Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting Our Attention

Politicians and preachers alike have again been reminding us about the possibility of God’s direct and deliberate intervention manifest in the world’s recent weather events and disasters. Do the east coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene signal the action of God to “get the attention of politicians,” as one politician exclaimed? In personal conversations my friends have wondered if these events signal the close approach of Christ’s end times return. We must read Christ’s very own words in Matthew 24:4-14 for enlightenment.

Natural and man-caused disasters will be common during the approach of the end of the age, the Matthew 24 passage tells us. This includes wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilence (disease), and earthquakes. Consider, however, that the approach of the “end” has been ongoing for at least 2000 years. Our Lord described events which could only be described as a general chronicle of human and natural history.

In our own neighborhood, 14 inches of rain pelted two or three counties in just eight hours one evening in late July, causing horrific damage and claiming the lives of two acquaintances in separate flash flooding incidents. A few weeks later the east coast experienced a rare earthquake and a major hurricane in little more than a week. During the past spring, terrible tornado outbreaks occurred in widely separated areas. Texas still suffers from extreme drought. Do such events signal the approach of the end more than the many tragic events on Planet Earth throughout its history?

The 2007 National Geographic Society publication Raging Forces…Life on a Violent Planet, puts the issues in perspective. Author George W. Stone begins his first chapter this way: “Our planet is a perpetually evolving, chronically violent, flame-singed, water-soaked, windswept, habitually inhospitable cosmic compound, wrapped around a molten iron heart, orbiting an atomic fireball. Our Earth home is by turns a life-sustaining sphere and a crucible of cataclysm, calamity, paroxysm, disease, disaster, and death. It always has been and always will be.” But our earth’s climate has provided superbly for human, animal, and plant life on this planet for thousands of years. It sustains nearly seven billion people, supplying them with food, mineral, and energy resources. It is a life-friendly planet, described in multiple verses in Genesis 1 as “good” or “very good.”

Individual geologic or weather events, nevertheless, can generate consternation and suffering even within the context of earth’s generally nurturing climate. Violent storms, droughts, and earthquakes have been a feature of our planet throughout its history. China experienced history’s most severe flood in 1931--up to three million dead. In 1815 Indonesian volcano Mount Tambora killed 92,000 in the planet’s largest volcanic eruption. The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1780 killed 22,000 in the Caribbean. China’s 1976 earthquake may have killed as many as 500,000. The 1811-1812 New Madrid Earthquake was the most powerful ever to hit the United States. It would cause inconceivable destruction and death if it struck a populated area in our day. The 1972 Feb. 3-9 blizzard in Iran buried at least 4000 villagers in up to ten feet of snow and remains the deadliest blizzard in earth’s history. In the United States, the heat and drought of 8½ years during the 1930s caused the Dust Bowl and affected three-fourths of our country. Famine and pestilence have claimed uncounted millions throughout earth history.

The tale of thousands of other disasters, lesser than the ones described above, is one of heartbreak. But failure to focus our awareness on earth’s life-sustaining features is to commit a serious error. We must not fail to distinguish between “…the weather—a chaotic and dynamic system with immediate impact—and climate, which is the more stable and predictable average of weather when measured over time.” We must realize the benefits of looking at “the big picture.” God looked at the big picture, the completed earth, and pronounced it “very good.”

Matthew 24:15-51 continues describing the worldwide events ushered in at the time of the Great Tribulation. The verses from Matthew 24:4-14 describe conditions as they have existed from the time of Christ on up to and including our present day. Do unusual and seemingly frequent weather, geological events, famines, and pestilence signal a message from God that Christ’s return is close, or that He is “telling us something?” Perhaps that is true; perhaps it is not. We should not pretend to know the time line for His return. History shows such events have been occurring for thousands of years. At the very least the events instruct us in the operation of our physical world.

The words of Christ in Matthew 24 are true and reliable. History and statistics chronicle war threats, famines, earthquakes, persecution, executions, hate, falling away, lawlessness, betrayal, and the rise of false prophets--these have been occurring for millennia. The Great Tribulation events of an unknown future time described after Matthew 24:14 and in the Book of Revelation appear to make the events of our day seem gentle by comparison. We have general revelation--a reliable indicator of the reality of God in the beauty of the very good, functioning, fine tuned cosmos of which Planet Earth is a part. In addition we have the special revelation of God’s inspired word in scripture. We must not add or take away from either revelation.