The Day of Wrath, and an Apocalyptic Scowl

When the Sone of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Lk 18:8

Newton’s Prophecy

Isaac Newton, who died nearly three centuries ago, was not just one of the greatest scientists in history. He also studied and interpreted the prophetic scriptures. Based on the books of Daniel and Revelation, he calculated that the Jews would be restored to Israel by the middle of the 20th century. That happened when the state of Israel, after two thousand years, was restored by the United Nations in 1948. Newton also calculated the End Times would be sometime well into the 21st century. As Newton put it, “About the Time of the End, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the prophecies, and insist upon their literal interpretation in the midst of much clamor and opposition.” Here too he seemed to be prophetic as the rash of literature concerning the end of times has flooded the media. Many of us today will live to find out if the end truly is near.  If Newton is right, those who are spiritually well prepared for judgment should have little to fear when Christ finally returns to judge the living and the dead.

The Devil

After endless meditation on the subject, I conclude that the greatest evil of our time is rampant atheism, whether it be in the form of radical hostility or indifference to the claim of God’s existence. Surely the second greatest evil is lack of belief in the devil, who is supremely nefarious, and who alone suffices to explain the maniacal march of evil men through history. The situation is clear. With the increase of nations clamoring for more nuclear weapons, there are prospects of vastly more evil in the world than there used to be, with less and less visible resources for combating that evil. Jesus, always the great exemplar of truth (being Truth himself) said in John 8:44 that the devil is a liar and a murderer. Those who believe what Jesus preached must then believe in the existence of that very nasty devil. Those who do not believe in Jesus needn’t bother their heads about our Enemy; except that they have been forewarned, but not forearmed, for spiritual combat with the Prince of Darkness.

The Devil’s Strategy

The devil knew his grand strategy from the start: Divide and Conquer! Divide Eve from Adam. Divide Adam and Eve from God. Since Jesus could easily see through that strategy, in John 17:21 he said to his followers: “I pray that they may be all be one, Father. May they be in us just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” Again, how could any profound truth be more simply and more powerfully said? It would be the devil’s defeat if we stood solidly with Christ against him, but if we do not stand with Christ we are easily routed and done in. There is hardly any simpler truth than that we must know the devil’s strategy in order to protect ourselves from his lies and his vicious intent. But how are we to do this if our preachers at the pulpit neglect to speak about Satan at least once in a while that which we most need to hear?

Yet look at the history of Christianity, fraught with revolutions, reformations, and heresies so divisive that it seems incredible the Church should have lasted as long as it has. How much longer can we expect it to last? The last bastion of unity at Rome that once opposed the follies of the world appears to have a deep-seated romance with modernity that will not quit. Pope Paul VI warned us of this when he spoke of the smoke of Satan seeping through cracks in the temple of God. It is no secret, as Bishop Barron has pointed out, that people – especially young people – are leaving the Church a good deal faster than other young people are entering it. This is therefore a very dark moment, as the youth of the world will be the world’s future leaders. Nor does there seem to be a check on this dissolution of the Church, as our modern bishops and theologians world wide quarrel among themselves about the gospels, in which the sayings of Jesus were made so clear as to defy disputation.

The Skeptics

Atheists and agnostics proudly wave the flag of Reason, as if Reason itself had no share of guilt in the scientific assembling of nuclear weapons sufficient to bring on the End Times. Proudly, the skeptic asserts, one cannot prove that God exists, always conveniently forgetting that Reason fails to prove there is no God. Yes, it’s true that believers want to believe; but it’s also evident that unbelievers do not want to believe. For this reason those who want to believe are able to see the reasons for believing; those who do not want to believe cannot be persuaded of any reason to believe. In both cases, supposedly, will trumps intellect. The question we have to ask is this: why do some choose to prefer the sad thought of eternal death over the joyful prospect of eternal life?

And when the skeptics die, when the moment arrives for them to boldly confront their certain and final end, do they consider what bargain they have made with logic? Do they look at the Christian who dies with hope in his heart? The skeptic must reason that if there is no God, the Christian will never know that he was wrong. Whereas the skeptic has to know that if he himself is right, and there is no God, he will never know it for a certainty; but if he is wrong, he will at least know it with a good deal more certainty than he bargained for. Surely, in rejecting God, it can come as no surprise to the skeptic that God will at last reject him in eternity. What a way to end, by losing the foolish Pascalian bet that the God you want to believe is dead turns out to be very much alive!

Is God Providential?

The unbeliever likes to taunt the believer by asking which of the world’s many gods we should worship. Well, it make a great deal of sense to assume that if there is a God, that God would not be indifferent and would be the God who stretched out a compassionate hand to all his creation. The first sign of such an act of love is that some revelation would come from God, signs of his powerful concern for his creation, which could be proven by concretely communicating his will and love for us. In what other religion than the religion of Abraham and his descendants do we see the history of such reaching out so thoroughly done?

The Proof

First comes the miraculous delivery of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, followed by God giving to Moses the Ten Commandments. These are surely signs of how the true God would bless the people who adore him, that he should not only rescue them from misery, but that He should provide them with a brief, simple, and clear guide to how they ought to behave if they are truly His people. Along with these gifts come the books of the Old Testament, which furnish the human mind with a sense of the origin of all things and a reason for their creation; namely, to mirror by our human nature the image and likeness of the Creator. This means that God is to be defined not merely as a Being of which no greater being could be conceived, but as a personal God who is a God of love, a God who loves his creation and engages with us all, whether or not we like it.

Following the Creation story we are told of the fall of Adam and Eve, how sin came into the world, and how with that sin followed catastrophic consequences for the human race. (Genesis 3) A good story there, because it sets the principle so fundamental to physical and spiritual survival: actions have consequences. God has the right to command, and also the right to be obeyed. Refusal to obey should provoke a consequence strong enough to make the lesson clear enough, and it does. Shamefaced, Adam and Eve are driven from the place of happiness into the place of punishment and sorrow. God takes everything from them except hope, for they are told a woman will come who will crush the head of the Serpent. Her son, we will later find out, will suffer in person for all our sins, opening the gates to a better life.

Next comes the New Testament God in the person of Jesus Christ, a Messiah who is to suffer for our sins as no one else can. He brings a supremely more personal presence of God to us because he is in every way possible the true God contained in the true likeness of God, both God and the reflection of God at once. This Messiah will affirm once again that God is love, even for the lowly sparrows  whom he feeds by nature’s hand. He will preach the gospel of love, not only preach it, but act it by cruelly suffering and dying on a cross to prove what he had preached: that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends. One can just barely imagine how loudly they hissed and writhed in pain, all the hateful serpents of hell, when Jesus took His last breath.

Taunting Atheism

The atheist Christopher Hitchens taunted Christians with the frequent question: “What good deed can a Christian do that I cannot do?” Shakespeare spoke of ingratitude as sharper than a serpent’s tooth. Plainly enough, Hitchens would not thank God for his very existence. Like other sins, ingratitude must have a great consequence. Jesus is loving and merciful. He is also just, and he promises that evil doers will get their comeuppance. Why would Jesus not give the consequence of ingratitude in just as plain and clear language as he preaches elsewhere on all other things. This is how he talks about ingratitude. “Everyone who acknowledges me before our heavenly Father, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 10:32)

Some skeptics will retort that while Jesus was surely a noble and admirable soul (that much at least they might grant) the churches who preach in his name are nevertheless purveyors of  lies and swindles and should be avoided for this reason alone. There is hardly an easier argument to refute. We do not repudiate the practice of medicine because there are quack doctors, nor the practice of law because there are crooked lawyers. Yes, some priests are Judas priests, but that is no reason to repudiate true religion.

The Great Betrayal

Wicked people will always hide among the true believers. Jesus said this long before the modern skeptic could point to the truth of it. He said, “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) That human devils wear the disguise of priests or bishops is no reason to repudiate Jesus himself, who warned us against false ministers of the Gospel. Good Christians will recognize who these wolves are by their words and deeds, and will not hesitate to oppose them for the scandals they have brought upon the Church. The main scandal, above all the other major scandals, is the rise of the predatory bishops and priests who want to overturn the gospels with prattle about the need to pander to the world, the flesh, and the devil. By their  actions they have driven many sheep over the cliff, and will soon enough pay a horrible price for their treason.

Russell’s Cop-Out

Bertrand Russell once remarked, upon being asked what he would say when he was surprised to appear at last before God to be judged, something to this effect: “It’s not my fault I didn’t believe in you. You should have made your existence much clearer.” But this flippancy betrays the intellectual haughtiness for which Russell was famous. How clear was God supposed to be? Was he supposed to have spoken directly in Russell’s ear? Perhaps in so many ways he did, but Russell was deliberately deaf. Was Jesus supposed to have performed a miracle or two in person to satisfy Russell’s demand for proof? But no doubt Russell would have found a way to explain away any miracle he observed by supposing he must have suffered a temporary psychotic break. There are so many ways to deny the plausibility of what cannot be seen.

One can see the unreasonableness of such logic, and the greater reasonableness of God choosing not to overwhelm and frighten every one of us with the awesome power of his love, though he might choose to do just that a few times by way of the miracles Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples. But even then, some failed to believe. As for Russell, it is rather more likely that we are invited to grow gradually in our love for God, in such a way that we can be more certain that God’s love is real and not just a terrifying obsession to be laughed off as a childish fantasy. And after all, who are we to say that God cannot hide his image from us until we have learned the right to see him in the light of His presence?

Irrational Rationalism

The scoffing at Christianity that is so prevalent today is often based upon the unwarranted assumption by many that the world would be better off without religion. That is only a theory, of course, since the world has never been without religion, but it is a reassuring theory to those without faith. One only has to offer another theory: if our world is so bad off with religion, how much worse off might we be without it? Do we really want to find out?

The main objection to religion of any kind is that there is no rational basis for it. The rationalist tells us Reason is supreme and we should repudiate as vain and wasteful any pursuit of knowledge that cannot be directly known by the method and powers of pure Reason. But Reason is subservient to Love. That is why Christ is so much more important to civilization than Einstein. Until we enter fully into the mysteries of love we will in self destructive ways enter into the ever baffling and contradicting mysteries of science.

It was Einstein who wrote to President Roosevelt that he should make the great bomb. But it was Christ who, in his command that we love one another, reminded us that we should not strive at doing to others what we would not like them doing to us. The Son of God was present at the Creation, and will be present at the end. But at the world’s end Einstein’s legacy may well rule should the fierce missiles of Antichrist blast us all to smithereens.

The Apocalyptic Scowl

How much worse off might the world be without religion? We are finding out right now as the world around us, occupied by a shrinking number of Christians, seems to have lost its mind and every semblance of common sense. It’s a New Age barbarism that rules and knows very well that it rules. But we were told in scripture that the world will end when Christ returns to confront and overcome Antichrist before the Last Judgment, so we cannot say we did not know the end is coming soon or late.

Now in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Saint Paul reveals that two signs of Christ’s approaching return will be, firstly: the great apostasy in the Church (well underway among Catholic bishops, priests and laity today, likely to be more fully revealed during the next papacy?) and secondly: the spread and tolerance of lawlessness signaled by the generally radical decline in morals everywhere and a growing conviction that the Time of the End could be not far off.

Hilaire Belloc offered this dark and ominous insight that should provoke the more devout among us to reach for their rosaries: “We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.”

There is only an apocalyptic scowl.

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Carl Sundell is Emeritus Professor of English and Humanities at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The author of several books including The Intellectual and the Gunman, Four Presidents, and Shaw versus Chesterton, he has published various articles in New Oxford Review and Catholic Insight. He currently resides in Lubbock, Texas where he is developing a book of short essays for students of Catholic apologetics