A Crisis of Confidence
Mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.Luke 21:26
September 11, 2001 changed the world in which we live. Fears have risen dramatically. Mankind has been brought harshly to the awareness of the ever-present threat of terrorism. These fears in turn have provoked uncertainties in every sector of society.
Shifting sands of changing political coalitions have blurred the distinctions between friend and foe. Scandals have shaken not only the Roman Catholic church, but many Protestant denominations as well. Economic advances of a decade of prosperity have vanished overnight. Corporate giants have plummeted into bankruptcy. Accountants, appointed as watchdogs over big business, have covered up questionable financial transactions. The consumer confidence index has dangled precipitously over the brink. The world is facing a crisis of confidence.
The rules of warfare have been changed. The fight against terrorism is a conflict against a hidden enemy. Traditional battles between one national armada against another have evolved into guerilla fighting within a country, precision strikes by small bands of terrorists who know no national boundaries. Carefully planned and executed assaults have taken thousands of lives.
The collapse of the World Trade Center and the coordinated crashing of a jet plane into the Pentagon prompted President George Bush to declare a War on Terrorism. Along with a wide-ranging coalition of partners these allied forces launched a fearful reprisal on Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network of terrorists sheltered by the Taliban regime of Afghanistan and other fundamentalist Islamic states.
The reaction to the September 11 attacks, in the United States at least, has included a tightening of immigration policies and large-scale arrests and detentions of people particularly those of Arabian descent. Many are being held for indefinite terms without being charged and without having their names released. This has raised a debate as to whether constitutional civil rights are being eroded.
Fears are fueled even further by concerns over future tactics of terrorists who may employ biological or even nuclear devices. The anthrax mailings have created worries about the safety of water supplies, air-borne pollutants, or attacks on nuclear power plants.
The Axis of Evil
In his State of the Union address, President Bush identified three countriesIraq, Iran and North Koreaas an axis of evil. This has been followed by an active debate, not only in America but throughout the world, of a possible pre-emptive and unilateral strike by the United States on Iraq, with the stated aim of removing Saddam Hussein from his position of power in that country.
Voices raised in favor of such an invasion see Iraq as a developer of chemical, biological, and nuclear arms for terrorist use against both Israel and America. Opposition voices fear the political, moral, and economic consequences of one nation unilaterally attacking another sovereign country. A major side effect of this debate has been concerns over the United States assuming too much arbitrary authority without obtaining a mandate from the United Nations.
Terrorism and Drugs
One of the evil phenomena of the past century has been the rapid increase in the traffic of illicit drugs. So-called recreational drugs have been added to their twin counterparts of tobacco and alcohol. Together they have wreaked a fearsome toll on the health of mankind. Sexual promiscuity has unleashed a worldwide epidemic of AIDS. In addition to the cost of human life and physical well-being, the health care cost of treating those who are sick is staggering.
These have not only posed an epidemic health risk but have created vast economic empires. The billions of dollars reaped by the drug lords are being increasingly diverted into the arming of terrorists. While nations, seeking to arm themselves, can raise taxes to pay for their armaments, terrorists do not have that option. They must resort to criminal methods to finance their supply of weaponry. Drug trafficking is only one of their options.
Giddy from the halcyon days of the last decade, investors in the worlds stock markets were lured into a belief that double-digit percentage growth would go on forever. Trillions of dollars have evaporated into thin air as the S&P 500 index on the New York Stock Exchange has plunged 40% from its peak set in March 2000; the NASDAQ index is down more than 70% (as of the close Jan. 13, 2003).
As greed and corruption at the highest levels of the corporate world and imaginative accounting practices were exposed, confidence in the integrity of big business plummeted along with the markets. Despite assurances that the economy is fundamentally strong, this lack of confidence has greatly delayed a recovery.
Added to these factors, fear of more terrorist attacks, unstable conditions in the Middle East and many other parts of the globe, and the increasing threat of greater armed conflicts against countries that aid terrorism, have added to the uncertainty about future world conditions.
The Religious World
A crisis of another type has rocked the religious world, eroding even further a fading confidence in the purity of the clergy. Sexual abuse scandals have been exposed among the priesthood, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Investigative reporting has revealed an extensive pattern of mistreatment of the youth committed to their care extending back over a period of decades. Adding to the problem has been the discovery of systematic cover-ups and the reassignment of offending priests to other positions where they have continued to exploit the young.
Political activism on both the right and left has further divided the adherents of Christianity. Involvement in such causes has diluted the message of the pulpit from an examination of Scriptural passages to conflicting statements in the political and social arenas.
Weighed in the Balances
Other great civilizations have fallen under similar pressures. Lack of confidence in the Roman Empire led to a profligate living style and its ultimate collapse. Karl Marx in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852) points to the same conditions that led to the French Revolution. In like manner Babylon, the first of the great world empires, also succumbed. The Bible records the last night of that mighty kingdom. It describes a riotous feast of King Belshazzar which was startlingly interrupted by a mysterious hand writing four Chaldaic words on the wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. The prophet Daniel interpreted the meaning in part: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting (Daniel 5:27).
How appropriate these words are today! People are increasingly losing their confidence in the organized pillars of societypolitical, social, financial, and religious. The desire for stable societal institutions coupled with disillusionment with the realities, leads to frustration and hopelessness.
Jesus stated the matter well: And there shall be upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring (Luke 21:25). Vines Dictionary gives the meaning of perplexity as at a loss for a way finding no solution to their embarrassment. Vine proceeds to show that the usage in the papyri is being at wits end, at a loss to proceed, without resources. In short, the word means a situation where there seems to be no way out. How accurately this describes the quandaries that the leaders of this world face.
The next verse in Luke speaks of God shaking the heavens and the earth. The apostle Paul speaks of this shaking in Hebrews 12:26,27, where he compares it with the earthquake that shook Mt. Sinai when Moses received the divine law: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Peter speaks of the same events: The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).
In the book of Revelation we read of two great symbolic earthquakes in the end time. One happens during the sixth seal in the time preceding the Lords second advent. This is described both in Revelation 6:12 and again in Revelation 11:13. Many Bible Students identify this with the French Revolution of 1789 with its after-shocks continuing to the revolutions of 1829-30 that swept Europe.
But this earthquake is only a forerunner of a far greater seismic event described under the seventh plague of Revelation 16:18, And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
There are many symbols used to describe this conflagration: a whirlwind, fire, a storm, hail, etc. Each metaphor emphasizes a particular aspect of the trouble. The picture of an earthquake calls attention to the aspect of a social revolution. As the friction between two tectonic plates causes a natural quake, so revolts among men are caused by abrasive contact between two conflicting classes of mankind, in this case the haves and the have-nots, the privileged versus those in the lower economic strata. The under crust, the lower economic classes, thrust upwards in search for more favorable conditions.
The objective of this great earthquake is that everything that can be shaken will be shaken. That which remains is enduring and can be utilized in the new social structure which will replace the present religious and social orders, the new heavens and new earth. As Paul concludes, Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28). Peter, in a similar vein, gives the positive effects such knowledge of the present approaching end should have in our lives: Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness (2 Peter 3:11).
Islam, Israel, and Christianity
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, mainly through a high birth rate. This table, prepared by The Canadian Society of Muslims, shows that the Muslim proportion of world population is projected to increase to 30% by 2025 making it the religion with the largest number of adherents; the Christian percentage decreases to 25% by 2025.
While many followers of Mohammedanism believe in peaceful coexistence with their non-Islam neighbors, many fundamentalist Muslims do not. They believe it is their religious duty to convert the world to their religion, either by persuasion or by the sword. Their militancy is further heightened by hostility toward Israel, which they see as encroaching on their territory, both by the creation of the Jewish state and even more by their perception of Israelis occupying Palestinian land as a result of the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Anger toward Israel has created animosity toward those who support Israel, particularly the United States. Lacking the political and military might to reclaim Israeli land or, as many of them desire, drive Israel into the sea, they have resorted to guerilla and terrorist tactics. These have included the use of suicide bombers who have claimed hundreds of Israeli lives and provoked retaliatory strikes that have taken even more Palestinian lives.
The net effect has been to move the hands of the doomsday clock ever nearer to the fateful midnight hour. Mankinds confidence in world peace and stability is further eroded.
Most Christians have feelings of sympathy with Israel, recognizing that they have a rich heritage as Gods chosen people. The Bible, too, honors that people with not only historic recognition in Old Testament times, but with a prophetic inheritance. Prophecies predict a future role of Israel in the kingdom for which all Christians pray: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
The promise God made to Abraham to bless his seed is sure of fulfillment. The principle that I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:3) is equally guaranteed.
Israel has a promised land (Genesis 15:18-21) which they as yet only partially occupy. But before they possess all this territory the Scriptures indicate they will need to go through one more war (described in Ezekiel 38 and 39). Their opponents are listed in Ezekiel 38:3-8 and comprise mostly Mohammedan nations. Therefore it is not surprising that strong hostility now exists on the part of the Islamic countries against Israel. This indicates a nearness of this final battle before Messiahs kingdom with its better days can be established.
The Source of Confidence
Mans extremity is Gods opportunity. The lack of confidence in all phases of organized society is understandable and well founded. Christians share this lack of confidence in the ability of man to find solutions to all the complex problems of todays world. But the Christian has unbounded confidence that these same events portend the final transition from this present evil world (Galatians 1:4) to the new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
Violence and wrath may well be the hallmarks of our day, but we are assured that surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain (Psalm 76:10). With eager anticipation and full confidence in God we await that kingdom.