Photo: Twittter/@albertawildfire 
Published May 16, 2016

“I looked at the sky,” said a young man as he pointed his iPhone in the direction of a wall of flames, ominously challenging easy escape from  Fort McMurray, Alta. “It was like Armageddon.”

What is Armageddon? What to do about his predicament?

Armageddon is both a theme and art form used frequently today in novels, sitcoms and movies. It is related to another term with a biblical source-apocalypse. Both are used interchangeably, often with little awareness of their historic theological or spiritual distinctions. Now is a good time to clarify these ancient terms.

Only one biblical reference relates specifically to a battle of Armageddon. Found in Revelation 16:12-16, its meanings are nebulous. In symbolic language  (translated from Hebrew to Greek) it is associated with Megiddo (thus “mageddon”), located today in northwest Israel.

Situated on a strategic trading route that links competing world powers from Mesopotamia and Egypt, Megiddo is a valuable archeological site. It contains pivotal defences, reflecting the impact of warring armies and devastating conflicts. Megiddo connotes cosmic battles between good and evil forces.

“Armageddon” has became a symbolic location and “apocalypse” the catastrophic events associated with it. They are linked by dramatic signs in  the sky: the sun darkening and abrupt social disintegration resulting from earthquakes, flooding and fire. But cosmic renewal can follow cosmic catastrophe in some scriptural teachings.

Personal experience on the part of those directly involved in the Fort McMurray disaster confirms this. Family members Sarah, Ronnie and their daughter Mya relived similar horrors in neighbouring Slave Lake, Alta., five years ago this month. Sarah recalls sudden, shocking trauma when she got orders to exit the town immediately. “I remember how scared and hysterical I was,” she says. “Ronnie had left to fight the fire and I couldn’t contact him. I knew I had to get out of town with Mya at once, but was frozen in fright.”

Sarah identifies with the people of Fort Mac. “I can just imagine the immediate fears and later, the post-traumatic stress disorder that must consume so many. You have more than just our empathy. I say : ‘We’re with you. We’ve been there. We know the shock, terror and feelings of   helplessness…’ Ronnie and I have done a lot of good reflecting this time. Mya and I also looked together at a picture book about our town’s story.”

Sarah’s advice to current evacuees is compassionate and pragmatic. It is also supported by a maturing faith that comes from facing the abyss and then, in time, struggling through it. “Learn from the experience. Shock and loss happened to us and we are grateful for the community support and how it combined-locally and beyond-when we needed it. Five years after, we feel very blessed to have each other.” Ronnie continues to show solidarity by heroically fighting the fire in Fort McMurray.

Armageddon and apocalypse continue to explode into real life today-not just in the movies. It will continue to happen. Members of our own family have learned to say to the darkness: “We beg to differ.”


-With thanks to Mary Jo Leddy and help from Harper’s Bible Dictionary, The Oxford Companion to the Bible and the DK Complete Bible Handbook.




  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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