Disasters and the End of the World

Last Friday, I sent a friend a text message about the earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami alert, which includes the Philippines. Her family lives in one of the coastal areas covered by the warning.

Her reply: “We’re really at the end times now. But I’d rather ascend to heaven than face death here.”

She believes that all these wars and disasters are a prelude to the rapture. Jesus will come again and his true followers will be literally lifted into the sky and spared from the evil rampage of the Anti-Christ.

The other night, I heard someone say these catastrophic events are a fulfillment of biblical prophesies about the coming apocalypse. I also got a forwarded message saying the explosion of nuclear reactors in Japan could be what the Virgin Mary meant in her prophecy in Fatima about a fire from the sky.

People have been predicting the end of the world for the longest time. Every major catastrophe is interpreted as an apocalyptic sign.

It’s instinctive for humans to search for meaning, hence the need for philosophy and/or religion. It is easier to cope with tragedy when we know there’s a reason for it, no matter how dismal; punishment from an angry God, test of strength and character, prologue to heaven.

The idea that an earthquake happened because that’s just what tectonic plates do somehow isn’t as profound or reassuring, and could even sound heartless (although theodicy isn’t exactly a balm for the heart either).

But while we’re waiting for the world to end, let us mourn for the dead, help out the survivors, clean up the rubble, and rebuild what was lost. For now, we’ve got one more day to live.

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