The IPCC Report and the Book of Revelation
An interpretive connection between the latest IPCC report and the book of Revelation, otherwise known as the Apocalypse, is painfully and dramatically obvious. However, focus on ‘apocalypse’ encourages a doomsday mentality and is counterproductive; other insights from this book help us to better understand the human dilemma and therefore the way forward.
I would like to look below the surface to a connection which is not as obvious, yet is quite revelatory. But first a little background.
This last book of the New Testament, and last to be accepted in the biblical canon, is well known to conspiracy theorists and end of the world fanatics. It is probably written at the end of the 1st century AD to seven churches in Asia minor struggling with a debilitating dilemma. Jesus has died and risen with the promise of a new creation, and yet the world as they experience it remains violently and painfully the same. Wherein does hope lie? What are they to make of the violent life they are experiencing? Why not conform to the dominant Roman culture and avoid attention. They have been sorely tempted to “lose their first love” and drift away from a life in the imitation of Christ to be seduced into conformity with the prevailing culture.
The writer, John, implores them to stand firm in their faith. He contrasts commitment to the ‘Lamb’ – Jesus, who because of his suffering death and resurrection has true authority – and the consequences of the alternative - sovereignty based on power, wealth, greed, self-interest which is fake or illusionary. The Lamb’s authority is counter intuitive. Jesus does not have sovereign right because of power, prestige or wealth, but because he has embraced temporal reality even death, and carried it with him into the world of eternal grace.
In a world which does not recognise grace as sovereign, where self-interested ambition reigns, the consequences are horrendous, most dramatically portrayed by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Every generation since the writing of this book has experienced realities as awful as those described in the book. In the last 100+ years we have experienced two global pandemics and many less universal, but equally dreadful. We have experienced two world wars, several minor wars, and ethnic cleansing on all continents. Our present covid pandemic has been described by the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan as a political pandemic, because the hubris of Presidents Xi, Putin and Trump and other world leaders such as Johnston and Bolsonaro has made the spread inevitable when is should have been avoidable. Every generation over two millennia have suffered events symbolically portrayed in this book.
The book swings between two opposing and contrasting communities – that of the Lamb and his followers, and that of the beast or the anti -Christ and his followers who bear its mark. The mark or seal of the lamb is the cross; a seal that is impressed upon followers of Jesus at their baptism. But what is the meaning of the mark of the beast, the distinguishing feature of followers of anti-Christ?
Margaret Barker, the eminent biblical scholar and linguist (who sadly passed away in April this year) postulates the mark of the beast is usuary, covetousness, greed, of putting economic goals above goals of common good. Indeed, chapter 13 of the book of Revelation which contains reference to the ‘mark of the beast’ continues with reference to faltering trade and collapsing markets as does chapter 18. Is the whore spoken of in the book the seductiveness of material gain? If Barker is right, then the anti-Christ is not communism, or Trump, or the Pope, but something far closer to home, the seduction of personal wealth and gain over harmony and connectedness with neighbour, creation, and God. In a nutshell, this is an apt description of what ‘anti-Christ’ might mean in any generation.
For the book to be included in the canon of scripture, its interpretation must be relevant to succeeding generations, not simply to those who received it in the first or second century AD. Now, let us cut to the chase. It is not hard to apply this insight to the great and threatening challenge of our time – climate change. Those who oppose action on climate change, most notably the conservative side of Australian politics, have consistently done so based on their economic theory. We can’t afford it they shout! As if we can afford not to!! In our context it could be said neo-liberal economic theory and practice has become the anti-Christ of our age because it sets short term material gain above long-term harmony, equity and sustainability. Many of its devotees hang out in Christian congregations!! Some hang out both in Christian congregations and in the halls of Australian parliaments.
The response of the Australian government to the IPCC report has been predictably appalling. Shane Warne must be proud of the spin that emanates especially from the Prime Minister. Unless you are comatose, it is simply implausible to ignore science and the imminent threat we face. Mr Morrison is spinning ill-conceived nonsense to claim Australia and Australians are already pulling our weight. It is manifestly untrue. It is also untrue to assert that technology, on its own will get us out of the diabolical predicament we are in. First and foremost, what is required is resolve, from the Prime Minister down. Because the ‘fish rots from the head’ resolve from the Prime Minister is not irrelevant. Setting targets focuses resolve.
The Apocalypse or the Revelation of John is prophetic, not in that it foretells the future but in that it has the capacity to reveal truth. The need for truth about the times in which we live has never been more urgent. Spin, the tool of choice of the Prime Minister, is severely damaging because the days are short. We do not have much time to avoid a catastrophe for our children.
The great irony is that the crisis presents opportunity as well as challenge. Why not emphasise opportunities rather than challenges? Indeed, opportunities for the many are so abundant, it makes the crime of protecting the self-interest of a few far more reprehensible.