It’s difficult to believe the coast-to-coast wildfires in Australia, rampaging locusts across Africa and Asia and the mysterious, deadly coronavirus that has brought life on Earth to a standstill, all happened in the first four months of this year. Staff Writer, MBONGENI MGUNI notes the apocalyptic overtones of 2020
Recently, social media in South Africa was abuzz, as citizens there noted a large star in the sky, appearing in the late afternoon and early evening. PANIC OVER STRANGE STAR screamed the Daily Sun on April 30, quoting residents as saying the celestial body’s appearance symbolised God’s anger. The tabloid quoted Prophet Floyd Mbazima as saying “the star clearly indicates that the year 2020 is a unique one with its difficulties”.
The star referred to was Venus, the planet second closest to the Sun, which is known locally as kopadilalelo and which often appears quite bright in the evening sky in April and May.
The outbreak of coronavirus, its as yet unknown origins, its uncompromising deadliness and unprecedented reach across the world, have set everyone’s nerves on edge.
Human beings, regardless of their spiritual convictions or otherwise, are at their essence creatures of habit. We find comfort in patterns, in the mundaneness of everyday. Even when we call ourselves thrillseekers, adventurers and out-of-the-boxers, at our essence, there are circadian elements our subconscious holds dear and demands that we respect.
Locked in our homes, hiding as the virus prowls the streets, each of us has in some way relied on our unique coping mechanisms or ways to understand what is going on. For some, the year has simply been difficult, for others it is the result of poor global leadership.
Conspiracy theorists believe China has upped its war with the US, climate change advocates see their warnings coming true. Scientists see their ignored warnings about pandemic control coming to roost.
It’s the old story about the blind men who came across an elephant. The one holds a leg and says he’s found a tree. The other holds the trunk and says it must be a snake. Another pushes the elephant’s sides and says it must be a house.
For those of the Christian faith, the events in 2020 are increasingly echoing prophesies made in the Bible regarding the last days. Traditionally, there is a section of Christians who devote their time to the study of the end times, whose lives are spent debating the Rapture, The Great Tribulation, signs of the Coming and others. At the fringe of this section are the ‘end is nighers’ who have moved from carrying placards in the streets and accosting strangers in public, to social media, where they have formed large communities.
But even to the casual, mainstream, vanilla Christian, certain events in 2020 are beginning to look suspiciously ominous. In January, wildfires in Australia, the sixth largest country, are estimated to have killed one billion animals, while from February, the ongoing locust invasion in Africa and Asia has been described as “unprecedented”.
In March, the coronavirus, which had at first seemed to be an isolated local Chinese issue, morphed into a global disaster that has disrupted even the most everyday of activities such as simply getting out of one’s home.
End is nighers have their critics, the generally mainstream Christian folk who believe evangelism should focus on the Gospel or good news, rather than the “turn or burn” message preached by the apocalypse section. Christians, the mainstream says, should spend more time sharing the wondrous news of Christ’s salvation and the pursuit of Christlikeness, rather than trying to figure out when He is returning and trying to scare everyone into believing.
However, even the worst critics of the end of nighers had to do a double take recently, when the word “wormwood” emerged in the coronavirus debate. Madagascar is pushing a treatment for the pandemic which it says it has extracted from a type of bitter wormwood found all over the island. At least ten African states have signed up to receive Madagascar’s wormwood, and the World Health Organisation this week said it would partner with the entire continent for local solutions. The mention of wormwood, of course, triggers thoughts of Revelations 8, the ultimate apocalyptic book, and the Third Angel.
“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter..” (King James Version)
On Twitter, end is nighers commented that the best studies believe COVID-19 originated in the sea market of Wuhan in China and connected this to the star falling “into the rivers and fountains of waters”
Wildfires, locusts, ‘strange stars’, wormwood, all in the space of four months and it is clear why the South Africans quoted by the Daily Sun were as anxious as they were.
When confronted by the terrifying unknown, as mentioned before, humans reach for their unique coping mechanisms or ways to understand what is going on. Scientists dive into their data and their proofs, traditionalists consult the ancestors and Christians bow the knee and pray.
Locked in our homes, like the blind men who came across the elephant, we all have different perspectives of why this is happening, what it means and how to tackle what is coming next.
For Christians, the string of events in 2020 is quickly becoming unmistakeably apocalyptic but even for the unbeliever, it is clear that whatever happens, this year has changed us forever.
Whether we admit it or not, we are no longer the people we were on New Year’s Eve 2019. When this is over, whenever that will be, we will open our doors and confront a new normal, new patterns of comfort and seek new mundaneness in the everyday.