This week I was greeted by a series of tweets and newspaper articles claiming that Christians (of whom I am one!) believe that the appearance of four blood-red moons in the next 18 months or so signifies that the world is about to end. Which was news to me.
Actually, I tell a lie. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been told that. The first was over dinner a couple of months ago, when I met a perfect stranger at a conference, who informed me midway through the second course of the planet’s impending doom. I chuckled – thinking he was joking – then quickly realised I’d misjudged him and tried to cover up my mirth by disguising it as a choking sound.
I don’t think I got away with it.
But no, seriously. Google ‘blood-red moon’ and see for yourself. The phenomenon – a lunar eclipse – is caused by a chance aligning of the Earth, the Sun and Mars, causing the moon to appear red-orange in colour. Apparently the appearance of four in quick succession is known as a tetrad and there have only been three tetrads in the past 500 years. Each has, apparently, coincided with a religiously significant event such as the expulsion of the Jews from Sicily in 1493, or the creation of the state of Israel in 1949 (or a spike in dispensationalist book sales!). Nobody quite seems to be able to say why this tetrad signals the end of the world rather than simply another significant turning point within history (except for the odd throwaway reference to Joel 2:31). But I’m sure there’s a good reason.
The cause for this sudden interest is that the first blood-red moon is coming within this week, beginning a cycle that will conclude on 28 September 2015. I’ve not read around enough to know whether each eclipse is meant to herald a different event, culminating in the Second Coming next September… I don’t like reading ahead and spoiling the surprise!
I don’t know how you react when you hear these kinds of things? Chuckling and choking (chokling?) aside, here are three responses I typically tend to cycle through.
My instant reaction when I hear theories like this, or reports of the next in a long line of people who think they’ve calculated the timing of the rapture, is to laugh. When I hear of people giving up their jobs, buying up advertising space, and taking to the streets bedecked in sandwich boards advertising that ‘the end is nigh’ I roll my eyes, and I want to do whatever I can to disassociate myself, my church, my faith and my Lord from crackpot fringe forms of Christianity.
So I sometimes think that laughing – not scornfully, but with a tone of light satirical mockery – might be a helpful response. Perhaps it might show my friends that not all Christians think like John Hagee, Harold Camping, or whoever else might be the Apocalyptic Spokesman of the moment. Hopefully they may realise that I consider these predictions to be as silly as they do.
But on the other hand, the frequency of these stories provokes my second reaction…
The flipside of wanting to laugh is that I am genuinely bothered by the fact that so many people think Christianity is so patently laughable and it makes me somewhere-between-angry-and-sad to think of how much of a distraction these stories are.
When Christians right across the world are working incredibly hard to demonstrate and explain their faith in compelling, accessible and credible ways, the shrill voices of people on the fringe only make that task harder! It is an unwanted distraction!
Now, to be fair, I’ve not come across many Christians who have told me they think this tetrad is an indicator of the end of the world. Maybe that’s in part due to the side of the Atlantic on which I dwell? The irony is that I’ve heard this theory more from newspapers who are reporting that this is what Christians are saying, rather than from Christians themselves. Admittedly, some papers and sites do recognize that this is the opinion of a fringe minority. But given that, it bothers me that papers think this is even worth reporting! It demonstrates to me that there is a desire to communicate the weird elements of faith – those stories sell and reinforce people’s view that religion is odd or outdated.
My appeal is this – let’s not give people more reasons to consider Christianity odd than they need to have. The virgin birth, trinity, miracles, resurrection, ascension and promise of the second coming are already hurdles enough. Let’s not go creating more!
I really liked this short video from Greg Boyd where he (in a rather impassioned manner) unpacked some of the patent absurdity of the Blood Moon Theory and encouraged his church to focus on what matters. Well worth seven minutes of your time – even if they do happen to be your final seven minutes on Earth!
My third reaction, though, is to repent. You see, I do wonder if laughing and attempting to distance my faith from these sorts of theories may do some harm. In passing end of the world theories off as laughable fiction, we may well give people the impression that we don’t take the second coming seriously at all.
When Harold Camping predicted that the world would end on May 21st 2011, he and his followers declared that it would be ‘Judgment Day.’ When it was reported in the press and discussed by various people online, it was rebranded ‘Rapture Day’ and people scheduled ‘Rapture Parties’ to celebrate. I wonder if this subtle shift demonstrates that we really have no place in our thinking for the idea of judgment?
Paul’s words to the Athenians are still as true and urgent as ever:
‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17:30-31)
Jesus’ return is coming. Probably not next week, or on 28 September 2015. I suspect it will be more unexpected than that! But it could happen, or it could happen sooner… Either way, are we ready?