Try to name all of the changes that the atom bomb and technology brought to our world in the middle of the last century. It certainly changed warfare; even populations far from any battle could be held hostage to annihilation. It changed politics and diplomacy; nuclear capable countries became overnight “superpowers.” It changed science; nothing since Newton’s laws of gravity or Copernicus’ heliocentrism has so profoundly effected our views of the universe. In reality, it’s hard to find some aspect of our lives that hasn’t changed in one way or another due to the advent of the atomic age.
In fact, as unlikely as it may seem to the average Christian - including Mormons - the atom bomb even changed our view of the scriptures and prophecy. Today’s believers, in general, have a radically different view of scriptural prophecy than their predecessors, thanks largely to the advent of the atomic age.
Historically, prophesied destructions of the last days such as those uttered by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, John in his Revelation and even Jesus himself were viewed as the acts of an all-powerful God. The pronounced tumult and cataclysm in the heavens and on the earth, the apocalypse predicted to occur prior to the Savior’s second coming, were seen by Christians in centuries past as the forces of nature responding to the commands of their creator.
All that changed the day the first A-bomb was detonated in July 1945. "A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent,” recalled J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the A-bomb, who witnessed the first such detonation in the New Mexico desert. The awe-inspiring power of that blast reminded Oppenheimer of a line from the Hindu sacred book, the Bhagavad-Gita: "I am become death: the destroyer of worlds."
He wasn’t the only one to see mankind in a new, world-destroying light. From that point on, Christians began to see the atom bomb as the embodiment of God’s prophesied wrath. From Herbert W. Armstrong’s "World Tomorrow" radio ministry of the 1950s to Hal Lindsay’s book and movie, "The Late, Great Planet Earth," Christian ministers began to interpret the fantastic imagery from prophecy as immensely powerful super-weapons, nuclear weapons being the cornerstone of their exegesis.
It’s easy to see why. The bomb’s mushroom cloud looked like the "pillars of fire and smoke" envisioned in prophecy, its shockwave became the "blast from heaven," the soot and ash from its fallout darkened the sky, as in prophecy, and the long, deafening roar and rumble it produced became the "sound of many waters." Given its remarkable similarity to apocalyptic "fire and brimstone," and the effects of nuclear radiation exposure from fallout to the "sores, boils and blights" of prophecy, the A-bomb was seen as the tailor-made fulfillment of prophecy.
What’s more, the 20th century brought with it the development of extremely sophisticated machinery that completely replaced the crude weapons of yesteryear. Thanks to the development of airplanes, missiles and rockets, modern warfare expanded into an entirely new realm: the skies above us. Technology brought us jet airplanes and missiles that "roar upon the tops of the mountains," tanks and aircraft with a "sting like scorpions tails," and a multitude of other high-tech weapons such as missiles and lasers whose effects seem similar to the extravagant imagery of the prophetic apocalypse.
Then, the space age took man and his technologically advanced weapons into the very heavens themselves. Once the sole venue of God’s prophesied vengeance, the heavens were now mankind’s domain as well. Man could now wield god-like power both on earth and in the heavens.
All these developments brought about a revolutionary reversal in biblical interpretation. These astounding technological advances and super-weapons had a profound effect on the thinking of the Christian clergy as they read and interpreted prophecy. A whole new breed of millennialists appeared who saw the fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy in the technological advancements of mankind. Religionists now proclaim that man with his super-weapons, not God, will be Apollyon (Abaddon), the destroyer, as noted by John in his Revelation. Mankind now had the power to single-handedly fulfill all prophecy of the last days and bring about Armageddon all on his own.
In fine, God was no longer necessary to the fulfillment of prophecy. Mankind would now provide all the elements of the apocalypse: pillars of fire devastating vast expanses and destroying whole populations, a quaking earth ruptured by super-powerful atomic bombs and the roaring of flying machines, ashen skies that turned the moon red and darkened the sun, death from virile plagues and toxic poisons unleashed on a hapless world populace, a "scorched earth" warfare that would leave a vast wasteland in the wake of advancing armies with super weapons.
God could sit on the sidelines, a celestial spectator, while we would bring about the end of the world. Deus ex machina; Deus ex homonum!
The problem is that this warped view of the apocalypse has been allowed to stand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly, the egotism and myopia of modern man has overtaken the proper view of prophecy.
Nearly every Christian now sees the fulfillment of prophecy in these same terms. But it is a badly flawed view that should be corrected. This kind of myopic, egoistic interpretation is easily demolished when we look to scriptural accounts as accurate, eyewitness reports of God’s dealings with his children.
For example, no Christian in his or her right mind would suggest that the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was really an atomic bomb. Early man had neither the technology nor the knowledge to produce such a weapon. It was destruction from God, not man.
And what about the fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice on Mt. Carmel or that destroyed the Assyrian army of Sennacherib as he laid siege to Jerusalem in the days of Isaiah? Ancient man could not have done that, but God could.
Was the Exodus’ pillar of fire and smoke, bloody water, darkness, earthquakes or plagues due to some super weapon? Was this man’s or God’s doing?
Were these not the forces of nature obeying the command of their creator? Why, then, do we allow descriptions of similar calamities to come in the last days to suggest the cause is other than God-sent?
The crux of this argument is the strikingly similar language used in the scriptures to describe both ancient catastrophes and those prophesied for the future. This logic is a vital key, axiomatic to understanding the Bible and the fulfillment of prophecy that every Christian should internalize: The calamities of the last days, prior to the Second Coming, will see a return of all the catastrophic types of destruction from the past, enumerated in the scripture. As a test, compare the "miracles" of Exodus and Revelation for yourself.
Otherwise, why would God use the irresistible forces of nature to do his bidding in the past and not in the future, leaving that to the hand of man instead? Isn’t it logical to assume that the striking similarities between ancient destructions and those prophesied for our future are an indication that they will be of the same nature, kind and source?
While it is true that "there will be wars and rumors of wars," fought by man, the true agents of destruction will be the forces of nature, "... shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the power of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven …"
We have fallen prey to delusions where the interpretation of prophecy is concerned because we failed to heed the teachings of the Bible. Perhaps it is time we returned to the proper perspective, rather than the distorted view induced by our myopic, egocentric, modern perceptions. Perhaps it is time we took man, his puny and fragile devices out of the equation — puny when compared to the forces of nature at God’s command — by recognizing that God alone will fulfill the promises made by the mouths of his holy prophets.
Perhaps this should also remind us of just how widespread, devastating and earthshaking the apocalypse of the last days will be — far greater by many orders of magnitude than any man-made calamity — when it does come upon us.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2002