Great Balls of Fire

Gnu from WikiCommons

“I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth…” (Revelation 6.12-13a). With all the apocalyptic events of the past few days, some religious pundits are eagerly awaiting a rider on an extraterrestrial white horse with a light-saber jutting from his mouth. As the smoke from Eyjafjallajokull rises like a funeral pyre, a great green bolide streaks across Midwestern skies (landing, no doubt, near Nashotah House, among Wisconsin’s most paranormal locations), and this all follows an earthquake in China. More impressive than the snowpocalypse of this past winter, but less worrisome than the abrupt ending of the Mayan calendar.

All of this fuss reminded me of the way 1987 began. Having grown up in humble circumstances, one of my favorite pastimes was jigsaw puzzles. As my brother and I sat piecing one together on New Year’s Day while home on break, suddenly a loud boom shook our ramshackle house. Now I grew up in a small town built around a large refinery, and stories of the cataclysmic explosion that was sure to come raced through my head as my brother and I went outside to see the great pall of greasy black smoke that was certain to accompany such a disaster. We were met by clear skies and neighbors standing in a confused huddle in the streets. The news that evening reported that a fireball had been seen racing across the daytime skies of Ohio and Pennsylvania before it exploded some distance north of us. I’d just experienced my first bolide. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was an event I’ve never forgotten.

The message I take from these many natural occurrences is that humanity is small. We imagine ourselves to be gods of our domain, controlling our environment and making it more to our liking. But we are not in control. Revelation was not predicting the end of the world, but was attempting to reassert a sense of control for people suffering from a perceived godless enemy. Today we still think of such events as a sign of God’s anger. I’m not sure what God is supposed to be angry about, unless he has happened to drop in on a Tea Party and heard how his name is being taken in vain.

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