Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ushering In Armageddon

It was probably Michael Ortiz Hill, author of 1994’s Dreaming the End of the World: Apocalypse As a Rite of Passage who started it with a comment in a January 2003 essay for the political newsletter CounterPunch.

Hill said of George W. Bush, “The man is delusional and the shape of his delusion is specifically apocalyptic in belief and intent”.

Twelve years down the road, conventional wisdom may have settled down a bit. The Bush legacy, so far as the mainstream media is concerned, may be that of a bit of a goofball, an accused liar, an incompetent or even the architect of multiple foreign policy disasters.

But what the Bush presidency demonstrably failed to do was to usher in Armageddon, if indeed that was ever his intention.

Conspiracy Theories

“The world has been readied for the fire but the critical element is the Bush Administration. Never in the history of Christendom has there been a moment when this rogue element has carried anything like the credibility and political power that it carries now.”
Hill’s fellow CounterPunch contributor William Cook picked up his theme only a month after the original article saw publication. In a piece entitled Armageddon Anxiety, Cook spun a tale of a “secretive” Republican Council for National Policy, fingering politicians like Jesse Helms, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay along with evangelicals like Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, Mike Evans and Jerry Falwell.

As a conspiracy theory, it was impressively well-developed and expansive. Perhaps Hill and Cook even believed it. More likely they were concerned with discrediting a president whose politics they despised by any means at their disposal.

Hastening the Return

But was the intention there? Did President Bush or other powerful Republicans and conservative Christians ever seriously entertain the notion that they were tasked with hastening the return of Christ to judge the earth and seek to act on that belief?

There is little evidence to suggest such a thing. The pivotal, damning statements both Hill and Cook adduce in pointing to Bush’s alleged apocalyptic aspirations are these two, quoted by Bob Woodward in Bush at War:
“... To answer these attacks and rid the world of evil ... We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of this great nation.”
There is certainly the usual rhetorical posturing here, but I’m not sure there’s anything remotely religious about such an aspiration, especially coming as it did on the heels of 9/11. The word “evil” is a favourite of Democrat bigwigs, not just Republicans: President Obama references the concept freely, and even Bill Clinton found reason to refer to “evil” on occasion.

In any case, we can safely say that if there was a Revelation-based Christian conspiracy to hasten the end of the world in the White House, it failed miserably.

One may debate the wisdom of much of President Bush’s Middle East policymaking, but I’m not sure the current president has demonstrated the ability to handle that powder keg with any greater dexterity than his predecessor. The evidence in Syria, Iraq and Iran is more suggestive of an American president dancing with disaster than anything we have experienced to date.

Taking the Critics at Face Value

I suspect there was a fair bit of disingenuousness in Woodward’s, Hill’s and Cook’s accusations against their political opponents; that they were simply looking to disqualify and discredit anyone whose agenda differed from theirs. But let’s suppose they were genuinely afraid of having a professing Christian in the White House. Let’s take their concerns at face value.

Could even someone as powerful as a U.S. president hasten the return of the Lord through exporting “death and violence to the four corners of the earth”? Scripture makes it clear that only the Father knows the day and hour of his Son’s promised return. If that knowledge is not the province of angels or even the Son himself, we can reasonably dismiss any human claim to be an agent of God tasked with bringing on the end of this age. Men can do as they please, but God will accomplish his sovereign purpose in his own time. Paul tells us that there is “no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God”.

No rogue Republican is about to force God’s hand, we can be sure of that.

Hastening the Day

But doesn’t Peter say we can “hasten” the day of God? If we can, it is not through politics, even the politics of death and violence. Greek scholar Marvin R. Vincent says this:
“I’m inclined to adopt the transitive meaning “hastening on,” that is, “causing the day of the Lord to come more quickly by helping to fulfill those conditions without which it cannot come …

We are causing the day to come more quickly today when we fulfill the conditions without which the day of the Lord will not come.”
Vincent continues:
“… that day being no date inexorably fixed, but one the arrival of which it is free to the church to hasten on by faith and prayer. See Matt 24:14: The gospel shall be preached in the whole world, ‘and then shall the end come.’ Compare the words of Peter in Acts 3:19, ‘Repent and be converted … that so there may come seasons of refreshing.’ ”
The mechanisms by which Christians genuinely “hasten” the Lord’s return are obedience and prayer, not rhetoric or even power politics.

Like him or not, I’d be surprised if President Bush is not well aware of this.

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