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The end times?

Ever since Jesus Christ said that only the Father knows the day and the hour of the Second Coming, doomsayers have been trying to pinpoint the time...and watching the sun rise on another generation.

In recent weeks, the prophetic interpreters have been working overtime with the latest reason why they believe the end is fast approaching--the U.S-led war on Iraq, formerly Babylon, cradle of civilization.

No surprise that anxious chatter is exploding on prophecy websites, in Bible study groups and churches, where many see evidence of Iraq's significance in key events of the Book of Revelation. Indeed, Chapter 9 carries a direct reference to the Euphrates River, which runs through modern-day Iraq.

"Loose the four angels who are bound in the great river Euphrates," a voice cries out. Their task? "To kill the third part of men."

This passage is followed by a reference to an army of locusts simultaneously released to punish humankind. Its leader is named Abaddon in Hebrew, Apollyon in Greek and Destroyer in English, said to be one of several meanings for the name "Saddam".

The river is referred to again in Chapter 16. "The sixth angel poured out his vial on that great river Euphrates, and dried up the water thereof, to prepare the way for the kings from the East," writes St. John in verse 12. According to prophecy, the kings will move their armies through the Euphrates valley en route to Har Megiddo (Armageddon) in northern Israel.

"Iraq fits like hand in glove," says Irvin Baxter, founder of Indiana-based Endtime magazine.

Apocalyptic ministries are big business these days. Take the blockbuster Left Behind series that's been topping the New York Times bestseller list since the first novel in the series was published in 1997. Book sales, which now include at least a dozen titles, have topped 44 million.

The series is the brainchild of prophecy scholar Tim LaHaye and his writing partner Jerry B. Jenkins. The pair specialise in such controversial theories as the 'Rapture', the evangelical belief that faithful Christians will vanish 'in the twinkling of an eye' just before the Great Tribulation--the final seven years of history before Christ's return.

As I watched LaHaye and Jenkins discussing their massive success on Larry King one night, several callers weighed in with their opinions. "It's so fabulous, I couldn't stop reading," gushed one housewife from Richmond, Viriginia. "I can't wait for the next instalment," enthused a plumber from Biloxi.

Larry was rivetted. So was I.

I read volume one in a single night, having already sprung for volumes two and three, thinking I'd be absolutely compelled to read on. Live and learn.

The story opens with airline pilot Rayford Steele flying a load of passengers to Chicago. Lo, and behold, dozens of those passengers suddenly vanish into thin air, leaving behind their wedding rings and contact lenses. Aboard the same flight is Buck Williams, a hotshot journalist working for the equivalent of Time magazine. On hand to explain the disappearances is Pastor Bruce Barnes who, like Rayford, has lost his wife to the Rapture. Days later, Nicolae Carpathia--an unctuous Romanian politician--is rocketed into the top job at the UN. Standing in the wings is the vaguely sulphurous Cardinal Peter Mathews, tipped to become the next Pope following the disappearance of John XXIV in the Rapture. Meanwhile, over in Jerusalem, two tough-talking prophets named Moishe and Eli (Moses and Elijah, maybe?) are preaching the Gospel daily at the Wailing Wall and repelling with supernatural means all attempts to kill them.

What can I say? The first two books, Left Behind and Tribulation Force, were like eating peanuts and reading...comic books. Thwap! Never was the Apocalypse so two-dimensional. Volume three, Nicolae, lies unread on my coffee table next to the half-empty peanut bag.

There's more. Last week, I got an e-mail from Tim, Jerry and their new best friend "end times analyst" Mark Hitchcock asking me to sign up for their Left Behind Prophecy Club.

"As news breaks and world-changing events unfold, you will be the first to receive in-depth analysis and interpretation," they promised. If I subscribe now for $20, I'll find out if the UN is a precursor of the One World government prophesied in the Bible. I'll also find out if the Antichrist is already here and how to protect myself, and whether ATM's and other revolutions in global banking are signs that the Mark of the Beast is upon us.

My point is this. Perhaps geopolitical forces are currently configuring into an Armageddon scenario. I don't know. But neither does anyone else. What I do know is that millions were caught up in end-time fever long before 9/11. Certainly, the resurrection of the Jewish state, the anomalous surge of environmental disasters, the globalization of politics and economics, and the astronomical speed in human developments--all at the turn of the new millennium--have heightened the sense that the ultimate climax of human history may be close.

Still, I think the fatalistic worldview of apocalyptic thinking is unhealthy. Many who are obsessive about the end of the world fail to enjoy the life they have. Moreover, trying to predict specific dates for Christ's return actually defies prophecy rather than illuminating it.

For me, the best antidote for such morbid preoccupation is the advice once offered by the Holy Father. "Pray and don't worry," he advised. For my money, the wisest, simplest and truest recipe for happiness there is.

Paula Adamick writes from London, England, where she publishes the monthly expatriate paper, the Canada Post.
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Author:Adamick, Paula
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:May 1, 2003
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