As a young pastor in Austin, back in 1985, a dude wandered into the church I was serving and eventually was directed to my office. He and I sat for a while and talked when he began explaining to me his theory of the end of the world. For him it was immanent. He had made his way to Texas from Seattle, WA where he claimed that street people were required to have a barcode tattooed somewhere on them in order to receive government help—of course, at the time, the use of barcodes was in its infancy and therefore suspect and perceived as one step closer to Big Brother, at least to this guy. He claimed the barcode tattoo was the sign of the beast, mentioned in the book of Revelation and that this was just the beginning, that soon everyone would need to be tattooed to buy stuff. I didn’t have any class in seminary that mentioned that ministry would be like this, but I honored the man by agreeing that if that was the case it would be alarming. In the end he asked for bus fare, which I gladly provided.
Since the life of Jesus Christ there have been well over 155 documented “end-of-the-world” predictions. The majority of these have taken place in the last few hundred years as cultures began to bump up against each other and explorations and new discoveries increased. Furthermore as technological advances increased there have been more predictions that we would soon see our demise. There have been 60 predictions during my lifetime of 55 years—more than one a year.
Why are there so many end-of-the-world predictions and such a fascinations with them? Novels and movies are based on apocalyptic themes that are well received.
Why? Answering that question is worthy of extensive research, but I think it essentially is because
1. change is frightening and the effects of change are feared
2. It’s easier to prepare for a known end than to navigate the unknown landscape created by change
3. Change often requires people to release false beliefs about themselves, others, and the cosmos—in other words, admit they were wrong about something they earnestly believed; as well as accept that persons of authority in their lives are wrong.
4. End-time believers tend to cluster with other end-time believers, further reinforcing their belief of the end, while excusing them from the difficult work of being with people different from themselves
There’s a lot more to it than that, but as we ride the roller coaster of human history and we are whipped and jerked and jostled by the dramatic shifts occurring around us—whether technological, social, or political—it is helpful to realize that “the-sky-is-falling” scenarios are a dime a dozen.
Does this mean we disregard the effects of change or cast away any concern? Certainly not, but we should also be sober in our interpretation of them. There is a lot of money and power tied up in causing people to panic, but who profits from these predictions? Certainly not those who believe the predictions and freak out.
It’s been 31 years since the fellow showed up in my office and in that time I’ve never seen a barcode tattooed on someone’s body that was required by the government.
© 2016 Stephen Carl