Growing up in the 50’s, we were very concerned with the threat of nuclear attack. Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union took his shoe off at the United Nations and pounded the table shouting, “We will bury you!” As kids in school, we had air raid drills in which we huddled under our desks and put up the shades until the Principal gave the ‘all clear’. (I still don’t know how those paper-thin shades were to protect us from nuclear explosions!) It was common then to have families build bomb shelters dug out in their back yards or in their basements, stored with food and other supplies they may need after a nuclear strike.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and a development to a more moderate Communism in China, a lot of the nuclear fear has gone away. Or so we thought. For although terrorism has worried us on a smaller scale than mass destruction, the emergence of North Korea as a nuclear force has once again made us afraid of nuclear attack. North Korea already has nuclear capabilities in the region of Asia. But they are currently testing rockets that can reach mainland USA.
A preemptive strike by the US would unleash a nightmare, costing the lives of millions of South Koreans, Japanese etc., all of which are our allies, and would require us to completely destroy the entire nation of North Korea. Such an attack would, because of proximity, put China in danger, a country with a huge nuclear arsenal. It does not help that the head of the government of North Korea is a very unstable leader who feels that the supposed victimhood of the North is over and that he looks forward to taking over the South of the Peninsula while a powerless world just watches.
We are oh so close to what we feared in the 50’s!
This is shocking. We are so accustomed to worrying about the smallest part of our security (Insurance, etc.) that the idea that anyone has the power to destroy everything that we hold dear is intolerable. But we have already been under threat from Russia and China, so what difference does it make? Who would be crazy enough to set this whole thing in motion?
Kim Jong-un has shown himself to be unstable, immature, paranoid and fanatically interested in proving his strength and showing that North Korea matters on the world stage.
Why am I bringing this up? Why reflect on this in a parish publication? Because we are believers in something beyond this world. It is now that we have to consider this since it will affect our response to this state of affairs and model for us our faith response.
Most people have as a fundamental presupposition in their thinking that there is nothing beyond this life. Death is annihilation, complete and utter termination. That is why speaking about death or even using the word is the new form of obscenity. People don’t die anymore, they ‘pass away’ or even more vaguely ‘pass’. No longer is our belief in a life after death where Aunt Louise, recently deceased, is alive and well. A typical eulogy today will have Aunt Louise sort of suspended in the ‘hearts and minds of we who loved her’. I don’t know about you, but when I die, I hope I am more than a ‘suspension’ in someone’s memory!
Because of this latent disbelief, we approach the idea of nuclear war or the end of the world as the ultimate evil that can happen. And it truly is terrible and hopefully to be avoided at all times! But sin is a greater evil since it separates us from God, our ultimate good.
These awful predictions are very terrible, but in faith, we can transcend them. Faith puts us into a state that makes us free to confront these evils and say, “God is greater than nuclear catastrophe”.
Recently we had a film festival that meditated on the end of the world and film adaptations of it. In all the films we showed (e.g. On the Beach) and not showed (e.g. Melancholia), not a single one presented the question in terms of faith. How do believers approach the end times? Is our faith real or just a nice story we tell ourselves? When that asteroid hits the earth or the nuclear bomb explodes, will I be on my knees welcoming God?
These are, admittedly, bleak considerations, but our faith means nothing if it does not engage such possibilities; and the hope that we celebrate is useless if it does not strengthen us to stand tall even in such a time.
To believe in God, to be a Christian in truth and not only in name, is to face death and even the end of the world serenely, knowing that we live only for His will and it is only in His will that we find peace.