If you’re worried about the coincidence of four blood moons somehow signaling the end of the world, relax. The prophetic scheme hatched by ministers Mark Blitz and John Hagee amounts to little more than proof of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s thesis in Fooled by Randomness.
Our world is full of noise and confusion. As a result, we look for patterns to create sensible narratives that help explain reality. Taleb applies this insight to markets. But it’s just as true for people predicting the Ultimate Crash.
Witness the various and sundry end-times predictions of, say, Harold Camping. Or Hal Lindsey. Or Herbert W. Armstrong. Or the Watchtower Society. Or William Miller. Or Melchior Hoffmann. Or . . . well, just pick your favorite street-side apocalypse hawker with a sandwich board.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. And they’ve all left their disappointed doomsday devotees. But studying where they went wrong can be instructive.
Predictable as a thief
Solomon was right: There’s nothing new under the sun, including people eager to see it drop out of the sky. The turn of the first millennium after Christ had everyone buzzing about God rolling up the big scroll. And first-century Judaism sprouted more false messiahs than the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s.
Earthquakes and eclipses. Comets and conflagrations. Wars and their rumors. We’re always eager for the end. We are obsessed with it. Not that we don’t have cause. Christians see it in the scripture. We confess it in the creed. But obsession with the eschaton is as unbiblical as it is unhelpful.
“Now,” says Paul, “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thes 2.1-2).
Paul penned this corrective to the church at Thessaloniki because they had already disregarded his previous teaching. “But as to the times and the seasons,” he said, “you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thes 5.1-2).
Why we’re obsessed with the end
The desire to know the end is a distinctly human impulse, born from the need for resolution and closure. We are frail creatures, victims of the vicissitudes of life. We long for a means to settle that tension, to subtract ourselves from the crises in which we find ourselves.
The Christian trying to index biblical prophecy by his newsfeed is falling prey to the same impulse that makes the broker and the trader overconfident about their take on the exchange. But complex models that supposedly factor all the relevant data are usually just elaborate means for fooling ourselves.
The notion that four blood moons overlaying Jewish feast days somehow predicts world-shattering events is intriguing—and also totally without validation in scripture or tradition. Proponents might, for instance, point to the prophet Joel, who speaks of the moon turning to blood in the second chapter of his prophecy. But not only is my namesake missing a few moons, Peter indicates his prophecy was fulfilled in the events of—or related to—Pentecost (Acts 2).
Oh, but never mind. Things are terrible in the world right now. From the religious crackdowns in China and North Korea to the crises in the Middle East and the erosion of faith in the West—things are so terrible, it must be the end, right?
Practically every generation has thought so. Because we feel the impulse for closure as strongly as we do, we seek its confirmation everywhere—bad weather, bad politics, bad anything—never realizing that all the failed prophets of previous generations were grasping at the same, lame straws.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s insight
Paul told the Thessalonians to be sober and vigilant. And, importantly, he urged them “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thes 4.10-11). Keep your head down and do your work. Be faithful and wait. It may seem boring compared to Armageddon, but that’s the path we’re called to walk.
I’ve long been struck by these words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Letters and Papers from Prison:
I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. . . . I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian. . . .
Life’s duties and problems and perplexities are the things the Thessalonians and we keep trying to avoid. Nonetheless, they are the things that prove and develop our faith, which is arguably phony until tested by the trials of life.
We’re not meant to bail the world. We’re meant to work with Christ in redeeming it. That won’t happen until we scuttle our desire for escape and embrace Paul’s ethic of work and faithfulness. That is how we live like—and even in a sense become—Christians.
Image credit: Lauren Harnett, NASA.