by John Ellis
Operation Desert Shield and I share a birthday. On August 2, 1990 I celebrated my 15th birthday. That same day, Saddam Hussein sent the Iraqi Army into Kuwait. The invasion and occupation of an American ally prompted President Bush (I) and his military advisors to commence operations that would result in Operation Desert Storm. Living in a military town (Pensacola, FL) meant that the events over the next few months loomed large over many of the people around me, understandably so. However, the ways in which many of the adults reacted to Desert Shield and Storm were used by Satan-Serpent to solidify my unbelief in God.
By 1990, I had stopped thinking and wondering about God and the Bible, by and large. Unlike my earlier childhood, I no longer lay awake at night wondering how my parents could know that God existed. Thoughts about the problem of evil in light of a supposed good God rarely occupied my thoughts. I had stopped listening in Sunday school and church in the hopes that something, anything, would make sense to me. Instead, I had found an equilibrium that enabled me to do what I wanted with minimal hassle. By virtue of being a preacher’s kid, Christianity was the dominating force in my life, to be sure, but it rarely reached me internally by the time the summer of 1990 had heated up.
Like the communal energy that accompanies an impending hurricane in Florida, the communal energy that accompanied the threat of war during the summer, fall, and winter of 1990 and into the first few weeks of 1991 before Desert Strom began was exhilarating. As a young teenager, the horrors of war and potential loss of life failed to resonate in my heart. My imagination had been shaped by patriotic, rah-rah-rah movies like Top Gun, Red Dawn, and Iron Eagle. As a 15-year-old who had grown up during the Regan era, war meant glory, adventure, and honor.
Stories shape our worldview. Something that is often passed over by parents while deciding appropriate entertainment options for their children. Most often, objectionable elements like sexuality, gratuitous violence, and profanity are the focus. The absence of those things earn the movie or TV show the stamp of approval. Little to no thought is given to how the actual story presents the world. Yet, possessing the potential for far more damage than the presence of objectionable elements, and repeating myself, stories possess the great potential to shape our worldview.
Ironically, and sadly, the story unfolding in front of me through the words and actions of the adults at my church and Christian school during those months shaped my worldview, too.
The church my dad pastored and the Christian school where my mom taught were decidedly and emphatically Pre-Tribulation in their eschatology. In fact, it wasn’t until my freshman year at BJU that I realized that Christians believed anything other than a rapture followed by 7 years of tribulation terminating in Armageddon, the second advent, and a literal millennium. Words and concepts like the Bema seat, Antichrist, and Gog and Magog were part of my upbringing’s lexicon that were frequently used and expounded on by my dad, Sunday school teachers, and chapel speakers at my school. I was taught that the rapture was the event that would unite all living and dead Christians in heaven with Jesus. A glorious event, I was told.
However, during the period when Desert Shield/Storm and Hussain’s actions dominated the nightly news, most of the adults around me seemed to be gripped with fear and great concern when discussing how those events revealed that the rapture was right around the corner. Listening to conversations, I noticed that the voices of the adults at my church and school dripped with dread at the realization that the end times were quickly approaching. For me, it was a freeing wake-up call.
I concluded that most of the adults in my life didn’t actually believe what they said they believed. In my mind, if the rapture was true, Christians should welcome it. There was a major disconnect between the words I had heard my entire life and the reactions to the news that what had been preached was going to happen was about to happen. It appeared that Christians viewed the possibility of Jesus’ return with dread.
From that point on, my childhood doubts and questions seemed far less scary and important. In conclusion, I asked myself, if the people who are teaching me this stuff don’t actually believe it, why should I give it any thought?
God’s non-existence was no longer something to be worried about. Whether the Bible was true or not seemed totally irrelevant now. As a 15-year-old, I felt unburdened with any need to consider Christianity because it appeared that many of the authority figures in my life had serious reservations about it themselves.
Like my tact throughout most of my childhood and teen years, I didn’t express my thoughts and questions to anyone around me. Why should I? In my mind, I had all the information I needed. My previous doubts and questions along with the words and actions of my authority figures combined to reveal that I had been right all along, I believed. No reason to risk the potential hassle of being labeled a “problem child” when things were finally starting to make sense. Expressing myself wouldn’t change anything for the better, I concluded.
No doubt, those adults would be mortified if they knew that Satan-Serpent had used their words and actions to further solidify my doubt. Like many of us who are adults in 2019, they weren’t always cognizant about how the youth around them were being shaped (positively or negatively) by their own reactions and approach to current events.
Again, stories have the immense power to shape the worldviews of those watching and listening. Make no mistake, our life is a story that is unfolding in front of many watching eyes and listening ears. By God’s grace, we need to be careful that our responses to current events, hard times or good times, and life in general communicate glorious truths about God and not fears and doubts that Serpent-Satan can use to call into question the veracity of Christianity in the minds of those who are struggling with doubt.
Soli Deo Gloria
(This post is not intended to be taken as an indictment of a particular eschatological position. I know many brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to a Pre-Trib position who are eager for Christ’s return and communicate that through word and deed. Also, as a somewhat humorous aside, during my freshman year at BJU, I made the mistake of mentioning to my dad that I had met someone who was mid-trib. He spent the next hour+ going through Daniel’s 7 weeks with me on the phone. I had simply been trying to make conversation and did not anticipate a long sermon.)