Henny Penny and her kindred

The story, as I heard it in my childhood, goes like this. Henny Penny, a rather ordinary hen, is contentedly sleeping in the warm sunshine when an acorn falls on her head. She awakens in a flap and begins squawking, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The other hens are alarmed and one of them says, “Someone needs to tell the king!” Henny Penny decides that since she is the first to be aware of the impending disaster, she must be the one to go. She is joined by Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey, all flapping their wings and crying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”. After travelling awhile, they encounter Foxy Loxy, who hears their story and declares his intention to join them to warn the king. “But first, he says, you must come to my place for a meal.” The others accept his invitation, only to discover too late that they are going to be the meal.

There are different versions of this story, which may be as much as 2500 years old. For at least that long there have been folks flapping their wings and saying “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” The result has quite often not been as they expected.

When the plague appeared in Europe during the middle ages and multitudes of people were dying every day, many believed it to be a judgment of God. Groups of people, believing that if they punished themselves enough the anger of God would be appeased, walked from city to city, whipping themselves and raking their backs with sharp rakes. They were called flagellants, and each group spent 33½ days on their pilgrimage, wearing hoods but no shirts, so as to continually have open wounds on their backs. And as they travelled from city to city, they spread the plague from city to city.

There seem to be many folks like Henny Penny among evangelical Christians. People who are keenly interested in knowing what is wrong with the world, and who rejoice in every bit of bad news that they can interpret as a sign of the end. Something they can point to as proof that: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

A few years ago, many Christians were repeating the news that a department of the Canadian government had analyzed the frequency and severity of natural disasters from all over the world over recent centuries and had solid proof that such catastrophes were increasing in frequency and severity. The story was bogus, but that didn’t prevent it from being cited over the pulpit in many churches. The department of the Canadian government named in the story has never existed and those who investigated found that in all the bureaucracy of the Canadian government there is no office dedicated to collecting and analyzing such information. An article in the Christian Research Journal analyzed the available data and determined that there has been no increase in recent history. What has changed is the ability of the media to inform us immediately of any catastrophe anywhere in the world, creating the impression that such events are increasing.

We are warned in the Bible that one day, without warning, the world will come to an end. The apostle Peter tells us that, if we really believe this, we should live accordingly (2 Peter 3:11). That is, we should stop wasting our time looking for signs of the end and rather take care to live in such a way that we will be prepared for the end, ready to meet Jesus in peace.

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