VATICAN TO THE RESCUE?October 26th, 2011
On Monday Rome issued a bold 18-page response to and proposal for the burgeoning financial crisis engulfing the world. According to the Reuter news agency it calls “for sweeping reforms of the world economy and the creation of an ethical, global authority to regulate financial markets as demonstrations against corporate greed continued to spring up in major cities across the globe” (uk.reutres.com/article/2011/10/24/Vatican-economy-idUKL5E7LO1LS20111024). While a Vatican spokesman clarified that the document is not an expression of the pope or the papal magisterium and does not carry the weight of church dogma, it nevertheless bears “an authoritative note” from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (http://www.newsmax.com/EdwardPentin/Vatican-Global-Finance-Plan/2011/10/25/id/415693).
I have reviewed the document, posted at the official Vatican news website (www.zenit.com). It is laudable that Rome raises her voice over the plight of the economically disenfranchised. In doing so she sympathizes with the populist Occupy Wall Street movement that has gone global over the last few weeks. And it certainly is within the purview of a church body to call the world to economic equity. But central to this Vatican proposal is the formation of a “supranational authority” (also called the “world Authority” in the document) to guide and lead the world toward a more equitable banking and economic policy and practice.
And it is precisely the language of a “universal jurisdiction” and a “central world bank” that concerns me and should concern others who are watching for the apocalyptic endgame. The document proposes that the United Nations become the initial vehicle for economic reform, “on the way to creating a world political Authority.” Who or what that world Authority is beyond the U.N. is not identified in the proposal. But for students of Revelation 13, the prediction that at the end of time there will be a resurgence of the geo-religio-political power of the Dark Ages gives cause for pause. “And all the world marveled and followed the beast” (Revelation 13:3).
Those who suggest the Vatican’s proposal is simply an economic policy recommendation need to reread the document: “In this process, the primacy of the spiritual and of ethics needs to be restored and, with them, the primacy of politics—which is responsible for the common good—over the economy and finance” (Zenit, emphasis supplied). So whose definition of “spiritual” do you suppose Rome envisions for the world, whose “primacy” does she seek to restore?
Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson concludes this document, surprisingly for apocalyptic watchers, with a discussion of Babel! “The image of the Tower of Babel also warns us that we must avoid a ‘unity’ that is only apparent, where selfishness and divisions endure because the foundations of the society are not stable. In both cases, Babel is the image of what peoples and individuals can become when they do not recognize their intrinsic transcendent dignity and brotherhood” (ibid). But apocalyptic watchers know that Babel is in fact the image of “confusion,” of the human attempt to replace God with itself, of Babylon’s fateful amalgamation of pagan self-worship with a vestige of divine truth. It is that Babylon that Revelation warns will rule the world in the end. And for that reason we who live in the Fourth Watch of history should hardly be surprised with the Vatican’s offer to the world this week. As Jesus warned, “Let those who have ears hear” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 19; 3:6, 13, 22).
1027 TO ONEOctober 19th, 2011
“Here’s a Fourth Watch story for you,” emailed one of the readers of this blog. And I agree.
Early Sunday morning, June 25, 2006, Corporal Gilad Shalit, a nineteen year old soldier with the Israel Defense Forces, was kidnapped by Hamas militants on the Israeli side of its border with Gaza. Abducted back into Gaza, Corporal Shalit became the rallying cry of a nation caught between two clashing ideals: never negotiate with terrorists versus never abandon one of your own. Hamas refused International Red Cross requests to visit Shalit on grounds that it would reveal the captured soldier’s whereabouts. Over the five years of his captivity “Free Shalit” rallies across Israel increased pressure on the Israeli government to achieve his release.
The news this week that Hamas had agreed to return Corporal Shalit was met with jubilation by Israelis . . . until the negotiated terms of the release were reported. And suddenly the country was divided. How much is one Israeli soldier worth? 1027 convicted Palestinian prisoners? Listen to one Israeli family’s reaction: “Embittered father Zeev Rapp, 66, sat at home and watched the television in disgust. In 1992, Amrin [one of the released Palestinian prisoners] stabbed Rapp’s daughter Helena, 15, in the heart as she was on her way to school. Now, he was . . . walking free with other smiling prisoners, flashing victory signs and kissing the ground. ‘We feel as though our daughter has been murdered all over again’” (South Bend Tribune 10-19-11). And Shalit? Egyptian television released the first images of the now freed corporal, “pale, gaunt . . . in a dark baseball cap, exiting a car in Egypt, which mediated the handover” (ibid). Ecstasy for his family, mourning for another. How much is one Israeli soldier worth?
So how much is one sinner worth—Israeli, Palestinian, American, Afghan, Chinese, Sudanese, Mexican, Indian? How many earth children would God be willing to pardon and release for the exchange of His own Son? I realize the metaphor shifts and collapses the moment we introduce Calvary. But you do have to wonder, don’t you, the prisoner exchange that effected our salvation and release?
The psalmist struggled over the dilemma: “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” (Psalm 49:7, 8 NIV). How true. How could any of us possibly provide the ransom for just one sinner even in a thousand lifetimes? And yet the stunning announcement of the Good News is that God found the ransom for this rebel race within His own circle, within Himself. “And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV). That’s not 1027 to one. Nor is it 7 billion to one. It’s every human being in the history of this planet to One—“‘The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:45). Very many!
Because God has been into prisoner exchanges for a long time, hasn’t He? Take that Friday morning the rabble clamored for a murderer in exchange for the Innocent—and got Barabbas instead of Jesus of Nazareth. But whether it’s one for One, or billions for One, the numbers really don’t matter, do they? Love’s radical prisoner exchange is beyond comprehension.
MEN’S HEALTHOctober 13th, 2011
Let’s talk health and the end of the world for a moment. You probably would have to be a man to have paid much attention to the two recent headlines that have challenged the medical community.
Headline #1—a government panel of physicians and researchers released their findings last week with the recommendation that the simple P.S.A. (prostate specific antigen) blood test for prostate cancer (a cancer diagnosed in one of every six American men) no longer be prescribed. “The ‘vast majority’ of men treated for PSA-detected tumors do not prolong their lives, yet that treatment subjects them to ‘significant harms,’ including urinary, sexual, and bowel problems, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in a draft of updated recommendations.” (http://www.philly.com/philly/health_and_science/131566278.html?cmpid=15585797) But loud protests from the medical establishment are evidence enough that the health community is divided over this proscribed protocol. So whom shall we believe?
Headline #2—this Wednesday the Journal of the American Medical Association published a national study concluding that Vitamin E and selenium (heretofore recommended by some as a defense against prostate cancer) are ineffective in such prevention. In fact the study concluded that men who take Vitamin E actually have a small increased risk for prostate cancer (17%) over those who do not take the vitamin megadoses!
The truth about most of life is that “we see through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12). What once looked so certain and convincing so often turns out to be a mirage, a misunderstanding, a misreading, or simply a mistake. Well-meaning though we are, nevertheless wrong we can turn out to be.
Is it that way with the things of God, too? Yes. And No. Yes, because my finite comprehension is precisely that—finite. And when I turn my questionings to the infinite God who created me, it isn’t difficult for me to misread or misunderstand his response on any level. Job was right: “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7 NIV).
Are there then no certainties, no verities, no unequivocal divine revelations we as mortals can cling to? But of course! The compelling biblical truth that the God who created us is the God who redeemed us through his own incarnated life and death and resurrection is sure. So is its corollary revelation that “this same Jesus” (Acts 1:11) will return to this earth in a spectacular rescue of his friends at the disintegrating end of human history as we know it. But what about the crescendo of voices declaring that his return and earth’s end are much nearer than we first thought? How reliable are those prognostications?
The fact is that even if it were only the economy we were analyzing, warnings from across the political and philosophical spectrum are mounting. The disturbingly obvious fact that no bright mind has found the cure to our global economic plight is telling. A century ago came this analysis: “There are not many, even among educators and statesmen, who comprehend the causes that underlie the present state of society. . . . They are struggling in vain to place business operations on a more secure basis” (9T 13, emphasis supplied). That last line is the recurring theme of our daily news, isn’t it?
My personal conviction is that “soon” is no longer an inappropriate adverb to add to the declaration, “Jesus is coming”—“soon.” In fact I believe that his soon return is one of the unshakeable verities that this generation can take to the prophetic bank. “I will come again” (John 14:3) aligns now as never before with “Behold, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 22:12). And that alignment is precisely why you and I can live with an optimistic certainty absent from the medical headlines lately.
PROTESTS IN THE STREETSOctober 7th, 2011
Here in the Fourth Watch blog we examine current trends in this nation or the world that I believe are harbingers of earth’s darkest hour (what the ancient Romans called the fourth watch) just before the sunrise of Christ’s return. And while these observations and analyses reflect my personal convictions, I am amazed at the ascendency of voices—secular as well as religious—that are warning of what lies ahead for our civilization.
Take for example the seemingly isolated street protests against Wall Street, that for three weeks now occupied Zuccotti Park in the financial district of New York, railing against corporate greed and economic decline, and blaming US financial institutions and Wall Street for the resultant unemployment. Hundreds have been arrested. But thanks to Twitter and social media sites, the New York protests are now spreading to other cities in the nation. Students now threaten walk-outs from classes in sympathy with these protests. (Though less violent, these homeland demonstrations are not unlike the radical street protests in Athens, as Greeks have turned with vengeance on their government and the European Union for their own financial meltdown—and what now appears to be certain national bankruptcy.)
How could an isolated street protest burgeon into a national movement? Here’s CNN.com’s assessment: “Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement made up largely of twentysomethings upset with the economy, the Afghanistan war, the environment, and the state of America and the world in general. In less than three weeks, the movement has become a magnet for countless disaffected Americans at a time when an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults say the country is on the wrong track” (http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/politics/occupy-wall-street/).
But what could morph the Occupy Wall Street protests into an apocalyptic game-changer is the announcement that labor unions are joining the movement. Responding to Twitter calls from Occupy Boston (a sister movement to the New York protests), the Massachusetts Nurses Association is joining the rally. In New York so are the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Transport Workers Union, and the United Federation of Teachers union among others. Is it possible that a nationally diminished labor movement could find new life and impetus in all of this?
How innocuous are labor unions in a Fourth Watch scenario? In a terse exposé of capitalist excesses, the Bible declares: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. . . . Your gold and silver are corroded. . . . You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. . . . Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. . . . because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:1-8). A day of reckoning is coming for the barons and minions of Wall Street who have made their billions at the expense of the paltry savings and investments of a once unsuspecting public. But could a sympathetic labor movement backlash into a prophetic paradigm shift? These words were in a letter written in 1904: “The trade unions will be the cause of the most terrible violence that has ever been seen among human beings” (Letter 99, 1904). Main street, Wall Street, the street protests may not be so innocuous after all.
My point: the headlines we now live through are not inconsequential to a Fourth Watch mindset, are they? NOW is the most opportune time you and I may ever have to freely share the everlasting gospel of Christ with people who need him—family members, friends, colleagues. NOW is the church’s opportunity to seize the moment, rise up and in the panoply of the Spirit’s infilling and hurry to a final civilization with the news of Jesus’ soon return. Our friend Ron Clouzet’s satellite series, “Prophecies Decoded,” to the continent couldn’t be timelier (join us this evening at 7:20). Let him, let her who has ears hear. For the rumble we hear may be the tread of an approaching God.