The Tsunami, Birth Pains, Death, and the End of Days
“[T]he world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:6-7).
I was already working on a blog for today when I heard about the tsunami and saw the footage… It just seemed wrong for me to continue on with a “regularly scheduled” column as if nothing had happened. But isn’t this our human nature? to see some tragedy on TV, say, “Oh my God,” and then, after realizing that everyone we know and love is probably okay, to go on about our own business? Some people have lost everything, some have lost loved ones; perhaps thousands are dead… and we say, “That’s horrible” and then so easily say, “Check the DVR. Let’s see who got kicked off American Idol last night.” God forgive us and God forbid. May He give each and every one of us, His children by faith in Jesus Christ, a heart of love and empathy, one that feels the pain, looks for ways to help, and at the very least prays for those people whose lives have now been forever changed.
Watching the footage of those tsunami waters gobbling up farmlands, destroying entire towns, and tossing everything manmade aside, as though it was a toy or made of cardboard, was frightening and awful (in all senses of the word). I wondered how many escaped. I saw tiny little cars on the roads trying to escape as the water approached. I saw little specks of humanity wandering about as if they didn’t know the monster that was approaching on the other side of that farmhouse. I wondered how many were swept away; how many died. And as I watched that creeping watery wasteland march forward like some kind of liquid army, destroy everything in its path, I thought, God knew this was going to happen. He knew the year, the day, the hour, and the minute… and He knew it from all eternity.
Some use things such as this for a reason not to believe. Believers and non-believers might ask, “Why did He let people move into those areas? Why did He not somehow warn them? Why does He allow such things to happen?” It was a question on many of our minds after September 11th, 2001. We thought of the horror and the carnage and wondered, “Why? None of those victims knew that was to be their last day on earth.” But I remember something my father told me at that time. After he expressed the same kind of thought he then changed directions and said something like, “Well, it’s not as though they had no warning.” I thought the remark was strange and then he pointed out to me what I am about to point out to you; though he used less words: “Everyone knows they are going to die.” In other words, “We’ve all had the warning.” (Take a moment to read Jesus’ words in Luke 13:1-5.) If any of us believes that we have a certain amount of days ahead of us, if any of us thinks we are guaranteed a certain lifespan, if we depend on such a thing, then what we rely on is simply a spider’s web (Job 8:14).
King David wrote, “All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence” (Psalm 139:16). And then we read Jeremiah’s words saying, “Lord, we know that people do not control their own destiny. It is not in their power to determine what will happen to them.” (Jeremiah 10:23). The Apostle Paul told the Athenians: “From one man he [God] made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). In other words, our lives on earth are finite and ephemeral, and our times, places, and length of days are determined by God, though unknown to us, and these things should inspire us and cause is to live sober lives in reverence of Almighty God…. and to turn to Him for mercy.
Death is coming for each and every one of us. I had a moment the other day when I realized how I live my life “banking” on the thought that since I’m 43 years old I’ve got another 25 years in front of me, at least. Then I realized that I was deceived into thinking that. Thus the original biblical philosopher tells us, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, NIV). The Bible reminds us time and time again how short our time here is: We are like grass or a flower of the field, here today and gone tomorrow (Psalm 103:15-16). We are like “shadows” (Job 14:2), “ghosts” (Psalm 39:6), “vapor” (Psalm 144:4). To slightly modify one biblical verse: “Just as no one has power over the [tsunami] to restrain it, so no one has power over the day of his death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8).
But hope is found in Christ, “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He is our salvation. Notice His words: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines. These are but the beginning of birth pains” (Mark 13:7-8, emphasis mine). Jesus has warned us ahead of time… We know things are going to get more and more difficult. We know we will die if He does not return first. We know this world is not all there is, all we have; it is not our final home.
Daily we are reminded of Jesus’ words as we watch or listen to the news. There is trouble on the horizon. The world is falling apart. Nature, humanity, and human nature. Wars, rumors of wars, terrorism, violence, unrest, people in the streets, factions, ideology against ideology, race against race, religion against religion, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornados, floods, famine, cancer, viruses, pestilence, on and on it goes. The countries of the Middle Eastare churning in the throes of revolution. The countries of the West are collapsing under the burden of debt. A sleeping giant in the East seems to be just… waiting. “All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8).
Some will say, “Yes, but we Christians don’t have to fear it because of the Rapture…” Well, I’m no Dispensationalist; as best as I can tell I’m a Historical Premillennialist. I certainly believe in the Second coming of Christ, but as for Christians being raptured or rescued from the horrible times yet to come upon the world? Amen and praise God if He does, but we all need to consider this: There was no Rapture to remove Christians from the lions, crosses, and pyres of Nero, nor was there a rapture for the Christians of Europe during WWII, nor a rapture for Christians from Stalin’s Russia or genocidal Sudan. When Satan tempted Jesus, he used a Scripture (Matthew 4:6), and Jesus answered by, saying, “it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test’” (4:7). He was not going to tell His Father how to come through on the promises of Scripture; He was not going to make demands or try to force His Father’s hand. He was going to walk in the paths that His Father laid down for him and be obedient no matter what.
So I think about these people who have lost everything because of the tsunami, and the people who have died… I think about the Europeans prior to WWII… did any of them know, suspect, or understand the upheaval and destruction that was coming their way? The thing for each of us to remember is that the end is coming. Birth pains go in waves. And thank God when there is no pain, war, or upheaval, but it will return, and it will be worse than last time. (Remember how World War I was originally called “The Great War” or “The War to End All Wars” because they thought it was so bad nothing could ever be worse… and then came World War II.)
“The earth is defiled by its inhabitants” (Isaiah 24:5). It is as though the very earth itself is ready to “vomit out” humanity (Leviticus 18:28). “[T]he whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22, NIV). Read all of Romans 8:19-22. There will be an unveiling eventually (Revelation 21:1-4, Isaiah 25:8-9). But for now, there is upheaval, and death, and destruction… but it serves as a warning.
As Christians our lives should be sober, prayerful. (Pray for those in Japan who are suffering, especially pray for the Christians, and pray for the Christians in danger throughout the Middle Eastand the rest of the world.) These things should move us to give whatever help and support we can. Jesus said “you will always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want” (Mark 14:7), so also the suffering. Let us help. God forbid when we give an account for how we “tithed” and used our “talents” one day and we can only talk about a big church building, new choir robes, etc., but cannot talk about the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the stranger, and the prisoner (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus says, “‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me’” (Matthew 25:40). And last, but certainly not least, let us be faithful witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so that those dying might not pass into a Christ-less eternity.
Make a difference for the kingdom and for eternity.
This life will not last. The current world will pass.
We will give an accounting for the things done here.
The time is short.
“[B]ut the end will not come right away” – Jesus (Luke 21:9, NIV).
“The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare. Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze! But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides” (2 Peter 3:9-13, emphasis mine).
Forgive me as this column, since not prepared in advance, has been a bit… stream of consciousness.