I grew up reading the Left Behind books. Left Behind was a book series based off of the literal interpretation of the New Testament book of Revelation set in modern times. It was full of doomsday plagues and seals, dragons and beasts and lakes of fire and looming figures of good and evil. It was terrifying and shocking and fear inducing. And I loved it.
It was run of the mill, by the book, apocalyptic literature. And I couldn’t get enough. When I go back to my parents’ house today, I see at least 8 or 9 books from the series still lining my book shelves. Hard covers. The Left Behind franchise got a lot of my money.
The stuff in the books is the kind of stuff you might find watching the news today. Plagues, world leaders at odds, governments and world orders appearing out of control in epic proportions. If I didn’t know any better, I would say it feels like you and I are living in real life apocalyptic times.
Apocalyptic in the sense that the world is falling apart, its time to take a side, and destruction is imminent.
After years of understanding it one way, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the actual meaning of the word apocalyptic. Spoiler alert: it’s not doomsday, end of the world scenarios. It has since started to mean that, after we started understanding that word through the lens of the book of Revelation. But the Greek word? The word as it was originally used, before we hijacked the meaning? It means uncovering. To disclose and reveal.
And if that’s true, apocalypse doesn’t have to be bad news. It can be painful news. Difficult news. It can be hard to hear and bear and live in light of, news. But it doesn’t have to mean hellfire and brimstone. In fact, I wonder if in some cases an apocalypse might be the best thing that could ever happen; an uncovering of parts of ourselves that need to go, that need to change, that need to be dealt with.
For a lot of people this current health pandemic is catastrophic. It’s scary in a very real way. But for most of us, the cataclysmic event isn’t the sickness as we know it. It’s the disruption to life as we know it. It’s the shrinking and narrowing of our worlds that’s uncomfortable and in some cases painful. It’s not the end of the world in the most literal sense. But in this apocalyptic moment, it is an uncovering of what is most important to us, what garners the most attention from us. It is the end of our understanding of the world as we know it. Maybe it doesn’t play out like a Left Behind book, but it doesn’t have to, to feel just as big and scary and overpowering.
It’s a powerless place to be in. Especially in a country and a culture that thrives on independence and autonomy. We don’t respond well to being told what to do, to structure and routine and habits changing because something larger than us and outside of us told us so.
Which makes sense. But what if our visceral reaction to the shrinking of our external worlds was a prompt to examine our internal world? This isn’t an apocalypse like we have understood the word to be. It’s an apocalypse in the way the word was always meant to be understood.
And a few days and weeks into this shifting cultural landscape, what are we uncovering?
Our addiction to busyness.
Our attachment to autonomy even at the risk of the greater good.
Our tight fisted grip on individual power and control.
Our obsession with a sort of celebrity and importance that is fed by large numbers attending specific events.
Our desire to defend our personal choices while demeaning the choices of others.
This IS an apocalypse. But the most dangerous thing about it isn’t the virus itself. It’s what the virus has revealed to be true about so many of us—things we never would have had to face if this hadn’t happened.
In my personal world, school is out for the foreseeable future. Two long planned for vacations have been postponed/cancelled. Work is remote. Church has moved to online services. Things are changing. Personal control feels like a thing of the past.
And it is frustrating. Life, to put it lightly, is inconvenienced. Time, in a way it hasn’t been for many of us in years, or even decades, has slowed down. Our world has shrunk. And we can complain and rail and shout and go off on tirades, or we can ask, what is waiting to be uncovered in this moment? What might we learn in the inconvenience? What is waiting to be discovered in the prolonged breathing in and breathing out our slowed-down existence allows for us? What might we find? And maybe most of all, what will we do with what we find?
This isn’t a Left Behind novel. This is real life. With real people. Experiencing real fear. And real inconvenience. And real anxiety. And real uncertainty. We are real people and we are in uncharted waters. And we don’t know where to go from here. We are all new to this place.
And we can fight it, resist, complain about it, pretend it doesn’t exist, indulge in theories about who is behind this and how it could have been handled better and the partisanship moments like this create, or, we can do something different. We can stop pointing our fingers outward, and start taking the time to look inward.
What can we learn?
What can we do?
What needs to change?
What needs to stay the same?
What now? For me? For us? For this moment?
We can fear the apocalypse. Or we can thank it. For the chance to do better and be better.
It is a moment of uncovering. What will we do with what we find?