Do we participate in an unjust system? Americans use considerably more natural resources than do people in other countries. This is especially true of resources that produce technology and resources that produce luxury type foods. For instance, Americans eat more beef than do most people in the world, including those who live in beef exporting countries. Some countries have abandoned much of the farming necessary to feed their people (wheat, corn, maize, etc) in favor of producing sugar, tea, coffee, and cocoa, most of which they export to Western Europe and North America. They become “tea and beverage economies” where more people are barely making it, struggling to survive. Are Americans guilty of participation in an unjust system every time we enjoy the riches of the world, knowing most people, including those who worked 14-hour days to produce what we consume cannot themselves enjoy the produce of their labors?
In Revelation 18, we read of the funeral of Babylon (Babylon is the symbolic way John referred to the Roman Empire as it is existed in 90 AD). As a judgment of God, Rome would fall. Much of the language in Revelation 18 mirrors the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Isaiah, as they described God’s judgment on the literal Babylon of the 6th and 7th centuries BC. God’s prophets predicted Babylon would fall and it did. In 90AD, John predicted Rome’s fall. There were between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people in Rome at the time, and a few centuries later, when the Roman Empire fell, there were less than 30,000 in the city (Craig Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, p.423). Again, God’s prophet spoke the truth.
Keener’s detailed description of Rome tells of a city where slaves from conquered lands produced food and numerous luxuries to keep the wealthy politicos and merchants in the finest finery. Revelation 18:11-13 lists the products that were no longer bought and sold. The most shocking is the last item listed, “slaves – human lives.” To the wealthy in Rome, conquered nations were nothing – just a people that existed to keep the mighty Romans happy. The people of conquered nations were not even human, just another resource to be exploited. Revelation 18 vividly shows God’s judgment.
Is America in danger of a similar judgment? Everything said about Babylon (Rome) throughout Revelation and especially in chapter 18 was previously said by Biblical prophets about other ancient, exploitative empires (Egypt under the Pharaohs, Assyria, Babylon). These types of criticisms from God through the mouths of God’s spokesmen were even aimed at Jerusalem when God’s people were guilty of disproportionate distribution of wealth, exploitation, and idolatry. Throughout history what we read here equally applies to evil empires including the inhuman cruelty of the Church during the era of the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi Germany, and Apartheid South Africa.
I know America is a democracy. I know there are catalogues of rags to riches stores in our country’s history. I believe our nation gives people a fighting chance, even poor people. But what about poor people who aren’t from here? Most poor people in America have a chance to improve their lives, albeit a small chance.
The poor person from the third world country has no access to public education. He has no real opportunity for climbing out of the hole he’s in. The question is not do we help the poor right around us (of course we should help), or the poor in other countries. The question is this. Is America a 21st century exploiter as Rome (the nation condemned in the book of Revelation) was a 1st century AD exploiter of other peoples? Is ours a system that keeps people in other nations in poverty? By participating in our system, as consumers, are we average, everyday American Christians participating in the exploitation?
In Revelation 18, the people who have become wealthy off the exploiter, those who have taken the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:9) mourn the fall of Babylon (18:11, 19). The saints rejoice the death of the empire (18:20). Most who read this column and read Revelation 18 are American Christians. When the exploiters of our day are judged guilty by God, will we who worship at HillSong join in the rejoicing of Revelation 18:20 or the mourning of verse 19? Will we have sack cloth and ashes on our heads at the loss of our wealthy life styles or will we be singing in Heavenly choirs because our hearts are filled with God’s passion for people, especially poor people?