Note: Eli is my counter-culture alter ego, who was introduced in “How Eli got his name” a couple of blogs ago.
Eli: So, what do you think about that statue of Jesus in Ohio that got struck by lightning and burned to a crisp last week? Pat Robertson said that Hurricane Katrina was a judgment against all the sins of New Orleans and the earthquake in Haiti was judgment against a pact with the devil that the Haitians made a couple hundred years ago, but when they asked him about the Jesus statue, it was “no comment” time. At least that’s what a couple of Washington Post reporters said (Monica Hesse and Dan Zak, June 16, 2010).
RR: Well, I’ll try a comment even if Pat won’t.
Maybe there is an aspect of judgment to this story. I mean, lightning does strike often enough, and if you’re the tallest thing around, you’re likely to get hit sooner or later. But maybe that’s the point—is it really in line with Yeshua’s message to erect a symbol of him that dominates the landscape? Kind of violates Isaiah’s description: “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” I’m sure the people who put up the statue had the best of intentions, but it did seem to violate the second commandment.
Eli: Wow, so you’re saying that there’s still supernatural thunderbolts falling from the heavens!? That’s cool because I was kind of worrying about you on that.
RR: Worrying about me? What for?
Eli: My friends and I were apocalyptic back in the old days before we ever started thinking much about the Bible. That’s what drove me out to New Mexico in the first place—California was scheduled to get shaken off into the Pacific in some massive earthquake, the environment was being ravished, and the whole political-economic system couldn’t last much longer. Not to mention the population explosion—you remember The Population Bomb [© 1968, 1971 by Paul R. Ehrlich]. Of course, I was too scared of the whole idea to actually read it, but it did make New Mexico sound pretty good.
RR: So, why are you worrying about me?
Eli: Well, when you first became a Yeshua-believer, you were as apocalyptic as ever. You had The Late Great Planet Earth [by Hal Lindsey, © 1970 by Zondervan] instead of The Population Bomb, and that gave you the whole book of Revelation to feed on.
RR: I still love the book of Revelation, but I’m not so sure about Hal Lindsey’s interpretation. I mean, I don’t think the original recipients of the book and the centuries of Christians who heard it afterwards were figuring they had to wait until the 21st century to see what it really meant. (In fact even Hal Lindsey didn’t think he’d have to wait until the 21st century back when he wrote it.)
Eli: There it is; that’s just my point. You used to be apocalyptic, really on your toes about the second coming and all that, but in the past few years you’ve just settled down and started to worry about your retirement plans. So, I’m happy to see that you think divine judgment could still happen.
RR: Yeah, I have to admit that reading Revelation as a picture of the signs of the end seems more plausible lately. I mean natural disasters are coming at a much faster rate than they were in the seventies when we thought they indicated that Messiah was returning any minute. But my view of the touchdown Jesus is a little different than that. If there’s judgment involved, it’s less supernatural, and more of an outworking of biblical truth. If your religious monument towers above all the other religious monuments in the region, it’s bound to be struck down, even if it’s supposedly a monument to Jesus—or perhaps especially if it’s a monument to Jesus. That’s God’s statement on the edifice complex.
Eli: So God didn’t go out of his way to send that particular lightning bolt, but just in the way that he set things up, it was bound to strike? I can see that. And the lightning strike also lights up what Yeshua is really about . . .
RR: You got it, and I see the oil spill in the same way. During the Civil War, Lincoln sent a proclamation to the Senate declaring a national day of prayer. Here’s part of it: “And, in so much as we know that, by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?” Did you catch that? He’s not blaming the civil war on the South, or trying to spin it into something glorious. He’s seeing it as a sign of judgment on the whole country. He goes on to tell the Senators that the country has forgotten God. “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.” (http://www.quietwaters.org/abraham_lincoln_national_day_of_prayer.htm)
Eli: So you’re saying that President Obama should call for a national day of prayer about the oil spill?
RR: That wouldn’t hurt at all, but that’s not quite my point. I’d say that Obama and all the rest of the leaders should take a break from blaming everyone else for the oil spill and get the message. I remember hearing President Bush a few years ago say that we’re addicted to foreign oil (I believe he used that very word, addicted), which was right on target, but then he didn’t say a word about conservation or reining in our consumerist way of life. We just needed to find more domestic sources and alternative fuels, and keep racing down the interstate and four-wheeling in the back country. So maybe this oil spill is a sign of judgment on our national greed and excess.
Eli: Well, that would be a relief for BP and the Department of the Interior. It kind of lets them off the hook if God did it.
RR: I’m not saying that God did it, exactly. Their failures are still their responsibility, but we’re all the ones who want abundant, trouble-free, relatively cheap gas to fuel whatever escapades we’re about, without worrying too much about the effects on the planet or future generations. The oil spill resulted from natural causes, I’m sure, but it still speaks as judgment on that attitude. It’s a call to humble ourselves and repent. You’d never hear that angle in the news or the halls of the Senate today, but they did back in 1863. That contrast is a lesson in itself.