Raiders of the Lost Ark did not launch the film career of Harrison Ford, but it did bring him his first top billing as an actor. His role as Indiana Jones, the eccentric archaeologist with a nose for adventure, built on his previous starring role in the Star Wars film series in which he played the swashbuckling interstellar smuggler Han Solo. A major difference between the two roles, however, is that Solo’s universe existed entirely in the mind of the Star Wars creator George Lucas, while the adventures of Indiana Jones had some basis in historical fact. Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example, followed Jones in his quest to find the Ark of the Covenant, the physical symbol of the Presence of the Lord God among the people of Israel. No doubt the Jewish heritage of director Steven Spielberg, writer Lawrence Kasdan, and Harrison Ford himself influenced the story line. They would have grown up learning about the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the construction of the Ark and the Tabernacle at Mount Sinai, and the loss of the Ark at some point in Israel’s ancient history. They would also have been keenly aware of the heinous crimes against the Jewish people committed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, and of Hitler’s alleged fascination with the occult and mystical knowledge. Those elements factored into the story of the Nazi attempt to recover the Ark from its long-hidden resting place in Egypt and use it as a supernatural enhancement of Hitler’s war machine.
As the movie unfolds, the audience sees Indiana Jones race from one adventure to another in his attempt to thwart the Nazi agents and their accomplice, the French archaeologist René Belloq (played by Paul Freeman). In the end, though, it is not Jones, but God Himself Who brings an end to this unholy use of His holy things. In the climactic scene, Belloq dons the clothing of Israel’s High Priest to preside over a ceremony of consecration for the Ark. As the ceremony proceeds, the Lord strikes down Belloq and the assembled Nazi soldiers in a graphic depiction of the judgment prophesied by Zechariah:
Now this will be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth. (Zechariah 14:12 NASB)
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an exciting story, although with an anticlimactic end as the lost Ark ends up locked away among thousands of crated artifacts in a United States Government warehouse. Yet even with the anticlimax, something very Jewish comes through in the larger message of the film: the sense of the holiness of Almighty God.
One of those cultural icons of the post-modern era is Gary Larson’s cartoon series, The Far Side. Larson retired the series in 1995 after only 15 years, but the cartoons remain very popular. Their irreverent, bizarre depictions of people and circumstances continue to amuse, but more importantly, cause people to think about things we consider “normal”. Such is the case of Larson’s cartoon, “God at His computer”. The picture shows the Almighty sitting at a computer, with an image on the screen of a hapless victim walking under a piano suspended by a rope. God’s finger hovers over the keyboard, about to press a button labelled “Smite”.
There is no question that this particular cartoon is irreverent. Some might call it blasphemous. But why is it that humor is the most common reaction to this cartoon? Is it because we have this innate tendency to laugh at the misfortunes of other people – perhaps glad that the misfortune is not our own? Probably; comics and sadists have played on that tendency for centuries, all too frequently with tragic results. What strikes the chord in this particular cartoon, though, is that Gary Larson points to God as the cause of misfortune. In this case he is merely highlighting something we would rather not admit: our perception that God really does cause evil in the world, regardless how we might try to avoid it. This perception is rooted much deeper than we may be aware. Why, for instance, do contracts and insurance policies make allowances relieving the contracting parties from responsibility in the case of “acts of God”? Something like a tornado, earthquake, or other natural disaster, is an unforeseen event that no one can predict or prepare for, and thus no one can be held responsible for its effects. No one, that is, except God, the self-proclaimed Creator and Almighty Power of the universe. God, therefore, gets the blame.
But why? How did this all get started? What established our tendency to think of the Creator as a capricious being ready to press the “Smite” button? And is it fair or right to blame God for misfortune? To find the answers we must travel far back in time, to the beginning of humanity’s existence. No doubt our earliest ancestors began blaming God for their problems soon after He expelled them from the Garden of Eden. However, what most likely caused us to think collectively about God in this way was His judgment on Egypt.
When Empires Die was originally published June 28-July 28, 2014, as a six-part series. The original six part format is accessible here.
I. THE ROAD TO SARAJEVO
The world took a giant step toward death on June 28, 1914. On that day a young atheist shot and killed a prominent Catholic and his wife in an obscure Southeast European city. Within five years, four world empires were dismembered and two new ones arose in their place. Within 40 years, three more global empires breathed their last as the new world system spawned in 1914 grew to maturity. Today, one hundred years later, that world system wheezes with its own death rattle, soon to expire in the process of giving birth to yet another global system which may be the last – and worst – of its kind.
As a historian, a political scientist, a soldier, and an intelligence professional, I cannot let the centennial of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination pass without pausing to remember what his life and death meant to the world. The circumstances that brought the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, to Sarajevo, Bosnia, are not difficult to explain, but to understand the significance of their deaths, both in their day and in ours, requires a detailed explanation. If that explanation seems too focused on Europe, the simple reason is that Europe in 1914 ruled the entire world. No nation outside Europe – neither ancient India, nor populous China, nor even the rising powers of America and Japan – was immune to events that shook the state system of the Continent. If we are to know why the world went to war in 1914, we must look at the major players of that state system. Only then can we begin to discern what happened to the world in the summer of 1914, and what is happening to the world now in the summer of 2014.
If this truly is the beginning of the end of this age, then we should expect wars and rumors of war to increase until the entire globe is consumed, just as it was in the Great War of 1914-1918, and again in the Second World War of 1939-1945. Depending on one’s perspective, the Tribulation either begins with or is immediately preceded by this period of escalating war. This is the time of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the rider of a White Horse going out to conquer, the rider on the Red Horse who takes peace from the earth, the rider on the Black Horse bringing famine, and the Pale Horse bearing Death and Hades. In short order these Horsemen bring an end to the lives of one fourth of the population of the planet. The Horsemen are followed by the revelation of multitudes of martyrs slain for their adherence to the Word of God who ask how long before the Lord will judge the world and avenge their blood. They are told to wait until the number of martyrs yet to die is complete. Then comes a great earthquake and many signs in the heavens, followed by the selection of the special servants of God (12,000 from each tribe of Israel, 144,000 total) and the deliverance of multitudes from the Great Tribulation. After that comes silence in heaven for a short time, and then the judgment of God begins in earnest.
In truth God has placed the choice of life or death in front of every person from the beginning of time. Consider what He said to our ancestors. In the Garden of Eden there was the stark choice between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which brought death (Genesis 2:8-16). When the Lord spoke through Moses to explain His standards of righteousness to our fathers and mothers on the edge of the Promised Land, He said,
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NKJV, emphasis added)