Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 8: Imminent and Inevitable

(This is the 8th installment of a series of blog entries. Be sure to start with Part 1)

In 1970, Merle Haggard and the Strangers hit the #3 spot on the US and Canadian Country Music Pop Charts with their rendition of Merle’s recent composition “Jesus Take a Hold.”

The copyright holder of that recording has yanked the copy of it off Youtube, so I can’t link to a version of the original as I heard it done by Merle on the radio back in 1970. But here is a decent “cover” by a singer named Daryl Petree. Daryl does a pretty good Merle imitation. (Warning: there is a very graphic representation of the crucifixion at the end of this clip.)

Jesus Take a Hold and See Us Through

Here are the lyrics:

Like the ancient Roman Empire this world is doomed to fall
And it’s much too big a thing for mortal man
Just take a look around and see the writing on the wall
Somehow we’ve got to find a helping hand

This world has never been in the awful shape it’s in
And people scorn the things our leaders do
It’s time a prayer was spoken from the hearts of every man

Jesus take a hold and lead us through

The mighty roar of gunfire is now a local sound
And our city streets are filled with angry men
Law’s now a mockery throughout our troubled land
And destruction seems to be the current trend

This world has never been in the awful shape it’s in
And our leaders seem in doubt what to do
It’s time a prayer was spoken from the hearts of every man
Jesus take a hold and lead us through
Jesus take a hold and lead us through

I don’t know how many Merle Haggard fans at the time bothered to wonder just what had prompted Merle to write this lament, but I sure did. The line “Like the ancient Roman Empire, this world is doomed to fall” was eerily familiar to me at that time. As mentioned in the last Panic Button blog entry, in 1965 I had been introduced to the literature and broadcasts of the Radio Church of God—RCG (name changed in 1967 to the Worldwide Church of God—WCG) by my new husband, George. For the first two decades of the organization, founder Herbert Armstrong had made all The World Tomorrow (WT) radio broadcasts, and written much of the basic doctrinal literature distributed by the RCG. His son Garner Ted Armstrong became active in the ministry by the mid-1950s, and by the late 1960s he had replaced his dad as “the voice” of the radio broadcast (and later, TV broadcasts). He also specialized in writing bombastic articles about US and world conditions “in the light of Bible prophecy” for the organization’s The Plain Truth (PT) magazine.

George and I became members of the WCG in 1968 and were deeply involved in supporting the publishing and broadcasting of the WCG’s version of The Gospel …a version that relied heavily on instilling paranoia in readers and listeners about how close we were to the tumultuous events that would lead up to the end of man’s rule on Earth, the Second Coming of Christ, and the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom of God under the rulership of Jesus.

In late 1969 the PT featured a series of articles by Garner Ted called “The Modern Romans,” in which he drew strong parallels between the factors that caused the “fall” of Ancient Rome as described by historians, and aspects of contemporary American (and, secondarily, British) society. His conclusion was that the US and Britain were “doomed to fall”…to totally lose their positions as world powers… just like Rome. And in a very short time.

This theme was repeated for a series of installments of the WT program during the same general period. I later found out that Merle Haggard was a big fan of The World Tomorrow back at that time. I now have little doubt that he was prompted to write “Jesus Take a Hold” as a result of listening to some of the programs related to the “Modern Romans” series. The Wiki profile of Garner Ted after his death in 2003 included the following:

Upon Armstrong’s death, country music artist Merle Haggard related that “after Johnny [Cash] died, I lost a real close friend in Garner Ted Armstrong. He was like a professor to me. What education I have, I owe to him.”

(Haggard never did become directly involved with the WCG, and although obviously fascinated by Garner Ted’s “teaching” about world events on the WT broadcast, there is no evidence he pursued any serious study of any of the basic doctrinal beliefs of the organization, such as observance of the weekly Sabbath. This seems to have been true of a vast proportion of the regular listeners to the WT program and readers of the PT magazine… millions of people literally did read and listen regularly in the heyday of the organization in the 1960s and 70s, but the interest seems to have been primarily in the commentary on current events they found in the material.)

Yes, Garner Ted Armstrong, his father Herbert Armstrong, and all their associates who helped put out the broadcast and the magazine insisted America was “doomed to fall” in a very short time. And this would only be a prelude to the whole world tumbling into chaos shortly after that. All this was IMMINENT (approaching swiftly on the horizon, about to occur very, very soon) and INEVITABLE.

And they were quite successful in spreading their view to the world. As I note on my Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion website in the profile of the WCG, in 1969:

The Plain Truth passed the 2,000,000 mark in monthly circulation. [It had been c.50,000 in 1951.]

The daily half-hour World Tomorrow radio program was on 42 major regional U.S. radio stations heard over wide areas of the country (including such 50,000 watt stations as WRVA Richmond, WCKY Cincinnati, KXEL Waterloo, and WOAI San Antonio )

The program was also heard on 182 local US radio stations…42 Canadian radio stations, including four in the French language and two in Italian …4 European radio stations, including MANX radio in English and three Spanish language stations; on stations in Okinawa and Guam, on 21 stations in the Caribbean and Latin America including 17 in English and 4 in French

The weekly half-hour World Tomorrow TV program was broadcast in full color on 17 US and 21 Canadian TV stations.

In other words, in America [and a significant part of the rest of the world] you could twirl your radio dial at night any night of the week, and during any half-hour period from about 7 PM to midnight, you could hear the voice of World Tomorrow presenter Garner Ted Armstrong somewhere on the dial.

Although Herbert Armstrong had, in the 1930s and 40s,  pinpointed earlier dates for The End, by the mid-1950s he and his associates had settled very firmly on 1975 for the Return of Christ, and no later than 1972 for the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Since a number of Bible prophecies had to be fulfilled that would “lead up to” the events of 1972, there was a lot of “today’s world news” that had to be fashioned to fit the prophetic scenarios very quickly!

Commentary on social upheaval, moral and economic decline, disintegration of the family, and other “fall of Rome” factors featured frequently in Armstrong’s programs and publications. But these were just the tip of the iceberg.

From the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, it was quite common for the average American to have anxiety about the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. As was seen in the last Panic Button blog entry, The Plain Truth magazine (and its companion The World Tomorrow program) definitely chose to play upon… and exacerbate…those fears. Illustrations in that blog entry made it obvious that the BAD MAD art of Basil Wolverton appearing in the PT certainly facilitated those goals. Such as this 1954 illustration, with its accompanying caption:

The only warning of the hydrogen and cobalt bombs [cobalt bombs were never made—they were theoretical when this article appeared in 1954, and have remained that way to this day] will be a blinding flash. Buildings, cars, people—everything—will be abruptly vaporized. Atomic warfare will climax the present round of wars and rumors of wars (Rev. 6:3-4) and suddenly bring about the prophesied “Great Tribulation.”

The idea was to bombard readers and listeners with a huge pile of “facts” that made it clear that such war was absolutely IMMINENT and INEVITABLE…and before 1975.

A booklet titled Are We Living in the Last Days? published in 1971 put it this way:

“There have ALWAYS BEEN false prophets, wars and rumors of war, famines, pestilences and earthquakes…” some will claim. “It’s nothing new.” How can you KNOW whether this really IS the end-time generation? Can you PROVE it?

…YOU ARE living in the time of the end. But people have said that for centuries, haven’t they?

Yes, they have.

And, surprisingly, we say it again today.

But, how do we justify telling you we are living in the end time when people have been saying the same thing for centuries?

The answer, by the end of the reasoning offered by the booklet, was that man for the first time in history had the ability to destroy the planet with nuclear war. The assumption was then jumped to that the generation existing when this becomes possible must, ipso facto, be The Last Generation.

At the end of the booklet the following was added:

Is this just the wild-eyed ranting of another “sect”? Or is this the message of the WORK OF THE LIVING GOD? You can prove it. Your eternity could depend on it! Your immediate future will surely depend on it.

This is the End Time! Yes.

At this point, it was hoped that the reader would be ready to want to “prove” that the WCG was doing the “work of the Living God.” The reader could find that proof by sending for the booklet advertised at the end:

This is the Worldwide Church of God. This is the true story of a unique Church that has found the solution for the world’s ills, and puts it into a living application that is producing a harvest of peace, happiness and abundant well-being worldwide.

Yes, the inevitability of an imminent nuclear war coming soon was often used as the “club” to elicit a response of paranoia from PT readers.

But just in case that wasn’t enough, Armstrong and the other PT magazine writers had a whole repertoire of alternative additional imminent inevitabilities.

Drought is coming!

Famine is coming!

Earthquakes are coming!

Volcanic eruptions are coming!

Disease epidemics are coming!  (1975 booklet)

The October 1954 edition of the PT featured the beginning of a series of articles on the Book of Revelation. This was the series, with the Basil Wolverton illustrations (including the nuclear explosion pic above), that was published in booklet form in 1959 as The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last. The first article was titled “CATASTROPHIC EVENTS soon to bring END OF THIS AGE!” It included Wolverton’s vivid imagery of starving people, shown below. Note that just the picture wasn’t considered enough. Whenever a horrific Wolverton illustration showed up in a publication, it was always accompanied by a caption that forced the reader to give close attention to all the gory visual details. Such as the caption below this one.

Look at these pathetic faces! Famines and epidemics, next to sweep the earth (Rev. 6:5-8), will grow rapidly worse following atomic warfare. Bombings will render vast areas incapable of food production. With no transportation systems, hordes of people will have little or nothing to eat. Even rats will be prize catches. Some wretched souls will turn to cannibalism!

If you look closely, you can indeed see someone on the left clubbing a rat. And if you use your imagination, you can strongly suspect that shifty-eyed, hunger-crazed fellow in the right front corner is eyeing the dying child in its mother’s arms right behind him as a possible meal.

Not terrified enough by the thought of famine? Then how about earthquakes … described in excruciating detail in a 1961 booklet, Truth About EARTHQUAKES:

There can be no more terrifying experience than a “killer-quake” striking suddenly—without warning—in the still of the night. Imagine awakening suddenly amid a bedlam of crashing glass and falling debris. The floor of YOUR home or apartment pitching and bucking like a ship in a wild storm. Wall and ceilings collapse, fractured water mains erupt in watery geysers in the streets, spewing gas from ruptured gas lines—ignited by a million pilot lights—spew fire into the tindered wreckage. Powerlines crash in a shower of lethal sparks upon crumbling homes and helpless panic-stricken people.

Imagine groping in the chaotic darkness and tangled wreckage for YOUR loved ones and family. When our seemingly solid world collapses around us the possessions and baubles for entertainment we have gathered around us, that have kept us too occupied to seek our God and serve Him, will seem unimportant and worthless.

…Our major news sources and current scientific journals tell us that earthquakes are increasing in frequency and magnitude. Earthquakes of a magnitude never before recorded on earth by man are now occurring—witness the devastation in 1960. These ARE signs of the times.

Once the booklet has you picturing the “helpless, panic-stricken people,” it ends with this clincher.

Sometime in the future, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps next week or next year, when a sudden eerie silence falls over YOUR town—YOUR city—and then from deep within the bowels of the earth comes an ominous rumbling and your familiar world begins to sway and teeter and dissolve in CHAOTIC DESTRUCTION, will you have God’s protection?

Yes, once the certainty was established in the audience’s minds that nuclear war, earthquakes, famines, or pestilences were just around the corner, sure to soon strike them and their loved ones, the finale to any given article in the PT would always include a pitch that there WAS a way of escape when the inevitable came.

That way of escape was for the reader to become a dedicated, loyal, zealous, TITHE-PAYING member of the Radio Church of God/Worldwide Church of God, and be miraculously whisked by God to a secluded “place of safety” on the Earth. Sending a tithe…ten percent of your income…regularly to support “the Work” of the organization was the “proof” that you were dedicated enough to be “accounted worthy” of God’s protection.

The period of time of the heyday of the publishing and broadcasting ministry of the Armstrongs, particularly the four decades from 1934 to 1974, coincided perfectly with the cultural angst of generations of Americans. The worldwide Great Depression coupled with the incredible drought that brought the Dust Bowl to the US certainly made The End seem both imminent and inevitable. Herbert Armstrong didn’t need to work very hard to make “today’s world news” at the time appear to match the prophetic sections of the Bible. Later, the horrors of World War 2 also provided all the prophetic fodder one could ask for!

When The End didn’t come by the end of the War, Armstrong didn’t need to make excuses for miscalculating—the introduction of the horrors of nuclear weapons through the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 made the little hiccup in timing irrelevant. Almost everyone seemed convinced that the Cold War was leading to an imminent and inevitable nuclear confrontation of nations!

Even Sheldon Harnick.

You remember Sheldon … he wrote the lyrics for one of the most popular musicals of all time, 1964’s Fiddler on the Roof. What many don’t know is that before he became famous for Broadway musicals, he had been a composer of “comic songs” for musical reviews. One of those songs, from 1958, became a staple of the Kingston Trio’s repertoire. It was introduced on their 1959 “From the Hungry I” album.

Youtube doesn’t have a version from that early Trio period, but here is a “later incarnation” of the Trio (with Bob Shane—on the left, above—being the only “original” Trio member left) doing the familiar Harnick song.

The Merry Minuet

They’re rioting in Africa (whistling)
They’re starving in Spain (whistling)
There’s hurricanes in Flo-ri-da (whistling)
And Texas needs rain
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch
AND I DON’T LIKE ANYBODY VERY MUCH!!

But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off
AND WE WILL ALL BE BLOWN AWAY!!

They’re rioting in Africa (whistling)
There’s strife in Iran
What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow *man*—<*man* is sung off-key>

It is now over 50 years from the time that song was written. And over 50 years from the time all those screaming headlines in the PT above were written. We have not yet all been blown away. That generation was NOT the last generation. All the energy put into trying to match up the daily world news of that time with a biblical time line endorsed by God failed miserably.

Yes, there have been more earthquakes and erupting volcanoes since then, and drought and famine and disease epidemics in some parts of the world—as there have been since the time in the first century when Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation were put into writing. And the threat of nuclear war hasn’t disappeared.

But it is my contention that prophetic speculators have no more credible reasons now to absolutely insist that The Return of Christ is directly and inevitably imminent than there were in the 1950s. And I am fully convinced that those who use the same kind of tactics of stirring up paranoia over every nuance of “current conditions” and “current events” that Armstrong and his associates used in the 1950s and 60s are NOT pleasing God with their efforts.

I believe that Believers need to be physically and spiritually prepared for The Unthinkable. But my definition of The Unthinkable may not be what you are expecting! Find out more in the next installment of this series, Formerly Unthinkable.

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7 Responses to Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 8: Imminent and Inevitable

  1. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 8: Imminent and Inevitable | Currently StaRRing …

  2. Ron Towell says:

    2Pe 3:3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
    2Pe 3:4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
    2Pe 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
    2Pe 3:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
    2Pe 3:7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
    2Pe 3:8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
    2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
    2Pe 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

    Pam, I would think the above prediction is “inevitable”. However, we just can’t say “when”. Even Jesus said that only God(the Father) knows.

  3. Yes, Ron, and that is just my point… “inevitable to occur at some time in the future” is NOT the same as “inevitably IMMINENT.” The problem occurs when dogmatic speculators INSIST that Jesus will definitely come on their preferred schedule, and that you are defying God if you do not get on their bandwagon. The problem also occurs when such dogmatists insist that they know not only the general fact that Jesus will return some day, but that they know that such-and-such a current event or current condition is a sure sign or sure proof that this “some day” is almost immediately upon us. When they know no such thing. What is even more pathetic is that such false speculators/false prophets very often accuse anyone who disagrees with their time line or anyone who points out that their claims of “prophecy fulfillment” by some current event is not solidly based on biblical evidence–of being “scoffers.” It is possible to scoff at men’s egotistical, self-aggrandizing efforts without scoffing at God and the Bible. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 9: Formerly Unthinkable | Prophecy Panic Button

  5. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 10: A New Kind of Unthinkable | Prophecy Panic Button

  6. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 11: Disneyfied Nostalgia | Prophecy Panic Button

  7. Pingback: Are You Prepared for … the Unthinkable? Part 12: Painting a Rosy Past | Prophecy Panic Button

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