World Aflame

     For the past several weeks, our president has been saying: “The world is a mess!” – emphasizing that this is how he inherited it.  Is there any president in the past century or more who couldn’t say the same thing?

     I remember as far back as the Eisenhower years, when the Russians launched Sputnik and the space race.  I was only five years old at the time, but I could already see that the world could be a scary place. 

     Listening to my parents speak with their friends about the Russian space program and the threat it posed, I could not understand why my family wasn’t building a fallout shelter to protect us from an atomic blast. 

     By the time I became a teenager, I’d experienced the shock of a presidential assassination and joined in the televised national mourning that followed.  It became quite clear that horrendous things could … and did … happen.

“The demons of hell have been let loose.  The fires of passion, greed, hate, and lust are sweeping the world.  We seem to be plunging madly toward Armageddon.”

     That’s what I read in a book called World Aflame.  It came to me in the mail after I’d watched a Billy Graham crusade on TV.  Billy spoke with an evangelical fervor that grabbed my attention and prompted me to send in my request for his new book. 

“I do not believe that all is black and hopeless,” he wrote.  “There is still time to return to the moral and spiritual principles that made the West great.  There is still time for God to intervene.”

     That was more than 50 years ago.  Now, an evangelical preacher claims that the President has the divine right to unleash “fire and fury” on anyone who threatens us.

     Is that how God will intervene in our current standoff with North Korea?  Will the world literally be set aflame, confirming the beliefs of those who’ve been waiting for such a cataclysm?

     Could it be that our commander in chief was speaking metaphorically?  Rather than threatening to unleash a firestorm of military might on the North Korean regime, perhaps he was channeling Billy Graham and referring to “the fires of passion, greed, hate, and lust.”

     I seriously doubt it.  I don’t think that’s how his mind works.


     But think about it, have there been any forces more corrosive and destructive than passion, greed, hate and lust?  Look at what they’ve done to America and our sense of who we are as a nation and how we relate to each other as well as to the planet.

     Corporate profits and CEO salaries are soaring, with the “greed is good” mentality continuing to call the shots and skew our electoral process. 

     Hateful, divisive rhetoric continues to stream forth from transnational media outlets and “patriotic” provocateurs professing to be the voice of Truth

     And as for passion and lust – our consumer-oriented marketplace is feeding our citizens plenty of pornographic imagery of sex, sizzle and gore that presents itself as entertainment, further removing us from the democratic ideal of an educated and informed populace.

     It’s all Fake News, of course … unless it’s in our own interest.  Why should we be concerned about the erosion of confidence in our government and its allegiance to we, the people?

     Where is God in all of this?  Can we trust that our virtuous behavior and "chosen" status will deliver us from evil through divine intervention? 

     When Donald Trump speaks of fire & fury, it sounds like he's drawing from the Old Testament, its wrathful God and eye-for-an-eye mentality.   

     References to such apocalyptic imagery can certainly grab our attention, but we're no longer living in the age of Noah and Nebuchadnezzar.  Perhaps we need to take another look at the way we conceive of divinity and demonstrate greater restraint in the use of aggressive rhetoric, even toward those who threaten to set our world aflame.

Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

                                                                -- William Blake