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Commentary: Preach doom and you're doomed to lose hope
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Preach doom and you're doomed to lose hope
By Brian Knowles
Mr. Knowles, former managing editor of The Plain Truth, published by the Worldwide Church of God, makes his living as a writer. This article is part of his "Out of the Box" series of columns.

MONROVIA, Calif.--Let's face it: Fear sells. Predicting doom is big business. In the popular press and media, demagoguery is standard procedure. The greater the tragedy, the more papers it sells and the higher the television ratings. I speak as a recovering doommonger.

Back in the mid-'70s I wrote many articles and a few booklets purporting to explain aspects of "Bible prophecy." The theme was always the same: Things were getting worse, coming to a head, and the only protection for Christians was to be a part of God's one and only true church on earth, the Worldwide Church of God.

During those years I edited three magazines for that church: Tomorrow's World, The Good News and The Plain Truth. We ran articles on "rings of fire" (volcanoes of the Pacific Rim), earthquakes, our polluted planet, the coming of the "beast" and the "beast power," the great tribulation and related issues.

A 10-nation, united Europe was expected to attack America and the British Commonwealth of Nations. Vast numbers of people would die of plagues, starvation and warfare. At the end of it all, Christ would return, and we would either rise to meet Him in the air or be resurrected and return with Him to clean up the mess and usher in the Millennium.

Various key dates, "time cycles" and calendric calculations came and went, and none of the above happened. Many--tens of thousands--eventually left the WCG in disillusionment. Now, three decades later, it's time to rethink the whole thing. Was it all a crock?

Demise of the WCG

The entity that was supposed to be protected from the last half of the tribulation--the Worldwide Church of God, headed by Herbert W. Armstrong--is no more. Herbert Armstrong has been dead for 20 years, and his son Garner Ted has also passed on. The WCG--what's left of it--is now evangelical in its theology, and prophecy no longer seems to be a central plank in its theological platform.

For all intents and purposes, the WCG as we once knew it is no more. An assortment of spin-off organizations has formed, thanks to the efforts of ministers who seek to maintain the old Armstrongian theology.

There is no cohesion among these groups, which number more than 300. (I refer to these folks as the Churches of God Pod, or the Pod.)

Various ones, usually the most ultraconservative, proclaim themselves to be the authentic representation of the Philadelphian "era" of the church and therefore are the ones who will be protected from the tribulation. The rest of us are doomed to suffer with the world.

Meanwhile, an assortment of independent amateur scholars has taken old prophetic understandings and redrafted them to conform to new theories of fulfilled prophecy.

The identities of prophetically significant nations have been changed and new predictions have been made. When it comes to prophetic interpretation, truth claims are all over the map. Sorting them out is a daunting undertaking for the average church member.

Secular doomsayers

Outside of the Pod, the establishment press and media have their own versions of doomsday scenarios. Islamic terrorism, global warming, air, water and land pollution, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), the population explosion, demographic shifts, the growing nuclear club, the antics of the axis of evil and many other things provide ripe material for the secular doommongers. Pressed into service to support these dire prognostications is junk, or voodoo, science.

As long as fear prevails, some will capitalize on it to achieve their personal goals. Those goals may be as simple as personal wealth, or they may rise to the level of absolute political power. The goal of Islamic terrorists is global Islamic rule and the death or forced conversion of all "infidels." No amount of human sacrifice--Islamic or otherwise--is too much to achieve these malevolent goals.

Each power-seeking group--Christian, Muslim, secular or otherwise--traffics in fear to achieve its goals. The left says the right is to blame for the country's ills, and the right says the same thing about the left. Most of the patter on radio talk shows is about politics and power and how the other side is abusing same. Passions run high. Emotions are out there prominently displayed on coat sleeves. What's a Christian to do? Let's focus on facts.

Facing reality

Let's face it. Many of the scenarios described in the '70s fizzled. The population bomb failed to detonate. The environment was damaged, but not devastated. Industrial civilization did some adapting, but it failed to bite the dust. Disease epidemics didn't materialize on the global scale anticipated. The developed nations did not see massive food shortages and famine.

That doesn't mean that none of these things will ever happen, but we certainly can't predict them with any accuracy.

By midcentury, most experts believe, the world's population will stabilize at around six or seven billion.

In the '70s they were warning us of a new ice age. Now it's global warming and the resulting disastrous weather patterns, all of which could be stopped if President Bush would only sign the Kyoto Accords.

That means any future hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves and stock-market crashes will be George Bush's fault. He has become the scapegoat of the century.

The Christian worldview

If we, as Christians, view things from a biblical perspective, we will believe that God is the creator and sustainer of all that exists in the material realm (Acts 17:24-28). We will believe that "whether we live or die, we are the Lord's" (Romans 14:8).

At the same time, we will believe that, in addition to the material realm, a spiritual realm includes God, angels, the devil and demons.

Though undetectable by science, an interface continues between the spiritual and the material realms, governed largely by acts of good and evil on the part of mankind, as well as by the sovereign will of God.

Choices for evil invite unclean spirits into one's life, and submission to God puts distance between ourselves and the devil and brings us closer to God (James 4:7).

To the degree that the world lives God's way, there are blessing, order and peace (1 Corinthians 13:33).

Jesus told His disciples (talmidim): "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna]" (Matthew 10:28).

Our bodies are temporary tabernacles in which we dwell for a brief time. Sooner or later our physical life cycles will end, whether naturally, by disease, or at the hand of enemies.

Serious worldview

All kinds of dire apocalyptic scenarios could be justifiably painted. It's not even a matter of fulfilled prophecy but simply of following the trends to their logical outcomes.

If we, as Christians, take the biblical worldview seriously, we will understand the nature of what's happening around us. When evil people make evil choices, the world is bathed in suffering and bloodshed. There is a devil, and he works most effectively through those who are willing to do his bidding. Jesus said of him, "He was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44).

The devil's work is to seduce people into sinning, then to accuse them, and, finally, if God gives the green light, to destroy them.

Jesus is the antidote for all that. Our lives, as Christians, are tied in a bundle with the life of Christ. He is our security, our salvation in all situations. He is the Rock in whom we must hide in times of danger.

Theory vs. practice

It is one thing to quote Scripture about placing our security in Christ and another to make it real.

We know how we should feel about the myriad of threats to our well-being and lives, but how do we get to the point where those ideals are fully realized?

It's not easy. The insecurities of our fragile flesh drag us down. We realize, especially as we get older, that the difference between life and death is a gossamer film, easily broken. Something as small as a germ or a virus can bring us down.

The lives of many productive people are snuffed out by accidents every day. Even "great" people are subject to sickness and disease.

Christians die for their faith at unprecedented rates. We can't afford to live in a fool's paradise. Living on this planet could be hazardous to your health. If our lives are not tied up with God, then we have no hope.

Before we were converted to Christ, we were, to use Paul's words, "without hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). Now, in Christ, we have hope. He is the Lord's Anointed One. He is the Savior whom God will send to bring about the "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21).

To reach the point where we feel fully secure in Christ in spite of the danger that surrounds us, we may have to spend much time in prayer. We may have to reinforce our faith in God by studying over and over again the relevant passages of Scripture.

And we may have to learn to be supportive of each other, in spite of our differences of opinion about doctrine, prophecy, leadership and other matters.

A Christian is a Christian is a Christian.

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