Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’
Revelation 18:10 (NIV)
I had arrived at a client’s office first thing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was scheduled to conduct a number of call coaching sessions that day. As I entered the building I passed by the corporate cafeteria and glanced inside. A large crowd of people were huddled beneath one of the televisions that were mounted on the wall. There was something eerie and surreal about the silent crowd and the empty stares on their faces. It stopped me in my tracks.
I stepped into the cafeteria and stood on the outskirts of the silent, huddled mass. I looked up at the television and viewed for the first time the iconic image of the World Trade Center with a giant plume of smoke billowing out of it. For the first few moments I took in what was being said by the reporters and the hushed whispers around me. “Tragic accident,” was what everyone was saying. It was only a minute or so later that there was a blur on the screen and everything shook. A second plane struck the other tower. In that moment I knew two things: 1) It was not an accident and 2) I would be doing no call coaching that day. I grabbed my briefcase and headed home where I sat and watched the horrific events of that day unfold.
One of the things that I took away from that day is how quickly things can fall apart. When John had his vision, the world was a very different place. Great cities were not destroyed in an hour, they were subject to long sieges that could take months and years. There were, of course, natural disasters like ancient Pompeii which could and still can bring about rapid and massive destruction. Nevertheless, the idea of a great city being brought to its knees in an hour was almost unfathomable.
Until now. I had seen the black and white news reels of the German blitz on London and the reciprocal Allie bombings in Europe. I had seen the documentaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were all, however, scratchy black and white film from a time before I was born. Even growing up in the Cold War era of “duck and cover” drills, the idea of sudden destruction was simply that – an idea. On 9-11, along with everyone else, I witnessed how quickly things can fall apart.
I see today’s chapter differently than I did before that fateful day. I have heard the endless speculation of prophetic junkies who wax ceaselessly their theories about the identity of Babylon and the beast she rides in John’s vision. I don’t find the chatter worthwhile. When I read the chapter I see the big picture that is painted in John’s vision of the prophesied future: Sudden destruction followed by economic chaos. For the past thirteen years I have lived with a greater understanding that the fulfillment of that vision could be a sudden reality almost any day. I do not live in fear and anxiety of that day, but I do enter this day with the realization of how fragile our world really is, and of what is truly important.