Biblical Times

These are biblical times.

There. I said it.

I think this socially-unacceptable statement has been the root of my writer’s block. I’ve been afraid to say these impolite words, but we live in impolite times. We are on the verge of catastrophe like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

It is really getting biblical, folks.

That is, these are the kinds of times that are recorded in holy texts like the Bible. The Bible provides a number of interesting models, and there are also many others. However, I want to focus on the Bible since it is ostensibly a key document for our “Judeo-Christian” society.

Biblical stories can be translated into our own context and language. Syria and Libya are our Sodom and Gomorrah – societies that have had a much worse time than we have, basket-case remnants of societies that help us feel better about ourselves.

But now Ukraine is unraveling. Really unraveling. This is starting to hit close to home. It’s not just the Middle East and Africa that is producing failed states. The insane suicidal struggle between two dying empires is grinding up a nation that is one of the world’s great breadbaskets and a chokepoint through which an awful lot of natural gas flows to Europe.

We are one mishap – one car bomb in Donetsk, one assassination in Kiev, one pipeline sabotage somewhere in the vast Ukrainian countryside – away from circumstances that we like to pretend can’t happen because they haven’t happened in our lifetimes. We forget what a violent place Europe has tended to be over the centuries.

Of course the trigger for the imminent change may not be Ukraine. It may be an earthquake, or an anomalous storm that blows in off a dramatically-warming Pacific, or a stock market collapse, or a solar flare. The details aren’t yet clear, but it seems pretty obvious where this is all going. It’s going to be a mess, but fortunately we are not alone. Many have struggled with this before us, as we might learn from stories from the Bible about destruction and reconstruction of societies.

We can learn a lot from biblical stories of how communities have grappled with issues of wealth and power. The Bible contains more than a few social upheavals, and therefore provides a useful guide to the transition from one order to another.

Unfortunately, we usually ignore uncomfortable facts like this: The book of Revelation climaxes with the collapse of a large and wealthy trading society, whose loss is mourned by kings, merchants and ship captains. And then… “the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah!
 Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.’” (Rev 19:1-2)

We ignore stories that actually have a lot to do with our current situation, which remind us which side God is on, and which side we are actually on.

But not all of these biblical stories are about destruction. One of my favorites is that of how Nehemiah led a grassroots rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, restoring the city after a long season astray and avoiding Sodom’s fate of total oblivion.

Nehemiah’s adventure began in the early spring, after months of ignoring the calling that God had put on his heart until he just couldn’t tune it out any longer. (Neh 2:1-2)

It is Spring now. It is time to move. It is time to stop screwing around.

We have had a season of relative ease and leisure, but now it is time to get back to work. Things are changing rapidly and the sooner we let go of our old ways, the better.

I realize that most of us have been working frantically, but not in the ways we should. Rather, we’ve been pouring our blood sweat and tears into a system that is dysfunctional, counterproductive and evil.

We must not beat around the bush on that last point. By all serious ethical standards, global capitalism is a disaster without precedent, wicked to its core. Yes, it has temporarily created extraordinary luxury for a small portion of the earth’s people. But that story is not over; that luxury comes at great cost of isolation, depression and violence. And it can unravel quite quickly. Will unravel.

We face a deadline that is unknown but probably soon. The current order will end, and when it does we must have something to replace it. There can be no more bargaining.

We – that is, people oriented toward cooperation and building new economic models – carry the seeds of a new civilization. We must be ready to plant them at the right time if we want to have a harvest.

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3 Responses to Biblical Times

  1. Olivia says:

    Worth noting before anything else….when I came upon this page I felt I was in the presence. Thank you for speaking to us from this level of the divine within yourself. Wonderfully good…

    I have wondered before what “the end of the world” looks like to people who are serving God. I guess at some point it dawned on me that “the end of the world” is the viewpoint of those whose civilization is dying… (I have been reading some things. I’m sure this idea is not unique. It actually may be from Philip Shepherd, indirectly.)

    For those whose internal center is in the Light of Christ’s leading and however that has been working in their life in various ways to give them a good and solid spiritual foundation of the sort that can not be shaken because they are already a totally-bendable tree before God’s wishes…. maybe it just looks like another blustery day in God’s good wind?

    Maybe for those people “the world” doesn’t actually end — maybe “the world is ending” is simply a reference to the collapse of the society we’ve created in ways that don’t serve God…and it looks like the end of everything to those who are plugged into only that. Scripture seems to confirm this — that there is a higher viewpoint than the one that says “this is the end”.

    Maybe to that worldview the world IS actually ending, and yet if that’s not your world view and you look only in a path of light and more light (which i feel you are also doing) what does it look like then?

    • coopgeek says:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Olivia. It seems like you read me correctly. Maybe it helps that I came of age with the song lyrics “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” I’m sort of used to the idea that something utterly new wouldn’t necessarily be a problem.

      We’ve created our own sort of hell here, and only by letting go of thinking it’s the best (i.e. least bad) option for dealing with the horrendous problems it creates can we possibly move toward what God wants for us. I’ve often thought about the metaphor of a really nice train that is hurtling along toward a calamity – a bridge out ahead. It will be painful to jump and then we’ll be in some unfamiliar territory without our usual comforts, but the train is speeding up and this process ain’t gonna get any easier. We just have to look for a nice grassy spot. Maybe a bridge over a pond if we’re lucky.

      As I’ve been mulling over this process of letting go of the current order, I’m thinking that it will happen at different times in different places, in different ways. I believe that disasters will be a key part of this transition – the pretense that things will ever truly get back to “normal” will seem less and less credible with each catastrophe. This process has already started to unfold in New Orleans and New York, where some areas (still marginal, but not for long) are not being rebuilt. Smaller places like Washington’s recent huge mudslide and perhaps some of those towns stricken by tornados this week have fully arrived in the new reality. I suspect that we’ll see a gradual increase in what is abandoned as time goes on and the government becomes progressively more distracted and less functional.

      I have started to explore this process in a draft fictional project that I’m calling “The Coastlands.” It’s starting at http://www.thecoastlands.wordpress.com.

      At various points in this unfolding experimental narrative (of sorts) I’m planning to visit people at their moments of realization: Another delay in delivery of equipment means that the road into town will not be repaired in the foreseeable future, receding specific deadlines notwithstanding. A tree through the roof or a fire coming over the ridge signals the end to an idyllic but increasingly untenable retirement in a lovely rural setting. A storm surge bathes a port town’s center with salt water, incapacitating its commercial core beyond repair.

      Of course, maybe I’m wrong, maybe the world will end suddenly and yield to something even worse. Our government’s pissing contest in Ukraine certainly raises some dark possibilities. But we can still hope. Some may even hope for more of the same. The boat is clearly sinking but we can still build our lifeboats and hope that this whole mess doesn’t just roll over on us.

  2. Olivia says:

    “t will be painful to jump and then we’ll be in some unfamiliar territory without our usual comforts, but the train is speeding up and this process ain’t gonna get any easier. We just have to look for a nice grassy spot. Maybe a bridge over a pond if we’re lucky.”

    Yeah…. I found myself thinking of people who already live simply and end up unscathed by things that are devastating to others who had more to start with, such as people who lived simply just prior to the great depression or the economic crises of recent years… the more simply one lives within their means and knows how to live in the moment instead of banking on future retirement funds, etc. the more likely that one won’t have to panic when others around them are devastated by the economic turn of events (or the changes in climate affecting food production affecting one’s ability to get all the food one wants and needs).

    if we know how to live with a little shared community garden or a close community of friends, or without having stocks, mutual funds, land, assets that we feel we can’t live without… then we have a better chance of being really quite fine at those times the drama hits. Same with one’s spiritual life, I’m sure. If we know how to take our pain to God each day in prayer, then we just do that again when more trouble hits. We then get to enjoy on some level, our resilience and feeling provided for, which is stronger, I believe, than the end of the world. :-)

    There are other ways to be in this grace too, more regular applications of it… I don’t live like the amish, but many of us have had the experience of jobs being given to us at the last minute when we really needed a job or wouldn’t have enough income…

    My sister (who I believe wouldn’t really see herself as a “God” person in her day to day life) has also had this experience of being divinely protected in a job situation. I don’t believe for a minute in the prosperity Gospel. I think I’m articulating quite the opposite. Not worldly prosperity but divine resources. Maybe if we’re doing what we’re here to do each moment, our work and personal matters of God’s design, living simply in this moment given,,,maybe these are ways that we are living in God’s kingdom already and don’t have to worry much about end times. (shrug)

    (this is not to be misunderstood as “stuff I do,” just stuff I think I maybe know is true. it’s what i do in small ways, and sometimes find done to me when I’m desperately clinging to more job security, etc. It’s a spiritual path, not there yet.)

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