No matter the tragedy these days, some religious leader or blogger will attempt to connect it to God’s judgment. Some say superstorm Sandy was God’s wrath on liberal New York and New Jersey. Others fault 9/11 on “the homosexual agenda,” whatever that is. Many argue July’s shooting in Aurora, Colorado, would have been prevented were it not for liberals or conservatives.
This instinct to interpret current times through the broader lens of God’s judgment is not new. Examples appear throughout the Bible. For those who believe God’s Spirit does work in the world through signs and miracles, such tragedies can function as intellectual puzzles, but they should never stop us from responding with heart, head, and hands.
Watch the Video: Relying on Faith: Gerritsen Beach Residents Weather Hurricane Sandy
Jesus Explains the Signs…. Sort of
Jesus spoke often about the end times and certainly not in ways supported by a modern scientific worldview. For Jesus, the belief that God controls history was fundamental to his perspective.
Not long before his arrest, Jesus was with the disciples in the temple. As they came out, one of the disciples exclaimed his awe of the structure. “Look, Teacher, what large stones and large buildings!” he said (Mark 13:1). Indeed, ancient historians wrote that the temple in Jerusalem was magnificent. If its massive size was not impressive enough, much of it was covered in gold.
Jesus’ response must have caught the disciples off guard: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2).
The disciples too must have been in a mood to discuss the end times because next, when Jesus was sitting opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives, some of them asked for further explanation. “When?” they wondered aloud, “What will be the sign?” Jesus responds in his trademark roundabout way.
Jesus warns of those that would lead them astray. He tells them not to be alarmed by “wars and rumors of wars” which, if you ask me, are some of the most alarming prospects imaginable.
A more troubling time would be coming, Jesus explains. It will include war, earthquakes, and famines. But, they are not to be afraid since, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:8).
Jesus’ response is the first century equivalent of the famous propaganda poster produced by the British government during World War II that boldly proclaimed, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” (Note that Jesus did not call for casting aspersions at one’s political opponents.)
We Long to Know More
Like the disciples, something makes us want to know every detail about when and how our future—and God’s ultimate justice—will take place. Certainly, knowing the severity and destination of future superstorms will help save lives, but the disciples were longing for more. They wanted a blueprint. Perhaps they hoped for a way to save themselves as they interpreted the signs of the time.