Great Tribulation? or Great Tribu-LATER?
By John B
I have no idea how many people read The Painful Truth, but I do know that not all readers (or contributors) are atheists or agnostics. Many still believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. And that's cool, because what works for me may not work for you. One size does NOT fit all. I personally walked a winding path of discovery upon leaving the WW and did not come to any final conclusions for almost three years.
In other words, everyone is at a different waypoint in the journey, and at the end of the trail different people may arrive at different destinations.
But if you visit this site and read these articles, there is a good chance that you have concluded by now that something was badly wrong with the doctrines of Herbert Armstrong. Even those of you who may still be flaming Worldwiders are probably aware of this, else the Tkach dynasty would not have gone about throwing out so much doctrine.
For those who still believe, even slightly, there can be much confusion. Uncertainty. Fear. My exit from WW was based upon the simultaneous discovery of two things: extreme corruption in the top echelons of the church and the fact that the sole purpose for the existence of the organization was to make money. It quickly became clear to me that the God I thought I knew would never be a part of such a dishonest enterprise, so I got the hell out of Dodge in record time.
But directly in my path was a lot of turbulence: If this isn't the True Church, then which one is? What about all that prophecy? No one else is teaching it, and someone has to! It's too important to ignore. These are the End Times, aren't they? Jesus has to return soon, doesn't he? What about the Great Tribulation? It still hasn't happened yet.
My head was in a swirl day after day. It was a lot to sort out, even with regular Bible reading (I studied the Bible ten times harder after I quit than before). So many questions. So much indoctrination. Forty years of programming to unravel. So many questions, and nobody had any answers. I talked to "Sunday Christians" and exWorldwiders, and I read books, and I still didn't know very much. What I did know was that Herbert Armstrong was a crook and that many (if not most) of those working for him were either also crooks or, at the very least, knew he was a crook and didn't care.
Over weeks and months and years, my fear gradually diminished. I still believed in God, in Jesus, in the Bible. But I slowly came to realize that nobody really knew what the truth of the Bible was, and from there I deduced that God did not, could not really care that much how much we understood. If it were that important, he would have made it plain. Because if there was only one acceptable point of view -and that point of view was necessary for salvation -then not more than a dozen people would ever be saved (just those lucky bastards who happened, by pure chance, to get it right).
In 1994 I was working for a client where several Christians were employed. One in particular, a Mennonite, was extremely devout, and was not averse to talking about religion and the Bible in the office. One afternoon I heard him expound on the "last days", explaining how the decline of society would culminate in the Great Tribulation, and then the Millennium would begin. At that moment I remembered that we were not the only ones who believed such an event was coming. Mennonites believed, and so did a lot of Born-Againers (who thought they would be raptured away before it started, and were therefore not afraid of it).
But something else happened while I was working with that Mennonite (who, by the way, is a great guy and was a good friend): I started asking him questions about the Bible. I was still confused, still looking for answers, still trying to figure things out. He gave it his best shot, answering what he could, but his replies were mostly stock - orthodox stuff that I had heard before and could not accept. Then I got into some hard questions, stuff that was part of WW doctrine - and he crashed and burned. His reply was, "On some subjects the Bible is silent. That's where faith comes in."
When he said that, like the sun breaking through a heavy overcast, I had a flash of revelation. "Faith," I realized all at once, "is what you have when you want to believe something but can't prove it!"
God! What an insight!
And from that day forward, the thrust of my quest was no longer which doctrine is right, but is the Bible the word of God?
I won't bore you with the details of that particular investigation; but during that time all my fear vanished. There was no longer anything to be afraid of. No concern about whether to keep the Sabbath, whether to attend church, and no concern about the coming Great Tribulation. Because it became very clear to me that there is not going to be a Tribulation.
I had lived in fear (terror, actually) of the Great Tribulation since the early 1950s. Before joining the Radio Church of God (as it was then called), my mother, who was already heavily into Armstrong theology, also studied for a couple of years with the Seventh-Day Adventists. We attended their church. They came to our house. One elderly gentleman who visited often brought slides with him, and as he conducted the Bible study in our home, he showed us these slides. Color pictures of the Beast as described in Revelation and by Daniel. Terrifying images to a six year-old! Ugly things that looked like a cross between a lion, a bear, a dinosaur, and I don't know what else. Multiple heads, iron teeth, scaly wings.
I had nightmares.
After Mom joined the Armstrong cult, it only got worse. As I proceeded through high school, the Tribulation teachings came faster and faster, and now they attached a date to it: January 7, 1972. (If anyone ever tells you they didn't set dates, tell him he is a FUCKING LIAR! I was there, and they DID set dates!)
My entire life up to 1972 was filled with a background of dread. You don't think about it every minute, but like someone who knows they are dying of cancer, it is always there. Never goes away. And you can never completely relax, you can never be happy. You just can't.
When it didn't happen in 1972 I should have known it was a crock. But I didn't. Because I had been brainwashed from age 4 to believe that HWA was God's man on the spot. I believed it with my whole heart. This was God's church, the True Church, the only Christian church. So when it didn't happen, it was even more frightening, because now it was overdue! It could happen at any moment.
It was this fear that brought me back into WW after a brief stint of rebellion, the fear that my children (I was now a father) would have to go through this horror. I was so beaten down that I figured I deserved it, but not my babies. They had never sinned; they were innocent.
Can you imagine, then, the relief I felt when I realized it was all a crock of caca? Not just the phony dates set by Herman Ho' and his ho's, but the Tribulation prophecy itself. The fact that the very biblical account of the coming tribulation is a hoax.
How do I know this?
First of all, the Bible itself is a hoax. Not in its entirety, because there apparently really was a nation of Israel, a Solomon, a David, perhaps even a Moses. Many of the histories of those people and those times may be somewhat accurate (if one accepts Josephus as a valid historian, he supports much of the biblical account). But if one-third of the Bible is history, one-third is prophecy, and one-third is doctrine, I would have to conclude that the Bible is only one-third truth (or perhaps a few percentage points less than one-third) - the historical third.
(You don't have to take my word for it. Many of you won't, anyway. But if you have an open mind (I mean, a really open mind, not the WCG version), and you aren't afraid to investigate for yourself, you can find out that the Bible is riddled with demonstrable inaccuracies that you can see for yourself. You don't need a Ph.D. You don't even need a diploma. If you can read, and if you can think, you can see it yourself. Just read a few of the books listed elsewhere on this website.)
Having proved that the Bible is NOT the Word of God, it was no great stretch of logic to deduce that there is not going to be any Great Tribulation.
But let's take a step to one side. Let's assume (as I know will be the case) that some of you reading this will never accept my conclusion that the Bible is a hoax. Some of you will never read those books proving the Bible to be inaccurate. Some of you will read a little here and there but will not allow yourselves to be convinced. Then what?
To you, I offer historical evidence and plain logic.
Over the last 2000 years, many people have believed they lived in the "last days". Certainly throughout the 20th Century, Christians believed this, often with good reason. But it didn't start with the 20th Century.
The Apostle Paul believed he was living in the last days. He went so far as to write that "we shall not all die", but some would be "changed" at the second coming (of course Paul knew nothing about the Tribulation, John having not yet written the book). Many early Christians believed they lived in the last days due to their persecution by Rome. Many Roman Christians later believed the same thing when the Goths and Vandals sacked Rome and destroyed the empire. And it continued on through the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and down to our time.
The History Channel, during 1999 and 2000, ran a fascinating 90-second series called Timelab 2000, which featured historical vignettes from the past 2000 years. One of these vignettes dealt with the end of the First Millennium. On December 31, 999, people clustered in the cathedrals of Europe, terrified that the end of the world was upon them. Shaking in their boots, they waited for the end - whatever that meant to them - but midnight came and went, 999 rolled over to 1000, the sun came up, nothing happened. A thousand years later, essentially the same thing happened again, only this time it was the terrible "Y2K plague", which Christian ministers around the world declared would bring destruction upon humanity.
For 2000 years people have both predicted and expected a global cataclysm. Many of these thought it would be the Great Tribulation, and from the descriptions offered in the book of Revelation, they had good enough reason. After all, what does Revelation describe? War. Famine. Lawlessness. Earthquakes. "Signs and wonders".
Tell me which period in history has been without these "sure signs" of the end? War has always been with us (and always will be). Famines come and go, but so far we've been unable to eliminate them. Lawlessness rises and wanes, and every generation is certain that the next, younger generation is the "worst in history", or is "going to hell in a handbasket". Earthquakes happen all the time. We're more aware of them today because of global communications and a tremendous public interest in seismology, but it's nothing new. Signs and wonders? How about meteorites, comets, eclipses, the Northern Lights - they all qualify. Anything new about these? Hardly.
So basically, like Nostradamus, the events offered by Revelation are so vague and so common that anyone can claim they are living in the "last days".
Yet there have been times when one could really almost believe it. Anyone living in Europe during the Black Death could have made a pretty damned good case that this was the end of the world. Same thing in Africa today, with the AIDS epidemic scything down the population. The Spanish Inquisition would have made one think those were the last days (certainly things could hardly have been much worse, eh?). Or the widespread witch-hunts that saw thousands of women put to death in the most horrible fashion, to the point that some towns in Germany were left with no women at all. Pretty goddamn tribulating, don't you think?
There are many other times in history when people might have thought they were living in the "last days" (certainly they were suffering a tribulation):
The American South in the Civil War, when blue-coated armies marched through Georgia and torched everything in sight.
Anyone who was alive during World War I.
The Armenians in 1916, when the Turkish armies slaughtered 1.6 million of them.
The Jews in Europe in the 1940s - same song, second verse.
China in the 1930s, under siege by the Japanese.
Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, and two dozen other Japanese cities in 1945, when American B-29 bombers swept in at night and released incendiary bombs, setting those cities (mostly wood and paper) ablaze and incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The people in Hamburg and Dresden, when British and American Bombers did much the same thing.
Anyone who was alive during World War II.
Europe in the 1910s.
Germany in the 1920s.
America in the 1930s.
The entire planet in the 1940s.
Korea in the 1950s.
Vietnam in the 1960s.
Bangladesh in the 1970s.
Cambodia in the 1980s.
Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Anyone who ever experienced any of the Acts of God described elsewhere on this site.
The religious have often set dates for either the return of Christ or the Tribulation. The Millerites in 1846 stood on a hilltop on the designated date of the Second Coming. It didn't happen. They came back a year later. Still didn't happen.
Jehovah's Witnesses set 1914 as the beginning of the Tribulation (and World War I started that year - damn, looked like they were right! They still believe they were.)
Herbert Armstrong and Herman Hoeh set 1975 as the date of the Second Coming and 1972 as the beginning of the Tribulation. Didn't happen.
It seemed like the end in 1979 when the State of California "invaded" the offices of Ambassador College. It wasn't.
The list goes on.
You see my point? Every tribulation is personal, and the individual living through it is apt to believe things "can't get any worse". And many tribulations are widespread, even global - but none of them qualifies as the Great Tribulation. None of them ever will. Because tribulation is as natural as rainfall. Tribulations can be caused by nature or by man, but they are still natural, even cyclical. They have always occurred, they will always occur, but none of them will ever be as described in Revelation.
Let's face it, folks: the Apostle John was an old man. He had been exiled to a barren island in the Aegean sea (picture Robinson Crusoe or Tom Hanks), and was very likely senile. Maybe the sun got to him, or maybe he ate something hallucinogenic. Or maybe he was really pissed at being exiled and said to himself, "I'll teach those bastards!" So he penned something that was so outrageous he assured himself a place in history. People would never forget the name of the author of anything this diabolical. He had read Daniel, had probably read Matthew 24, and he fashioned a tale based on both that paled them by comparison.
He might have even believed it.
I really can't say any more. You are either convinced or not. Doesn't matter to me, but you'll be a lot happier if you lose your expectation of the Great Tribulation. Because it ain't gonna happen. A lot of people have gotten themselves ready for the Great Tribulation, but it always turned out to be Tribu-Later.
Give it up. Get on with your life.
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