Bring the Light

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Right now, according to the Doomsday Clock, we’re just 100 seconds from Armageddon.   
A group of researchers established The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947 to help alert humanity to the perils of atomic age weaponry.  Very few people paid attention until 1949, when the group invented the metaphor of a clock ticking ominously toward the extinction of human civilization. 
Year by year the time on the clock is “set” by a panel of scientists who assess the world’s current threat levels of nuclear war, climate change, and other hints of the Apocalypse.
The original setting was 11:53 pm.  Since then the minute hand has been adjusted 24 times – backward eight times and forward (closer to the end of the world) 16 times. 
Until recently, the nearest the clock had been to midnight was 1953.  That year the hands were moved to 11:58 pm because both the Americans and the Soviets had begun testing the hydrogen bomb – and also possibly because that was the year I was born.
That mark was surpassed in January 2020, when the panel of scientists – concerned about the nuclear saber-rattling of America and North Korea – opted for 11:58:20 pm.  That’s where Doom Time has remained for the past two years. 
The Doomsday Clock has been generating a low-grade fever of overwhelming dread for 73 years now, leaving the rest of us feeling utterly helpless. 
But not everyone is shaking in their shoes.
In their book Clear and Present Safety, Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko make a case that the world has never been a safer place.  Since September 11, 2001, Americans have spent trillions of dollars fighting wars, patrolling the nation’s borders, and shoring up transportation security – even though the actual threat of a major terrorist incursion on our soil (from outsiders, at least) appears to be vanishingly small.  Global security remains the hottest of hot issues during election cycles, however, and no one running for office can afford to look soft on military preparedness. 
Cohen and Zenko agree that American lives really are at stake every day.  It’s just that most of us don’t take those threats very seriously.
As a society, we’re overweight.  We eat too many fried foods.  We smoke too much, exercise too little, drive too fast and too often after having a few drinks.  Incredibly, the number of privately owned firearms in our country exceeds the population. 
The Doomsday Clock, meanwhile, gets all the headlines.  It’s easy to forget that the “current time” is entirely subjective.  The artist who crafted the first image set the minute hand at seven minutes before midnight “because it looked good to my eye.”  Even though the clock has never been more optimistic than 17 minutes before midnight, here we are after more than seven decades – still plugging away day after day in the longest-ever period of human history without a major war.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week is stirring old fears of global conflict. 
What are we supposed to do with such anxiety? 
Perhaps we can recall an event at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia early in the 1770s, when delegates from the various American colonies were debating whether to take the risk of declaring their independence from Great Britain.
As the discussion intensified, a violent thunderstorm closed in on the city.  The meeting hall became so dark that some wondered aloud if the end of the world might be approaching.  That’s when Ben Franklin, ever the pragmatist, proposed that candles be brought into the room so the work might continue.  That broke the spell.
Is there a civilization-terminating event in our near future?  We can truthfully say that is God’s department. 
Only a few of us are specifically called to the high drama of making decisions and taking actions that by God’s grace will steer humanity away from future catastrophes.
What can the rest of us do? 
We’re all called to pray.  And all of us are called to “bring the candles” to every conversation, every meeting, and every event on today’s calendar, no matter how dark things may seem.
Only God knows what time of day it really is. 
In the meantime, we ourselves can be the light everywhere we go