This week, I’m writing about two unrelated things — the upcoming solar eclipse, and the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. While they may be unrelated, there is a common thread in the comments made about both of these events by so–called Christian celebrities (I hesitate to call them “leaders”).
Many of know that we are expecting a solar eclipse this Monday (August 21) in mid–morning. The moon will pass between the sun and the earth, and cast a large shadow. Many people are making plans to travel to the U.S. where they will be able to view the total solar eclipse. A recent news report stated that hotel rooms in these places are going for as much as $1,000 a night!
Throughout much of history, eclipses were treated as portents. They were seen to be omens of an impending disaster of cosmic significance. It’s not hard to understand why that is. The ancients didn’t have our scientific understanding of how things work. They couldn’t peer into space with telescopes, or track the movements of the sun and stars and planets. With such limited knowledge, for the sun to go completely dark in the middle of the day could be a frightening prospect. The cosmos was not working the way it should. Something terrible must be about to happen.
These days, we understand that eclipses are completely natural and repeated events. They can be predicted, and a quick Google search finds a schedule of upcoming total solar eclipses — in July 2019, December 2020, December 2021, April 2023, and even as far away as September 2099. Book your hotel room now, so you won’t face such horrendous rental charges!
In the face of all this, it comes as a shock to find some Christian celebrities who are claiming that this eclipse is a message from God. Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, tells us that “Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations. Therefore, my perspective on the upcoming phenomenon is not celebratory. While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.”
At least she has the humility not to claim to know the mind of God exactly. Others, however, are not quite so circumspect. Pastor Gary Ray claims that this is a sign that the so–called “Rapture” is quickly approaching. The rapture is a non–biblical doctrine which claims that Jesus is coming back soon, and that believers will be whisked up into the sky to avoid the coming “tribulation”. Ray writes, “We think it’s God signaling to us that he’s about to make his next move.”
Therefore, he says, “My number one encouragement to people would be to just trust God. More importantly, to trust the right God.” He warns that those who do not believe when the day of the Rapture comes will be left behind to face the tribulations.
I have a hard time taking this stuff seriously. For me, people like Lotz and Ray will find any excuse they can to try and scare people into accepting their peculiar form of Christian faith. In fact, this is not Christian faith at all. It is nothing more than superstitious nonsense. They tend to see God in all kinds of natural events, and they view them as divine warnings and punishments.
It has happened before. Some of these preachers interpreted disasters or acts of violence as God’s punishment on a sinful people — the AIDS epidemic, or September 11, 2001, or Hurricane Katrina, or the tsunami in Japan.
It also happened with the recent violence in Charlottesville. More Christian celebrities took to the air to blame the violence not on the hatred and bigotry being spewed by the white supremacists at their rally, but on others who stood up to this increasing kind of ugliness. If only they hadn’t protested the white supremacists, everything would have been better.
Franklin Graham (Anne Graham Lotz’ brother) blamed the city politicians who issued permits to remove the statue of Robert Lee. He blamed city council for issuing a permit for a demonstration to defend the statue. Then he blamed the State Governor for not seeing that a powderkeg was about to blow up. Ultimately, however, “this boils down to evil in people’s hearts. Satan is behind it all. He wants division, he wants unrest, he wants violence and hatred. He’s the enemy of peace and unity.”
In other words, it’s everyone’s fault except those who actually fomented the violence with their anti–Semitic speech and slogans, their hatred and bigotry.
Donald Trump is not the only one who is blind and unwilling to call this kind of hatred what it really is. Others, who claim to speak in the name of God, are also empowering those who seek to spread hate.
It is time for people of good will to speak out against this kind of ugliness. Like 32–year–old Heather Heyer, the paralegal killed in Charlottesville, it may cost us dearly to do so. But if we don’t, our society will be in extreme danger … not because of an eclipse, but because hatred is growing among us like a cancer.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook