The Gods of War: The Sixth Beast
Drawing by Lee van Laer, 2016
Created in Procreate, with iPad pro and apple pencil
My friend Paul recently asked, in a comment, what I thought about fundamentalist Christian fantasies about end times and the apocalypse.
The end times fantasy which has been so enthusiastically embraced by Christian conservatives in the United States is a classic example of a complete and absolute heresy, entirely made up and without any basis whatsoever in biblical texts. It shows you entirely delusional fanatics can be; and it also shows how misinterpretation of rapturous allegorical writing, such as the chapter Revelations, can result in an aberrant mixture of spiritual and natural beliefs.
The ideas that people will be physically taken up into heaven or have flesh put back on their bones so that they can walk again are absurdities I objected to even as a child, where I was kicked out of Sunday school at the age of 11 for arguing with a "teacher" about such nonsense in the Bible. Even then, stupidity prevailed. People were more upset with me questioning spurious interpretations of the Bible than the fact that the "teacher" called me a little ass hole in front of the entire Sunday school class. (My parents migrated me permanently into church with the adults, which satisfied me entirely.) In any event, the point is that the natural and the spiritual world do not mix— at least not in this way, as Swedenborg so eloquently explained. People want them to mix; and that is because they want God to do what they want God to do, not what God does. We are all like this, of course, but one ought to set some limits — and can, if one acquires any real humility.
But perhaps the greatest error in this heresy is the punitive and vengeful vision that it offers. In it, God sorts out the good and the bad and assigns them places, punishing the bad and refusing to let them into heaven. This is a gross violation of an intelligent and obvious principle which every right minding human being ought to grasp. God, whose entire essences forever and absolutely merciful, never punishes anyone.
We punish ourselves.
That punishment, moreover, is never seen as a punishment by us. We choose; and what we choose is either selfishness and a world that centers on ourselves — which is an infection every spirit has in it — or unselfishness and love of others and God before love of ourselves. If we go to hell, it is because where we want to be; not where God sends us. God would certainly prefer that all of us not be in hell; but in surrendering Himself into the material, He sacrificed absolute control over us — such control would be unloving and ungodly from the beginning — and allows us to determine our own fate, as every parent should do with their children. If the child goes to hell, it is because the child likes hell and prefers to stay there.
We see a mirror of this in our own preferences and desires. One might say, in a certain way, that all desire is selfish and turns us towards hell. This provides an entirely rational and objective explanation for why Gurdjieff told us that a human being's non-desires need to prevail over their desires.
There don't need to be any end times in which God sorts things out. We sort them out for ourselves during this lifetime; and it is at the end of it that the angelic kingdoms inspect us to determine our inclinations. If we preferentially tend towards hell, all the angels in heaven could not drag us into it. Confessing to Christ alone means nothing if we do not surrender deep within our own soul. That is never so easy as chanting words or repeating biblical phrases; we pay, and pay, and pay, in order to surrender.
This, at least, is my experience. In the end, there can only be one real reckoning for us, and it comes as a reckoning with ourselves. First we take responsibility for that. Then we attempt to undertake the inner work of spiritual regeneration.
I think the value of apocalyptic thinking lies in its overarching vision of the human and spiritual field of experience as a great battleground between good and evil. This, in the end, is true; and we need to try to cast ourselves, as best we understand, as heroes of the good — champions of godly values and other human beings and their own inner struggles.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.