Friday, August 23, 2019

The Makings of the Mark

Ok, so I’ve got one today that is going to be a bit on the weird side. I’m going to ask you to bear with me here. There were a couple of odd pieces of financial news in the past few months that were not really related, but between which I saw a loose connection. The first was the announcement of an effort to force Mastercard to ban right-wing groups from receiving payments through the credit giant. The second was the announcement that Facebook would be looking to develop a digital currency called “Libra

Strange Developments

I have a problem with each of these things on their own. Fortunately, shareholders at Mastercard voted down the attempt to silence people at their June 25, 2019 meeting. However, it is part of a dangerous trend. The group behind this push, SumOfUs, initially couched it in terms of wanting to financially hamstring white nationalist groups. Since people in those groups can and do act violently to achieve their goals, it is difficult to describe the problem here. The most I can say is that as distasteful as they are, if they stop short of calling for violence, then they are still protected by the First Amendment. The right to opinions is absolute and there is no right to freedom from offense. And rights have to apply to people with whom we disagree, or else they are not rights.

Of course, Mastercard is not the government. They are a private business and can do business with whomever they want. But the urge to silence anyone is troubling enough on its own. What makes it worse is how quickly the category was extended from white nationalists to “right-wing extremists.” This included groups that defend Christian marriage, legal organizations that defend religious rights, and watchdogs who monitor Muslim Jihadists. Benign conservative efforts were lumped in with racists in order to silence all dissent. And that is the point. Without the money of supporters, organizations are unable to stand up for their beliefs.

As for Facebook, I do not like the idea of a corporation setting up a currency. Currencies are backed by the stability of their nations. A cryptocurrency like Libra has nothing to guarantee it. A lot of people are going to get ripped off by investing in something thinking it is like the dollar, when it is actually more like Chuck E. Cheese tokens. 

I haven’t even gotten to the weird part yet, though. Let’s combine these two ideas. What are they basically? The concept that people should not be able to spend and make money without the approval of their “betters,” and the hope that there can be a single currency usable throughout the entire world. Then, let’s add a third element that is not exactly new news, but that is still a recent development. Technology is being developed to allow tracking and identifying chips to be subcutaneously inserted into people. It is commonly done with pets, but some companies are already doing it with their employees and it is being discussed as a way for parents to keep watch over their children

What would you get if you added them together? A unified economy without a currency of intrinsic value, in which all buyers and sellers could be tracked through their actual bodies and only approved people would be able to do business. It is an invasive, frightening concept.

Future Possibilities

You may ask, however, why is this showing up on a website that teaches about the Bible? Or, your skin might be crawling because you know the Bible well enough to guess where I am headed. What I have in mind is Revelation 13:16–17, which says, 

It makes everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark: the beast’s name or the number of its name.

Ok, so yes, I’m talking about the mark of the beast. But let’s be clear about what I am NOT talking about. I am not saying this is right around the corner. I am not claiming to know exactly what form it will take. I am not attempting to predict the End Times, or calling Mark Zuckerberg the Antichrist. No one can either rush or forestall the return of Jesus. My goal is not to call this a sign of the times, or to fearmonger about them. It is actually just to illustrate a point for Christians.

A very common belief among Christians is that the things in Revelation are not to be taken seriously. Or at least, that they are not to be taken literally. They can sound so far-fetched that it is easier to believe they are nothing but allegories describing the past during Roman persecution, not predictions about the future. I don’t agree with that assessment, but I will be honest to say I really don’t know. They could be right. The only thing that ultimately matters is that Jesus is coming back, and Revelation is not the only place in Scripture that says so (cf. Luke 12:40; 1 Thess. 4:13–18; James 5:8). 

Still, I do personally believe that Revelation gives us insight into the shape of the future. And it is not as far fetched a one as people would like to think. The things I brought up today were just an example. I am not guaranteeing they will have anything to do with how the future will play out, only that it is now possible to see how something like the mark of the beast could come about. Less than 50 years ago, it would not have been something people could even really guess at. 

A related, and more obvious example, is how all the people of the world could watch the deaths of the enigmatic “witnesses” (Rev. 11:7–10). That would not have been possible a relatively short time ago. Now, in the age of satellite television, it is easy. 

Again, my point is not to suggest these things are just about to happen. It is to say we should not be quick to doubt God’s word simply because it is beyond our ability to see how it might be fulfilled. We do not have God’s view of things, so we should be humble about the future. As for the approach of the Parousia, our responsibility has not changed over the past 2000 years. When evil arises, we are not to focus on how it might work together. We are simply to face it as it comes. And we are to witness to the truths of Christ, encouraging people to turn to Him and living as though He is coming back tomorrow. Whether He does then or in another thousand years makes no difference. We just have to take Him at His word. Being able to see the possibilities should make it a little easier, though.

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