Apocalypse and Revelation

After the earthquake in Haiti in 2011, author Junot Diaz wrote an article in Boston Review, entitled “Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal.” He argues that while heartbreaking, events like this offer a needed insight into our world. He writes,

This in brief is my intent: to peer into the ruins of Haiti in an attempt to describe what for me the earthquake revealed—about Haiti, our world, and even our future.

After all, if these types of apocalyptic catastrophes have any value it is that in the process of causing things to fall apart they also give us a chance to see the aspects of our world that we as a society seek to run from, that we hide behind veils of denials.

Apocalyptic catastrophes don’t just raze cities and drown coastlines; these events, in David Brooks’s words, “wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” And, equally important, they allow us insight into the conditions that led to the catastrophe, whether we are talking about Haiti or Japan . . .

If, as Roethke writes, “in a dark time, the eye begins to see,” apocalypse is a darkness that gives us light.

But this is not an easy thing to do, this peering into darkness, this ruin-reading. It requires nuance, practice, and no small amount of heart. I cannot, however, endorse it enough. Given the state of our world—in which the very forces that place us in harm’s way often take advantage of the confusion brought by apocalyptic events to extend their power and in the process increase our vulnerability—becoming a ruin-reader might not be so bad a thing. It could in fact save your life.

Spiritually, God asks us to do this kind of analysis when trials occur. Trials reveal the underlying weaknesses in ourselves and our relationships with others. They ask us to re-evaluate our motives and decisions, to re-examine how we treat others.

Diaz writes, “In other words disasters don’t just happen. They are always made possible by a series of often-invisible societal choices that implicate more than just those being drowned or buried in rubble . . . After all, apocalypses like the Haitian earthquake are not only catastrophes; they are also opportunities: chances for us to see ourselves, to take responsibility for what we see, to change.”

That is just what God asks of us. He desires a change of attitude and decision, despite any past mistakes. Joel 2:12-13 says,

12 “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster.

However, we know trials may occur not as a direct punishment or result of our actions, but sometimes simply because God allows Satan to have influence in this world. Job went through severe trials not because of his own sin, but because God allowed Satan to tempt him. And yet, Job’s character was perfected, his attitude improved, through his difficult experiences (Job 42:3). We can learn through trials, and in fact we must, no matter whether we brought the trials on ourselves through disobedience, or whether we are unjustly persecuted, as Christ. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

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