The Coming Fire


Every time John the Baptist comes back, he speaks the language of the time.

All those years in the desert, living on nothing but bugs and honey, taught him to quiet all the other noise—his thoughts, his hunger, even his own heartbeat—and listen for that still small voice. The voice that tells him exactly what to say and how to say it.

The images change—for one generation it is axeheads and wheat chaff, for another,  microchanges in the temperature of seawater—but every time the message is the same:

Repent, or be consumed in fire.

Just the right words to awaken the spirit of the Other, the One Who Will Not Let Us Burn.

This time, John points to the sun.

He stands on a stage—in the spotlight, as always. He wears the simple garb of his station: today it's dark jeans, black button-down, and a white lab coat.

The job of a climatologist does not actually require the coat, but the job of a prophet calls for a bit of theater.

He points an angry finger toward the blistering surface of the sun, which looms behind him, projected in its PowerPoint frame onto the screen. His face reddens as he rails against the sinful ways of this generation. He tells them of the visions he has seen, contemplating his computer models in the deserted night: visions of a darkened sky, of poisoned waters, of rivers clotted with carrion flesh.

He can go on this way for hours, even days. He has seen millennia of death and destruction. He has an extensive catalogue of nightmares to pull from.

Such a litany can be painful to endure, even for an ancient soul such as his, but he must go on, until the message reaches its target.

So he goes on, ranting about the approaching hoofbeats of environmental armageddon for so long that his fellow scientists begin to shift and shuffle in their seats. There is audible coughing and clearing of throats.

John scans the audience, watching and listening for that one voice to break through.


Has the Earth finally scorned the Holy Spirit so often, closing its ears with such force that they have scarred over and healed shut?

Has the voice finally been silenced, for lack of ears to hear?

John pauses for a moment, until the echo of his voice fades and the hall is quiet. Maybe this is the end for him, he thinks.

Maybe he will finally be able to leave the stage.

Maybe he will finally rest.

From the back of the room, John hears a voice, quiet and clear in the darkness:

"I beg your pardon for interrupting, Dr. Baptiste. But I have an idea."

John peers down into the audience, trying to find the speaker through the stage lights.

"Tell us," John says.

A slender young man stands in the back row. It is no one John had seen before, which is no surprise—it is always an unknown. Probably a first-year student who was allowed in at the last minute to help fill seats. He is elegant, Indian, and handsome.

He is going to look great on television, John thinks.

The young man tries to show the room a  diagram scrawled on the back of his notebook, even while he is still in the process of drawing it with the other hand.

"This just dawned upon me while Dr. Baptiste was speaking," he says. "The solution may be in looking at everything a different way."

John listens. It still amazes him how good the ideas always are. The plan that the young man rattles off is still only half-baked. It's going to take a lot of refinement if it's ever going to work. But it is eventually going to work. It might turn the world in its head, but it might also buy us a few more thousand years of life.

That should be enough time to finish building a kingdom.

John isn't sure the rest of the room even understands what the young man is saying. He speaks too quickly, too excitedly, not making connections between his thoughts.

If the young man's plan is going to get any traction, he's going to have to learn how to sell it. John will teach him what he can, but the ancient prophet knows that time is short.

John waves the young man up onto the stage.

As the young man makes his way up the aisle, John tries to keep his face an impassive mask, not letting it cloud over with thoughts of how the next chapter always plays out: soon will come the whirlwind, the flaming chariot, the phalanx of soldiers with their sharpened bayonets come to silence his voice, so God's other son can be heard.

The reporters are probably already gathering outside the hall, all video cameras and sharpened teeth.