, have asked me what I think about all of this. All of them are friends and solid Christians, people not known for chasing myths and endless genealogies (1 Tim. 1:4), much less believing in a domed flat earth or the planet Nibiru. (Did I mention that a number of apocalypticists read Planet X—Nibiru for those in the know—into Revelation 12 and September 23rd as well? After being a no-show on several previously predicted, world-ending collisions, this ghost planet has been guaranteed by some to finally get the job done tomorrow.)
And so, for what it’s worth…
I think all of this is precisely what Paul warned Timothy about in the verse (1 Tim. 1:4) just mentioned: a myth. Worse, it’s just another of the seemingly endless speculations/genealogies that pattern-seeking humans of the Christian variety—many of them sincere and well-meaning—have gotten wrong as they have offered them up to a watching world for nearly two millennia.
And sadly, tragically, the end result has been in the end to bring ridicule on both the Name of Christ, His Bride and His Kingdom message. After all, if we can’t get the end part of redemptive history right, who’s to say we don’t have the beginning and the middle all muddled up as well?
I’ve been working for some time on a series of responses to the New Atheists, a movement—make no mistake—that is having a profound impact on the Western world. Having read a number of their books and listened to dozens of lectures, I can tell you that one of the top five sticking points with Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins and particularly Harris, is that Christianity appears to be a clown car of apocalypse-chasers who are constantly getting their predictions wrong. Worse, it seems to them that we could care less about making the world a sustainably better place.
But there is a sense in which I truly do hope, yearn and pray that September 23rd and the days that immediately follow do spell the “end of the world as we know it.”
1. First, that it signals the end of professing Christians making like holy scripture-breathing prophets and taking it on themselves to use whatever pulpit they can find to share their personal interpretation of scripture and the signs they see in the times to say anything about the specifics of God’s prophetic timetable.
I mean, how many times do the great commissioned have to get the terminus of their commission wrong before we finally shut up?
Five? Ten? Fifty?
The fact is, the true number swells into the hundreds.
A generation from the first one AD has not gone by without some useful idiot (I say that as someone who struggles—as all of us do—with bouts of idiocy) declaring “The end is near!” Shoot, in just the short, vaporous passing of my 63 years—punctuated by the admittedly interesting and likely significant recreation of the land of Israel after almost 2,000 years—I’ve seen millions of Christians chasing the apocalypse. And I’ve lost count of how many drop-dead dates have been set…and then passed by without so much as a howdy-do.
As I write this I’ve been listening to 1000—A Mass for the End of Time for inspiration. The album is a collection of songs taken from the Ascension mass and apocalyptic texts that were everywhere as great swaths of Christians anticipated the end of the world as the first millennium AD wound down…only to then give birth to the second.
And now were into the third.
Ezekiel’s fourth (Eze.47:3-6) anybody?
I hope, I pray, our descendants are up for it.
2. Second, that we finally see the end of professing Christians tolerating even a whiff of Gnosticism: the satanic, Hellenistic-based idea the early church faced off against on the left even as they had to contend with the Judaizers on the right. Boiling it all down, Gnosticism is salvation/transcendence through knowledge; glomming onto the hidden keys of truth that have been lost or obscured from the common man. Discover this hidden knowledge—and, just by the way, whozzit can help you along if you will just buy his or her book or DVD—and you will become one of the chosen, the truly enlightened.
Now hold on there, you may say. What prophecy experts are making such claims? With some fringe exceptions, these are all good Christian leaders who believe in salvation by grace through faith and not through some hidden, obscured knowledge.
Well, I have no doubt that this is their heart and intention. And I’m also not in any way questioning their inclusion in the elect of God.
But you know what they say about good intentions.
The fact is I have not found a single end-time prophet, teacher or fiction writer who has not declared, or at least implied, that unless a person gets it right as to the specifics of their particular take on eschatological matters, it will not go well with them.
Some will say it straight up. In researching this, I’ve processed numerous articles and YouTube videos where the authors declare that the skepticism about their position I voice in this article means I am yet in darkness; that I’m bound by carnal thinking rather than embracing the enlightened insights they have received and are now sharing with the world.
The worst? Despite my sincere belief and embrace of the Gospel of the Kingdom, my bedrock confidence that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead and is now the LORD of heaven and earth, I remain a deceived, unregenerate spawn of Satan and on my way to hell.
And all because I haven’t grasped the hidden wisdom they’ve received concerning the trajectory of redemptive history and the last days.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m being harsh and unfair?
I’ve visited with Tim LaHaye on one occasion I remember. More his wife, Beverly, and the wonderful organization she and Tim helped found, Concerned Women for America, where I have spoken at two national conventions as well as being interviewed on their national radio program. I consider them both to be wonderful, anointed Christians who very likely will have a place of honor on the New Earth that eclipses mine.
With that said, however, when you boil down the theology of Dr. LaHaye’s incredibly popular (65 million sold) Left Behind series—a fictional representation of the dispensational eschatology that informs so much of the September 23rd speculation—one is left with a number of a proverbial flies in the ointment.
For example, Revelation 14:9-11 straightforwardly declares that anyone who receives the “mark of the beast” will face an eternity of hell, where “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.”
But what does it mean to take this 666 mark on the hand and/or head? Well, perhaps most broadly: to be a mere man (6 in Biblical numerology) who strives to supplant the Triune God (3); to be self-rather than God-referential in what we ultimately trust and believe (the head) and what we do (the hand).
This is what many Christians, myself among them, have believed for over two millennia.
Or what of the Roman emperor cult the early Christians had to face off against? After all, it was to them John was writing about things which will soon take place (Rev. 1:1).
The Romans had no problem with their subject nations maintaining their distinctive cultures and paying homage to their traditional deities. The rub came when they were required to honor the Caesar as kurios, the Lord, the King of all Kings.
No problem for the majority polytheistic cultures. They and their gods, after all, had been conquered by Rome. Might, in the end, is right.
But for Christians, it was another matter all together. Jesus had been executed via Roman crucifixion, vindicated by the Holy Spirit through a bodily resurrection from the dead, had ascended into heaven where He was enthroned and made LORD (kurios) over everything in heaven and on earth.
This was the bedrock of the Christian faith, the truth that stood above every other pretender to truth and homage. To confess instead that Caesar was LORD was unthinkable. It was to deny both Christ and the very foundation of the Gospel.
But to not honor Caesar as LORD could mean—and at various times over two-and-a-half centuries did mean—that Christians were severely marginalized (for example, their ability to engage in commerce—to buy and sell—was restricted) and even jailed, tortured and executed.
And to make matters worse, there is the curious fact that the emperor who kicked off the first serious persecution of Christians—a man who eventually degenerated into the most beastly state of mind and behavior—had a title whose letters added up to the very number John used to represent the beast. (Greek, like Hebrew and later Latin, did not have a separate number system but instead pressed their letters into doing double duty. And it was very common for people to add up the number values of the letters in a name or phrase, a practice the Jews called gematriya (gematria).)
After killing himself to avoid assassination, both the empire and emperor cult fell into confusion and looked to be “dead”, on its way to oblivion. But thirteen years after Nero’s passing, Domitian, a man who some Romans believed to be the second coming of Nero, came on the scene and righted the floundering ship of the Roman state. A gifted statesman and strategist, he was also a remarkably cruel and vainglorious man, one the historian Pliny described as a beast from hell who sat in its den, licking blood. Beginning in 89 AD, for seven years the self-titled “God the Lord” unleashed a torrent of persecution against what was commonly seen as a sect of Judaism: the Christians.
The 666 death cult was reborn.
Could what is now past be what John the revelator was primarily pointing to, encouraging his fellow believers to endure with hope in the eventual victory of Christ over the emperor cult? Could we be barking up the wrong tree as we speculate about future fulfillments: for example people being eternally doomed or at least having to go through the Great Tribulation because they’ve accepted a particular credit card, smart card, biochip, vaccine or whatever else becomes the mark de jour?
I’m not saying definitively that we are, though I personally believe it to be the case. God-fearing and learned folks look through the Bible’s admittedly difficult and at times mysterious eschatological lens from different angles and, of course, reach different conclusions about these matters.
But shouldn’t the ancient paths carved out by the many that have gone before us be taken seriously rather than simply ignored? Shouldn’t the indisputable fact that Christians have gotten it so often and so spectacularly wrong before—with no little damage being done to our testimony before men as a result—give us profound pause before chasing after the newest sign in the heavens or earth?
In much the same way, what of the passage in Revelation 12 that has become the focus of this new wave of end-time speculation: the great sign of the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars?
Many, perhaps even a majority of theologians over the intervening years, have viewed this passage as being fulfilled nearly two millennia ago: imaged first by Mary, the infant Jesus and Herod standing in for the dragon and then more completely as the young church had to endure the persecutions of imperial Rome.
But you would never know about this common interpretation listening to all the fevered speculation concerning September 23rd.
And this brings me to my third and last “please let tomorrow and the days that follow be the end” hope and prayer.
3. That we will finally see the end of the anti-historical, new (or recovered) revelation perspective that has tainted so much of modern, and particularly American, evangelicalism. Millions have been infected with a “vain imagining” that has either taken over their minds and hearts or—and I would take this to be by far the majority report—bubbles quietly beneath the surface of their consciousness, creating confusion where there should be clarity as to the task that is before them. This thought-virus takes many forms but is perhaps best expressed in the idea that the Church has to varying degrees floundered since Constantine; that true New Testament, Spirit-filled Christianity has only recently been recovered (many would date it to the Azusa Street revival); that only now, in our generation’s time has the latter rain truly fallen and a nascent Daniel generation come on the scene that will ultimately usher in the return of the LORD.
In opposition to the Prime Directive given to us by our LORD (Matthew 28:18-20), millions now limp about, tethered to the subtle belief that Satan and his seed are the ones really alive and well right now on planet earth. Ignoring or watering down Jesus’ clear admonition that no one knows the day or hour of the Son of Man’s return (Matt. 24:36)—as well as the two angel’s gentle and rather humorous rebuke of the disciples’ “standing around and looking into the sky” rather than hoofing it back to Jerusalem and engaging with the new commission they had been given (Acts 1:11)—a majority of U.S. Christians believe that Jesus will either “definitely” or “probably” return to earth on or before 2050. (2010 Pew Research Study). Abandoning the long-term strategy and commitment to occupy or do God’s business until He returns (Luke 19:13), millions of Christians’ fascination with supposed end-time’s doom and gloom is becoming—even has become as regards the West—a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Father, forgive us.
May all of this nonsense finally come to an end as we see 2017 come and go without the occurrence of any great apocalyptic event.
I’m going to informally “predict”—more offer a hunch—that God could very well frustrate the sign-chasers and predictors by making the September 23 and the rest of 2017 an ocean of relative calm. (Note the qualifier “relative.” Crazy and tragic stuff will continue to occur with some frequency as it necessarily must in a fallen, yet-to-be-fully-redeemed world.) The One who holds together the cosmos by the word of His power (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3) might very well grant our planet an extra measure of grace so that the trend we already see emerging in 2017 relative to earthquakes—we’ve actually seen the least in relation to the past decade—will manifest in other areas watched by apocalypticists as well.
Trump and Jong-un will continue to bark at one another, but a nuclear holocaust will be averted. Islamists will carry on with their war against the West and Israel, but nothing unusually horrible will come of it.
And maybe, just maybe, the Church can put away her fascination with myths and endless genealogies and give renewed energy and attention to the Gospel of the Kingdom as December 25th and January 1 roll around.
And that, by the way, includes calling America to repent. We didn’t need our own special eclipse to let us know that America is under the judgment of God. It has been for years, with 1973 (Roe v. Wade) and 2015 (Obergefell v. Hodges) serving as true signs of the tragic process of being given over to believe the lie. (2 Thess. 2:11)
Lastly, as long as this article has turned out to be, there’s much I have had to leave out. And that includes an idea—an eschatological riff on Pascal’s famous wager—that may somewhat smooth the ruffled feathers of those I’ve put-off by the perspectives I’ve shared here.
More importantly, it just may show us a better way forward.
I hope to have it out within a few days.
On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 a total eclipse of the sun will make its way across America. The last time the contiguous United States experienced one was in 1979. But it will be the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years and the first to be visible only in this country since before it even was a country.
The track of the Moon’s shadow will cut diagonally across America from Oregon to South Carolina, traveling at speeds ranging from almost 3,000 miles an hour when it appears off the coast of Oregon, to about 1,500 miles an hour where it says goodbye to Charleston, North Carolina and then trails off the edge of the earth.
Its cross country trip will take 93 minutes.
All of the continental United States will see at least a partial eclipse. But only those in the 68-mile-wide path of totality will see the disc of the sun completely blocked out by the moon.
How big a difference is it to see a partial versus a total eclipse? Its been compared to watching a sparkler versus an aerial shell exploding across the 4th of July night sky; or enjoying a beautiful local waterfall over trying to get one’s mind around the majesty of Victoria Falls.
For most locations along the 68-mile-wide path of totality, the beginning of the eclipse to full totality will take about 90 minutes.
Inside this path, the Moon will completely cover the Sun. The earth’s landscape will be plunged into an eerie twilight, similar to the amount of darkness that occurs about 20 minutes after sunset. Temperatures can drop by 20 degrees or more. Birds will go to roost, dairy cows will return to their barns, and frogs and crickets will begin their evening choruses.
The corona is an aura of plasma that surrounds the photosphere, the visible surface of the sun. From the sun’s surface, it extends about five millions miles out into space. For reasons scientists don’t yet fully understand, the corona is much hotter than the sun itself, up to 450 times hotter. But it’s also a million times less bright than the sun.
And this why the corona it is not visible to us except during an eclipse or by the use of a coronagraph, a telescope that employs a disc to block the sun’s bright surface. But even the best coronagraph can’t provide as clear a view of the corona as what the moon drops into our lap during a total solar eclipse. And this is why astronomers go crazy over them and why so many will be eagerly coming from all over the world to photograph, film, map, measure, study and explore every facet of this awesome astronomical phenomenon.
For there in the corona, and particularly its inner ring, lie the keys to understanding many other things about the universe, the sun and even our own planet.
In that sense, the corona is the Rosetta Stone of astrophysics. For once fully deciphered, scientists can then turn and unlock many of the other mysteries of a universe the Psalmist declares
“….pours out speech and…reveals knowledge.”
But here we come to a very interesting and even peculiar aspect of a solar eclipse, one that makes an extraordinary event even all the more extraordinary: Why should the moon so perfectly block the disc of the sun and make the corona to visible?
For if the moon was a bit larger in size or was closer to the earth, its shadow would block out both the sun and the corona.
Or, if it was smaller or further away, the much brighter disc of the sun would drown out the corona’s radiance.
And again, its mysteries would be locked away.
Why should the moon, which is 400 times smaller than the sun, when in the right place in its elliptical orbit around our planet, be 400 times closer to us than the sun, thus making a near perfect total solar eclipse with a visible corona possible?
To scientists under the spell of a purely naturalistic view of creation—meaning there is no Creator, that the universe just happened and just happens to be the way it is—it’s all just a coincidence, a happy—for us—accident.
But mere happenstance transforms into glorious design for those who believe that,
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their speech goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
The Hebrew word here translated “speech” means literally a “measuring line” or a ruler, echoing a theme that is stated in several other places in the Bible: that the cosmos was designed and constructed by and through a singular Wisdom of infinite precision and complexity. From a purely rational human perspective, this cosmic blueprint yields the laws of science and the beautiful symmetry and surprising effectiveness of mathematics, and further explains why modern science, as historian Edward Grant observed,
But along with this rational, scientific dimension, there’s a prophetic or symbolic—one could even call it artistic—aspect to all of this as well. For the Bible declares in the Book of Genesis that the Creator set the sun and the moon in the sky not just to illuminate our world, to regulate seasons and mark the flow of time—for astrophysical purposes in other words. They are also for signs; to point to key truths regarding God’s eternal plan.[ii]
Like any great playwright or theatrical producer, God designed our world and its surrounding heavens to not only serve as a physical stage upon which the drama of redemptive history would unfold, but to also reflect: to provide shading, greater meaning and nuance to this drama.
And there are no more important stage props in this regard than the greater light that rules the day and the lesser light that rules the night.[iii]
There isn’t the time and this is not the place to explore all the wonder to which these two great lights point. Stay tuned for the documentary, “All the World’s a Stage” where we will examine the redemptive/historical aspects of each of the six stages of creation.
For now, we’ll close with two last thoughts.
First, a tangential one that may or may not mean anything. As we’ve seen, the number 400 looms large over a solar eclipse. Totality happens because the moon is roughly 400 times smaller than the sun but is 400 times closer to the earth.
Well, it also so happens that the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, from which the sign of the Christian cross is in part derived, has both a meaning and a number associated with it. Its meaning is “sign” or “signature.” And its number value is precisely 400.
In addition, as we saw in Genesis 1:14, functioning as signs was part of the Creator’s design for the sun and the moon. The Hebrew word for “sign” here is made up of three letters. Each has a numerical value, as the ancient Hebrews used their letters to represent numbers as well. When you total the value of the three numbers you get…well, we’re over 98% of the way there: 407.
But finally, there should be no dispute from a Christian perspective as to one key aspect of a solar eclipse. In revealing the corona and the astrophysical Rosetta Stone it represents, can there be any question that the Creator God intended men to be scientists and understand the universe; to, in the words of the Johannes Kepler, the devout Christian who is often called the Father of Modern Astronomy, “think God’s thoughts after him?”
This is something wonderful to chew on, particularly as we watch the moon slip across the disc of the sun and throw our world into a temporary darkness but for the mysterious, hot light bleeding around its edges.
In what is very likely a line from an early hymn of the Church, we are told that Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity who stands outside of time and space, created both time and space.
“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…”
And now time, space and, yes, eclipses show forth His handiwork.
On August 21, remember that He choreographed this cosmic dance. That He did it to show forth His glory as well as to teach and awe His earthly audience.
For it all points to the Omega Point, the Singularity to which all of creation groans and moves.
And this day will be yet another total eclipse for the Son.
[ii] Genesis 1:14
My Facebook post after the tragic fiasco in Charlottesville garnered more than a little pushback. Most of it dealt with my contention that Trump’s comment about the hatred, bigotry and violence coming from “all sides” (his words) was “ill-timed” (my words) and further that his overall handling of the growing controversy surrounding racialism has fallen short of what our country needs from him.
I thought I would clarify and defend my position by responding to a comment from one of my oldest and best FB friends, Dave. After briefly chronicling his own journey through the feedback loop of southern racism as well as his conversion to Christ, Dave condemned the sinful and grotesque racism of white supremacists while also noting—rightfully—the reverse racism fomented by identity politics and the wicked use of violence by more than a few of its advocates. He then closed by saying:
“Defending him (Trump) is not my great joy but regarding your and many others reaction to his renunciation of racism and bigotry from “all sides”, I am completely baffled. I sincerely recognize the putrid evidence of these vile qualities in the extreme elements attempting to lay claims in both political parties. The insistence that Trump call out one above the other seems to give some sense of credence to the same evil in the other camp. Where am I misunderstanding?”
First, my comment was NOT that the problem wasn’t coming from both sides. There is no doubt that the identity politics that drove some of the protestors at the rally is a counter-productive worldview at its core. Furthermore, there are more than a few provocateurs in the movement who are using it to push any number of evil agendas: communism, anarchism, reverse racialism, extreme globalism, Islamism, etc.…in general, Alinsky-style tactics designed to foment hatred and violence with the goal of creating division and destabilizing America as well as derailing Trump’s administration. Lastly, that the regressive-left media cabal is more than happy to help mainline this narrative.
My objection was solely the timing of Trump’s comment (and as we all know, timing is—if not everything—a very significant thing.)
Here we had a gaggle of anti-Christian goose-steppers bearing Nazi regalia and spouting racialist and anti-Semitic screeds, intentionally evoking one of the two most perfectly satanic worldviews and world-destroying movements of the 20th century (with communism being the other).
And then we had one of their deranged acolytes driving a Dodge Charger into a crowd of what seemed to be peaceful protestors, killing one person and injuring 19.
Lock in on that.
Now, consider the counter-protestors. A significant percentage of them—likely even a large majority (only God knows)—were there to peacefully push back against the darkness. As I have said, I think it would have been better if everyone had just ignored the fascists rather than giving them the attention they so desperately crave. But if the Eric Holmberg of 1977 had been translated from William & Mary to the campus of UVA 40 years later (I feel old suddenly), I’m sure I would have been out there pushing back as well.
It is pretty clear at this point that there was also a contingency of Alinskyites there, fanning the fires of hate, violence and chaos. Fine, I get that. And I absolutely agree that this needs to be investigated and addressed, not just in Charlottesville but in similar uprisings that are sadly becoming too common in our country.
But against the backdrop and timing of neo-Nazis marching and the dead and wounded victims of their hate, drawing any kind of moral equivalence between what most Americans see as the “two-sides” of this tragic fiasco amid the heat of the moment just wasn’t wise.
And we desperately need our leaders to be men and women of wisdom.
But here we come to the larger problem: Trump’s general lack of wisdom and honesty on this as well as any number of other important issues.
Now contrary to the regressive left’s incessant propaganda, I don’t believe Trump is a racist. And he has condemned David Duke, the KKK, white supremacism, anti-Semitism and other evil aspects of the so-called “alt-right.” I believe he is sincere about this.
The problem is that he has lacked wisdom in the way he has often gone after them: poor timing; unfortunate or incomplete phrasing; being silent when he should have spoken up; speaking up when he should be silent; substituting the 140 characters in a tweet for a focused and nuanced speech are some of his many stumbles in this regard.
Now couple that with his position on immigration (which I, for the most part, support).
And finally, add four key ingredients:
1. His family business’s unfortunate—though not unusual given the time—treatment of minorities in times past.
2. His tacit approval—and at times even encouragement—of roughing-up protestors at his rallies.
3. Relatedly, his appealing at times to some of the baser instincts of his core supporters, people who feel disenfranchised from the American dream and are casting about for scapegoats, real or imagined.
4. His incessant love of and genius for courting controversy and thereby generating front-page news and millions of dollars in free advertising. This, in turn, has often kept him from immediately and clearly addressing and defusing controversies when they arise.
Racialists on both the right and left who hear “Make America White Again” every time Trump’s pet slogan is declared.
And a whole bunch of people in the middle who are left either confused, unsure, fearful, or suspicious of where Trump is really coming from.
For the most part, Trump has done a poor job in silencing this dog whistle. That in turn has helped foment doubt, fear, and division. And it has given his many opponents a big stick to club both his administration and agenda…while introducing and empowering their own.
One of the most important roles of a President is to be a truth-teller; to inspire trust in our government; through example as well as by using the bully-pulpit of his or her office to help bring clarity, healing, and unity to the challenges and controversies of our nation as they arise.
My prayer is that our president comes to really understand this. And that he graduates from being an apprentice…to a man who can truly help make our multi-ethnic nation great again.
So too with the greatest story ever told.
A little less than 2,000 years ago, Jesus was wrapping up his three-year ministry intensive with his small band of eleven disciples. Forty days before, He had graduated from death to life, becoming the first fruit of the New Creation, the model Man who then breathed on his astonished followers and transformed them into chips off this new Cornerstone. Now He was about to step back into His Father’s dimension and sit down on the throne as the dread Sovereign over heaven and earth.
He leaned into His eleven disciples and a great hush fell.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He said. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
And so He summed up the raison d’être of His life…and ours.
Now depending on one’s eschatological view—whether a-, post- or historical pre-millennial— we can disagree as to the extent we will be successful in this grand enterprise of discipling nations before the Lord returns. We can even disagree as to how true success is defined.
But there should be absolutely no question as to what that commission is and means: to love others as He has loved us; to strive to bring every thought in obedience to Christ; to seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness; to pray and then work for that Kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And die trying (in more ways than one).
Anything less is to cease being a disciple; to quit the game, leave the field and shuffle off into the inglorious stands.
As followers of Christ, the NO’s we present to the world must always be in the context and service of the far greater, transcendent YES’s.
For example, pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexuality and divorce—for sure big no’s—are only condemned because they are cancers on the YES!: the boundless joy, mystery and blessing that is One-Man, One-Woman, One-Flesh marriage.
The Word—inscripturated, enfleshed and echoed in creation and the whispers of the human heart—“outlines the design”. They give us the bullseye, the center of the target at which we are supposed to aim.
Whatever the target subject may be—relationships, money, sexuality, child-rearing, education, law and government, race, philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, on and on—rarely, if ever, will we hit the target dead-center.
That’s because we are fallible creatures living in a fallen world.
And without this—and sadly many in our country seem literally hell-bent on denying and erasing many of these bullseyes—there is only chaos.
And an eventual decent into the Abyss.
As the poet warned:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…
(An excerpt from The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats, 1919)
In a world torn with strife, displaced peoples and a growing underclass mired in poverty and despair, Madagascar—the eighth poorest nation in the world—is experiencing a modern-day miracle as tens of thousands of people are encountering the transformative power of the Gospel. All due in large part to the efforts of one man.
The oldest of eight children, Pedro Opeka was born in a suburb of Buenos Aires in 1948. His parents had immigrated to Argentina from Slovenia just a few months before in order to escape Tito’s brutal purge of those who resisted the communist take-over. Luis, Pedro’s father, instilled in the young boy a love of God, people, freedom and hard work, introducing him into the masonry trade at nine-years-of-age. By fourteen Pedro was a certified brick-layer—and by 17 had built his first home for the poor—in this case for the Mapuche Indians in the Andean mountains. Little did he know this was a foreshadowing of what would become, in large part, his life’s work.
Pious, academically-gifted, and also an excellent soccer player, as a young teen Pedro wondered whether to pursue professional sports or the priesthood. The latter won out and he entered seminary when he was fifteen. In 1968 he traveled to Europe, where he studied philosophy and theology in Slovenia and in France, and then spent two years as a missionary in Madagascar. He was ordained a priest in the Basilica of Luján in Argentina on September 25, 1975 and the next year was sent back to serve the people of Madagascar.
For nearly fifteen years the young priest ministered in a remote, southeast region of the island nation, teaching and pastoring, living among the people, cultivating rice to survive and playing soccer, eventually becoming a star on his home team. In all this, he very much became a man of the people.
In 1989, Father Opeka was sent to direct the Vincentian seminary located in the capital city of Antananarivo. Now in his 40s, it was there that God refocused his life and he found his ultimate mission. “When I arrived,” he later wrote, “I could not shut my eyes to utter destitution. I saw a 1,000 children struggling for survival among the animals in the garbage dump…I was dumbstruck. I said to myself, ‘Here I could not just talk. I had to act!'” He went to meet them and promised, “Together we are going to get out of this mess!”
With the help of some young people he had trained in his former parish, Father Opeka built a small home for children on the edge of a landfill. It was followed by second, and then another. Soon, a small village rose out of the debris. They named it Manantenasoa, Malagasy for “the hill of courage.”
Interested in improving the quality and permanence of the homes as well as creating jobs, Father Opeka next took advantage of the abundant stone and granite deposits around the villages. His team engineered several quarries as he began teaching the formerly unemployed how to lay brick, working alongside them as they built. Masonry took the place of wood and bright, beautiful homes began to dot the hillside. Next they fabricated a compost center near the dump, providing a source of fertilizer to grow crops as well as new jobs in the farming sector. Streets followed as paving became another trade developed by the community. Embroidery workshops for women were developed and light manufacturing began. Carpenters, cabinet makers and other vocations followed. Primary and secondary schools and medical clinics were built and staffed. And the Gospel was preached in both word and deed. Father Opeka would eventually preside over masses with as many as 10,000 people participating.
Through all this, beauty was birthed from ashes. What was once a landscape of garbage, crude huts and despair has been transformed into a sprawling cluster of 18 villages with homes, schools, gardens, flowers and paved, clean streets. Thirty thousand people live and work in these new villages of hope. Approximately 10,000 children attend the 37 schools that have been established. And the “hill of courage” has grown into a small city christened Akamasoa, meaning “Good Friends” in the Malagasy language.
And there is one man—an ambassador of the One who is closer to all of us than even the dearest brother (Proverbs 18:2)—who is the very best, earthly friend of them all.
Even to sympathetic friends, Dietrich von Hildebrand was considered extreme in his early opposition to Hitler. Looking in our rear-view mirrors, no one would say that today. Might the same be happening again as Christians who stand up for biblical values on marriage, family and gender are being labeled extreme, homophobic dinosaurs; even becoming something of an embarrassment to their silent friends?
What follows below is an interview conducted by Franciscan Way magazine with John Henry Crosby, the translator and editor of My Battle With Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich. The book is based upon the 1920s–1930s memoirs of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the renowned German Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian, and also includes important essays from the period.
I found the interview fascinating on a number of levels.
First, here was a man who very early on saw the catastrophic end-game of Hitler and National Socialism when the vast majority of Germans missed it. Why? Because he reasoned biblically, his keen intellect informed by the “new world of grace.” Though he was an intellectual living in a materialistic, anti-supernatural zeitgeist, he wasn’t afraid to give preeminence to the spiritual world. Coupled with his apparent knowledge of scripture, redemptive history and biblical typology, he quickly recognized Hitler as “an anti-Christ.” (Note he used “an” and not “the”–avoiding the common error many make today as they await the coming of the anti-Christ.) As a result, he became one of the preeminent prophets of the 20th century. Also, unfortunately, one of the least well-known. I pray this book helps change that.
Second was Hildebrand’s courage. Let’s be honest. Most professing Christians today are remarkably silent concerning a very similar dark cloud creeping its way into America’s governmental, judicial, educational, economic, and infotainment institutions. They are too busy accommodating themselves to the cloud and having their ears tickled with messages of cheap grace and how to have their best lives now. Among those who do see the darkness rising and are willing to think, pray and even address it from time to time, vanishingly few are willing to do much to practically, boldly and, yes, sacrificially stand against it. Here, again, Hildebrand stands as a light on a hill.
Next was his balanced approach to cultural transformation. Yes, we are called to be “hot”– to confront evil when and where it manifests. But we should also strive to be “cold”–to bring living water to a culture dying of thirst. (Many today are simply lukewarm; not a promising temperature to be. (Rev. 3:16)) And so his passion to foster a counter-culture of life, beauty, grace and truth is exemplary.
Lastly, as I have already alluded to, I was struck by the remarkable similarities to his time and ours. I need to be cautious here. I don’t see anything like a new Hitler on America’s horizon. (So please, no invoking Godwin’s Law on me.) Nor do I foresee a day when any adult people group will be marched into concentration camps and gas chambers. But we have killed–and are killing–the unborn at a rate that makes the Holocaust look like a pre-game show as far as the number of people murdered. (I understand there are other factors associated with the Holocaust that make it unsurpassed in regard to human suffering and the callousness of heart necessary to perpetrate it.) We are in danger of ceding all authority to a centralized government run by elites chorusing “Let us break the (LORD’s and His anointed’s) chains and throw off their shackles. (Psalm 2). Let us do what is right in our own eyes. (Judges 21:25).” Having attacked the fruit of marriage (abortion; untethering sex from marriage and then sex from procreation; turning what children are born over to humanistic schools and pop-culture brainwashing; etc.), we have been continuing to chip away at the root: God’s image in the binary, male/female distinctive and their reunion through marriage and sex. And what happens once the foundation of the biblical family is destroyed; once its position as the center of the target towards which every sojourning soul is called to aim is erased and replaced with a 360º “Do what thou wilt” panorama?
Both the Bible and history–including mid-20th Century history–says it will not be pretty.
(Special note: I’m aware I have readers who are anti-Catholic. Many assume that because I produced Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism, I’m also anti-Catholic. I am not. Today’s RC church is a far cry from the medieval brand that Luther and other reformers rightly, though imperfectly, challenged. And perhaps more to the point, Protestantism–with its multiple tens of thousands of schisms and compromises–is likely as goofy and apostate as the Roman church was six-hundred years ago. I believe Christians are called to recognize and honor the works of the Holy Spirit when and wherever they manifest. Dietrich von Hildebrand was just such a work. And I’m proud to pay tribute to him and bring him to more people’s attention.)
Just after midnight, on March 12, 1938, three Gestapo agents pounded on the door to Dietrich von Hildebrand’s home. When no answer came, they broke down the door, only to find the Viennese apartment empty. The German philosopher had fled the apartment (and Vienna) just five hours earlier.
Austrians awoke on March 12 to find their country occupied by the German army. Their political leaders had been arrested while they slept. After the heads of government, von Hildebrand had been next on the Gestapo’s list.
What had the philosopher done to incur the wrath of Hitler’s regime? And what more would von Hildebrand do in the weeks and years ahead?
Recently, Franciscan Way sat down with John Henry Crosby to discuss von Hildebrand’s campaign against the Nazis. Here’s what we learned.
Franciscan Way: Perhaps you could set the stage for us and explain a little about what von Hildebrand was doing when the Nazis came to power?
John Henry Crosby: By the fall of 1919, von Hildebrand was living and teaching in Munich, which would soon become home base for the fledgling Nazi movement. This proximity gave him the opportunity to see firsthand the movement’s early growth. Already by 1921, more than 10 years before Hitler came to power, von Hildebrand had made his first public statements against National Socialism. I know of no other German figure of prominence who recognized and denounced the Nazi movement earlier than von Hildebrand. From his memoirs, it is not quite clear when he became fully conscious of a mission to fight Nazism, but certainly by 1933, when Hitler seized power, von Hildebrand knew that he had to raise his voice. It is moving to see that von Hildebrand left Germany in March 1933, not because he knew what form his opposition would take, but because he was sure that God would show him the way.
FW: How did von Hildebrand’s Catholic faith influence that decision?
JHC: So much could be said here. I think von Hildebrand’s faith gave his reason a powerful supernatural dimension. He was a convert, received into the Church at Easter 1914. He was gifted with a penetrating mind and the ability to articulate his perceptions. When he converted, his intellectual gifts expanded as he discovered the “new world” of grace, as he often put it. Would he still have grasped the danger Hitler posed had he not converted? I think so. But I don’t know if he would have perceived the demonic evil present in Nazism so clearly. His faith allowed him to see Hitler through a supernatural lens. This explains why he often described Hitler as an “Anti-Christ.” Many friends, even those who shared his anti-Nazism, thought he expressed himself in excessive terms, but looking back on the destruction and genocide propagated by the Nazi regime, it’s hard to deny how accurate von Hildebrand’s perception turned out to be.
FW: What concrete steps did von Hildebrand take to oppose Hitler?
JHC: The single most concrete thing he did was to found and edit the premier German-language intellectual and cultural anti-Nazi publication. From 1933, when Hitler’s takeover of the German government forced von Hildebrand to flee Germany for Austria, until 1938, when the Nazis took over Austria as well, he published his journal on a weekly basis and managed to pen an essay for almost every issue. By bringing together many different voices, from right and left, his paper presented a formidable united front against National Socialism. But just as important was his direct impact on individual people. And that influence was deep and lasting. I can think of no better confirmation of this than the words of one student who credited von Hildebrand for “immunizing” him “against the siren song of National Socialism.”
FW: When the Nazis entered Austria, von Hildebrand was one of the first people they went to arrest? Why? After all, he was a philosopher, not a politician?
JHC: A very good question. It is a little ironic, but it’s also a tribute to the central role of ideas in political and cultural struggles. There are several reasons the SS came straight after von Hildebrand. Certainly von Hildebrand had crossed the line from philosophy into politics and public debate. He was so fearless and uncompromising in his articles that the Nazi regime (before invading Austria in 1938) regularly complained about him to the Austrian government. I like quoting the assessment of FBI founding director, J. Edgar Hoover, who said von Hildebrand was “editor of the most violently anti-Nazi newspaper in Austria.” While Hoover would have welcomed von Hildebrand’s efforts, his words pair well with those of Hitler’s ambassador in Vienna, who thundered: “That Hildebrand is the worst obstacle to Nazism in Austria. No one does more harm!”
FW: At a time when so many other Christians, Catholics included, chose to remain silent, what gave von Hildebrand the courage to speak up?
JHC: The memoirs offer a sort of “anatomy of witness” as exemplified by von Hildebrand. We see, for example, how remark- ably little influence prevailing ideas had on him; we see his sense of responsibility to speak out, both as a philosopher and Christian; and we see how deeply he loved his country. But all of this is just prologue when it comes to the real source of his courage, which was his absolute faith that God had called him and would sustain and protect him no matter what happened, provided that he remained faithful to his calling.
FW: How is von Hildebrand’s witness still relevant to Catholics today?
JHC: I view his memoirs and essays as a handbook for wit- ness. They are packed with illuminating examples and practical wisdom. But this should not overshadow a further deeply personal relevance for Catholics and, indeed, for any readers of the book. Think of a great work of fiction or drama. Just as literature allows us to inhabit the characters and storyline, and thereby to grow in self-knowledge, I think von Hildebrand’s story, which is so intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally rich, can illuminate and nourish each of us as we need it most.
FW: The struggle to end the evil of abortion is probably the clearest parallel to the struggle against National Socialism? Given that, what advice do you think von Hildebrand would have for the pro-life movement?
JHC: Von Hildebrand’s career was just ending as the pro-life movement was beginning. His last public lecture, however, was about abortion, and he spoke in almost prophetic words about what legalized abortion meant for our society. He was always un-compromising when it came to moral evil, and abortion horrified him profoundly.
But if he were alive today, I suspect he would challenge us to not view our pro-life position too exclusively in political terms. He would have resonated with Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “culture of life,” recognizing that pro-life laws and court rulings are necessary but far from sufficient for creating a public order that truly respects all human life. I think he would have called atten- tion to the many subtle ways in which committed pro-life people undermine their efforts through the indiscriminate consumption of mainstream culture.
Of course, he would not have wanted Catholics to move into a sort of ghetto—he was far too much of a Christian humanist to propose that. But he would have reminded us of St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Test everything, retain what is good.” I can almost hear him pointing out to his fellow Catholics that a culture of life is as much (if not more) fostered through beauty and things that ennoble the spirit as it is through good public policies. (Franciscan Way, a publication of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Spring 2015, pp. 34, 35. Visit the Hildebrand Project for more information on Dietrich Von Hildebrand.)
If you came to this blog through a link, scroll below to see readers’ comments. If you came here by accessing The Apologetics Group site directly, see TAG readers’ comments — posted at the bottom of this dedicated blog page. I personally value living outside an echo chamber; and if I only read things I agreed with and neglected the iron sharpening iron benefit of people providing a different perspective than what I’m used to — I would be the poorer for it. Of course, there’s a balance; comments extremely outside the bounds of what I consider orthodoxy are often not worth my time.
We deeply appreciate your participation in helping to create and distribute documentaries, publications and other Christian educational resources. If you need more information about any project you can email us at email@example.com
In attempting to discern the true root of a nation’s problems, it’s important we begin by differentiating between cultures that have never been transformed by Christianity and those that have. What’s wrong with Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia is one thing; the result of sin and the influence of “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), largely un-ameliorated by the Gospel of the Kingdom. They are in an entirely different situation from those countries that make up what is commonly referred to as the West; what was once called Christendom.
When someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required (Luke 12:48). And while far from perfect, there has never been a country that has been more powerfully impacted by and entrusted with the Gospel of the Kingdom than the United States.
Jesus called His church the “salt of the earth and the light of the world” (Matt. 5: 13,14). He further said that collectively we would do the things He did…and MORE because He was going to the Father (John 14:12) — that the gates of Hell itself could not prevail against His Bride. (Matt. 16:18).
And yet the Church throughout much of the West is seeing the forces of darkness prevail all around her.
What is wrong with America is precisely what was often wrong with the nation in Old Testament times that was most closely associated with the Kingdom of God on earth, Israel: “They (God’s covenant people) did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 6:1). See also, among many other verses, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6) and the destructive power of laziness (being “at ease” when the walls are crumbling) and spiritual pride. We can go on. Make no mistake, America is slouching towards Gomorrah and judgment not because Satan and his seed have grown so powerful, but because the church has grown so weak.
It can’t simply be attributed to the serpent. His head was crushed at the cross 2000 years ago and there is no prophecy of Scripture that would indicate that this mortal wound would ever be healed. Quite the contrary, the God of peace promises that we will also crush Satan under OUR feet (Rom. 16:20).
It can’t be “the spirit of anti-Christ” – the adversary that was in the world during the apostolic period and will remain, manifesting itself in and through various people, until the end of the age. How can the spirit of hell and Satan, operating through mortal people, ever be able to conquer the Spirit of God living in and through Christians? It can’t; “greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world.” (I John 4:4)
No, the blight is with the light. The Church has become “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) We have been at ease in Zion and through sloth and carnality have yielded the ground gained by those who have gone before us.
And we dare to presume that God is going to give us a pass and rapture us out of the mess we have helped create?
On this day 67 years ago, an Air Force pilot making $3,396.00 a year crawled into an experimental jet and risked everything to see if it was possible to fly faster than the speed of sound. More than a few scientists thought it was impossible, that the plane would disintegrate. For little more than the glory of being the first man to chase and capture the “daemon that lived out past Mach 1,” Captain Chuck Yeager pressed through two broken ribs, a buffeting plane, a broken altimeter and the fear of death and the unknown to successfully perform that exorcism.
Each of us reading this is flying through the aether of purpose and destiny at a certain rate of speed. None of us are flying as fast, as high or as well as we could, as we would like. Our jet shakes, something breaks, fear or complacency takes hold – and squeezes the faith, the desire for a better resurrection, out of us. And so we pull back on the throttle… often at the very time when we should be punching the afterburners.
There is a sense in which that is what this life is: a huge proving ground above some cosmic Mojave Desert. And God is watching. Who’s going to keep going after the daemons and defeat them? Who’s going to try – and be willing to pay the price – to fly as fast and as high as they can; to press through envelope of what is possible and then break into the realm of the impossible, into the higher heaven that shimmers just beyond our temporal firmament?
Some thirty, some sixty, some one-hundred fold (Matt. 13:8). And the stars differ from one another in terms of their glory (1 Cor. 15:41).
And here is the real bottom-line, the greatest truth ever told. We have no chance of ever going there – of ever breaking on through to the other side – on our own strength. We have to first be taken up in the air and then dropped from the belly of a B-29 bomber.
And that B-29 is the crucified, resurrected and enthroned Christ.
“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves