I’ve seen lots of friends online throwing the word apocalypse to describe the events of 2020. It made me curious about the specific definition of apocalypse. Google came up with this:
a·poc·a·lypse/əˈpäkəˌlips/ Learn to pronounce nounnoun: Apocalypse; noun: the Apocalypse; noun: apocalypse; plural noun: apocalypses.
1. the complete final destruction of the world, as described in the biblical book of Revelation.
(especially in the Vulgate Bible) the book of Revelation.singular proper noun: Apocalypse
2. an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.
This matches common understanding and usage for the word, but further down the page, I found a more historic definition.
Apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, “an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling”.
So in the original Greek, apocalypse did not necessarily mean the final end of the world. I suspect somewhere the word picked up connotations from the word Ragnarok. Or perhaps it took those connotations when the book of revelation was referred to as the Apocalypse of John and then people read the passages and assumed the end of all things. Yet I find the original Greek definition more compelling. Not the end of all things, rather a disruption of the current order of things so severe that we are required to transform our understanding and our ways of being. An apocalypse is the cocoon where the caterpillar is completely unmade so that a butterfly can be made instead. It surely looks like the end of all things from the caterpillar perspective. Using the Greek definition of the word, then my country is definitely experiencing an apocalypse. The process of going through this pandemic, and the protests, and whatever crazy shift comes next are transforming us as a people. Laws are changing. Ways of being polite are changing. Social norms are changing. Naturally all of that change comes with heaping quantities of dismay, anxiety, fear, and grief. Even for those who have been wanting change for a long time.
As a Christian person, I also find comfort in this Greek definition of apocalypse. Church discussions of Revelations or The Millennium (which may be a Church of Jesus Christ specific terminology) have always made me anxious. I don’t want to be contemplating the end of the world. But what if it is not an end, but instead an unveiling, a change in our ability to comprehend that is so vast we literally can’t wrap our heads around it. We are caterpillars who struggle to understand the concept of being a butterfly.
Maybe having an apocalypse isn’t so bad after all.