On the Brink of Disaster

For the last week an old spiral-bound journal has been occupying my desk.  I like to browse my journals for ideas occasionally, to see if I’ve grown out of certain kinds of angst.  Here’s an entry from June 1999:

Sometimes the world tilts like a ride at the county fair when everyone on deck pretends they’re in big trouble.  In the last 24 hours I’ve heard that Y2K could cause a minimum of 18 million deaths (according to a survey of nerds—like they know anything), that a return of the 1918 flu epidemic is expected next year (according to Doris, who read it in the paper), and Ashley [my agent, pitching my first novel] hasn’t called or written, which could mean anything.  The last is probably why I feel myself sliding—there’s a terrible subjective slant to the news of the day.  Still, the world is askew, and my children loose in it; they like me have never known real hunger, want, violence or fear.  But the threat always seems to be hanging over them.  I almost wish it could all be over now, and end the suspense.

Remember Y2K?  My husband took it very seriously, which is one reason we have a house in the country with enough land to grow our own food.  I was taking it halfway seriously until a few months before it was all supposed to come down.  I’m not sure what tipped me off—maybe something about those 18 million people (at a minimum!) who were doomed right at the outset.  I just remember very clearly the moment when skepticism kicked in: Nah.  Not gonna happen.

Which doesn’t rule out the possibility that some worldwide disaster eventually will happen.  The Bible predicts something along those lines; we just seem unreasonably eager to sign up for it ahead of time.  Even the Weather Channel website often casts its prediction in apocalyptic terms—the word apocalypse occurs often enough in the headlines.  If not the weather, the next pandemic, super-weapon, or Wall Street crash is always lurking around the corner; almost everybody feels it, but doesn’t know how to think about it.

I wrote about “prepping” in my last World column, and there’s more to it than storing up water and canned goods.  The fact is, we’ve been on the brink of disaster ever since that misstep in the Garden—caught in a tangle of world, flesh, and devil with judgment hanging over us.  Something’s going to bring us down; we just know it.  Transhumanists like Peter Thiel and Sergy Brin, who want to improve the species with computer chips, can’t overcome our deep-seated suspicion of humans as doomed creatures, always at war with ourselves.  If anything should tip us off that there’s something deeply weird about human nature, it’s this: that we’re profoundly unbalanced but manage to navigate through life anyway.  That we long for peace yet push it away.  That we anticipate the worst to an extent we’d be too scared to walk out the front door if it weren’t for faith.

It’s faith that keeps us going—faith in science, in technology, in family or friendship, in some spacey spiritual dimension, or just in the sun coming up every day.  Faith runs right alongside our fears and doubts, a spiritual circulatory system that pumps through our consciousness from first to last.  Since the ebbing of biblical faith that began in the 19th century, humanity has seized on all kinds of belief-anchors, even belief itself. “Doesn’t matter what you believe; what matters is that you believe.”  We hear that everywhere, and don’t seem to realize it makes no sense—because what we fear more than anything, maybe, is meaninglessness.

But we don’t have to fear that, or anything else, “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Col.1:23).  All faiths will eventually spiral into this one, standing firm after the shards of disaster have blown away.

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