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.