Planetary astronomy is a long-running interest of mine, and with family living along the August 21 solar eclipse “path of totality” I have a good opportunity to see it first-hand. Later this month I will travel to Wyoming in order to view the event.
The eclipse will be the first since 1918 to cross the entire continental United States, providing a cosmic show along a narrow band from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. While partial solar eclipses are more common, not since the February 1979 eclipse has a total eclipse been visible from the mainland United States.
With significant awareness of – and public interest in – the astronomical phenomenon, I wondered why John Hagee (of Four Blood Moons fame) or another prominent dispensationalist hadn’t seized upon the solar eclipse with an apocalyptic warning.
Ask and you shall receive. Evangelist Anne Graham Lotz has a warning to share:
“In light of Ezekiel 33:1-6 that commands a watchman to be faithful to warn others of the danger coming against the land, I feel compelled to issue the warning once again. The warning is triggered by the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, nicknamed America’s Eclipse. For the first time in almost 100 years, a total solar eclipse will be seen from coast to coast in our nation. People are preparing to mark this significant event with viewing parties at exclusive prime sites. The celebratory nature regarding the eclipse brings to my mind the Babylonian King Belshazzar who threw a drunken feast the night the Medes and Persians crept under the city gate. While Belshazzar and his friends partied, they were oblivious to the impending danger. Belshazzar wound up dead the next day, and the Babylonian empire was destroyed.
Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations. Therefore, my perspective on the upcoming phenomenon is not celebratory. While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.”
I’m not going to immediately dismiss Lotz here. She neither falls into the trap of making a specific assertion about current political events, nor does she claim secret knowledge about what God is potentially signaling. Jesus Christ does make a specific astronomical claim in prophesying his second coming in Matthew Chapter 24 verse 29:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
A total solar eclipse can cause us to pause and reflect: massive forces beyond our control are suddenly made obvious. In the path of totality, temperatures will drop about 10 degrees during the eclipse, and birds will even go silent, momentarily mistaking the eclipse for nightfall. How big the Universe is, and how small we are!
Nonetheless, I’m concerned that Lotz is engaging in eisegesis — introducing one’s own presuppositions or biases into the text. In her writings, Lotz is predisposed to focus on eschatology. As the old saying goes, it you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
There is also some odd America-centric concern on display here. God’s concern is for the entirety of mankind, not only for the United States. So why does an eclipse over the United States matter more than, for example, the 2009 solar eclipse over China?
Signs prophesied in the Bible are miraculous, not natural phenomena that can be predicted. Scripture also frequently warns against the reading of omens, which is worth keeping in mind.
I appreciate Lotz’s segue into God’s eternal promises at the conclusion of her recent column, which have a timeless appeal:
“Please be assured that balancing God’s warning is His plea for us to return to Him and rend our hearts in sincere, heartfelt repentance. I can almost hear the tears in Joel’s voice as he pleads for us to repent and return to God, because ‘Who knows? He may return and have pity and leave behind a blessing.’ (Joel 2:13-14)
Regardless of whether or not the conjecture regarding America’s Eclipse is accurate, we know our nation and our world is in turmoil. Without doubt this is the time for God’s people to get right with God. To repent of our own sin. To share the Gospel with our neighbors. And to pray that in the midst of His coming wrath, God would remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).”
Perhaps these warnings are appropriate, as God is always calling us towards true repentance. But while God has sometimes spoken through astronomical signs, he more often chooses to communicate through prophets, the scriptures, and, in these last days, his Son. There are indeed troubling signs in our culture and the world, but, contra Lotz, we can celebrate the beauty of creation seen in the eclipse and receive it with gratitude.