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The year 2020 has been like no other I have experienced in my almost 72 years of life. Not long ago, America’s top infectious disease expert said, “If you want to get to pre-coronavirus, that might not ever happen.”
So far, this has been true in ways few could have imagined. The whole world has turned upside down in just months. Society has radically changed—with many familiar institutions bordering on absolute destruction. The stress of living in a world that is dangerous in every community—from the tiniest, remote villages to the world’s largest cities—is taking a powerful toll on human minds. Modern life in a “social distancing world” resembles a science fiction movie.
People long for normalcy. They want the lives they had before lockdowns, masks, widespread fear, and economic devastation. They want the status quo enjoyed only six months ago. But understand! This is not what God wants for them or the world. The pre-pandemic society was one cut off from God. It still is today, but He wants to change that—and soon! The fulfillment of the good news of the Kingdom of God—the gospel Jesus Christ heralded—is now imminent!
In this future society—the one God planned from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34)—things will be radically different! There will be no disease, no war, no famine, no wild instability, no murder—the long list could go on and on. Everything is about to change for the better. Right now, society is filled with these evils! They are the violent birth pangs—“the beginning of sorrows”—that Jesus said would mark our time (Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:8).
It has come to be that it no longer requires careful research to discern this. Turn on any news station or pull up any website—or look out any window!—and there are horrors everywhere! Just because the world is in the grips of a pandemic alongside politically and racially motivated riots does not mean other disasters have “taken a break.”
First think of the explosion that rocked Beirut, Lebanon on August 4. Shocking video footage—of the blast itself and of people’s reactions throughout the city—dominated headlines. In a matter of seconds, lives were forever changed. Almost 200 died, with perhaps 7,000 injured. Over 300,000 were displaced. On top of this, the nation’s grain supply was in the immediate crosshairs of the blast! Lebanon was left with less than a month’s food reserve. It is also too early to tell what caused the blast, with Lebanese sources claiming an accidental fire ignited a cache of ammonium nitrate. The American FBI was sent to help figure it out. What this means for an already unstable Middle East remains to be known. Riots in Beirut demanding government accountability further complicated insoluble problems plaguing just one tiny Mid-east nation. The prime minister and his entire cabinet resigned upon nationwide demand.
Now consider that America’s economy—the world’s most powerful—saw its worst-ever quarterly percentage drop in gross domestic product, plunging a staggering 32.9%. One article stated, “Millions of Americans are still out of work, thousands of businesses have closed and many of those that remain open have had to scale back operations because of tepid demand or ongoing government restrictions” (MarketWatch).
Think what this means! World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the tech bubble burst of the early 2000s, and the Great Recession a few years later did not result in such economic devastation. And the virus with its devastating economic effects are far from over!
Unemployment and federal relief payments helped prevent an even steeper drop in GDP. However, the U.S. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program—which added an extra $600 per week to benefits—expired at the end of July. Due to outdated and overwhelmed state unemployment agencies, some have not even received money for previous months (though they will get it eventually). Congress has had difficulty reaching an agreement on what to include in a new stimulus bill and what it should cost. Any new plan would take states two months to implement, leaving many wondering how they will pay for food, bills and rent in the interim. According to the Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, during a seven-day period ending July 21, over 35 million Americans reported they “sometimes” or “often” did not have enough to eat. In America! What about the world?
The coronavirus knows no bounds when it comes to victims. The governor of Ohio reportedly tested positive as part of standard protocol before he was to greet President Trump—the most powerful man in the world. The governor had no symptoms and planned to self-quarantine for 14 days. Later that day he tested negative—a testament to endless confusion swirling around this pandemic!
The spread of COVID-19 continues to polarize nations, further destabilizing an already unstable world. This does not stop at travel restrictions and quarantine laws. The United States is being demonized by other superpowers for having the largest patient count. The president has been quick to cite testing ratios—and to return the blame to China. Here is a recent Tweet: “More Testing, which is a good thing (we have the most in the world), equals more Cases, which is Fake News Gold. They use Cases to demean the incredible job being done by the great men & women of the U.S. fighting the China Plague!”
Russia, seeking to position itself as a global leader in medicine, has aggressively pursued a vaccine. The Russian president announced that “a vaccine against coronavirus has been registered for the first time in the world this morning” (CNN). He claimed one of his daughters had already been vaccinated successfully.
Critics point out a lack of trial transparency and say it has not yet undergone widespread human testing. The carefully chosen name of the vaccine—Sputnik-V—hearkens to Russia’s early success in the international space race and appears intended to suggest they now lead the worldwide medical race. Do not miss this jockeying for what it is—another form of what Matthew 24:7 calls “nation…against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”!
More locally, violence as usual erupted in Chicago, sparked by a shooting on August 9 when a man pointed a gun at police. Misinformation fueled tempers and hundreds looted stores in the Magnificent Mile shopping district and other areas of downtown Chicago. (I have been there numerous times.) Drawbridges were raised, highway ramps closed, and 400 officers were deployed to quell the chaos. About 100 were arrested. Looters brazenly recorded themselves in the act!
As Christ warned in Mark 13:8, “troubles” (meaning “mob sedition”) have become normalized—and expected. One of our ministers there for a funeral (and who grew up there) sent a quick email in the midst of the chaos. One line of four short words summarizes the state and trajectory of this once great city: “Chicago is blowing up!” This man is an attorney, public safety expert and author, and a former police officer who patrolled the very streets involved. He would know!
The chaos of the previous paragraph has become the new norm, almost “run of the mill.” Sometimes more exotic troubles spill into the news. During a live press conference on August 10, President Trump was whisked away by the Secret Service during an active shooter threat. Nothing like this has been seen by millions in real time.
Almost no one knows that one of the meanings of the word “earthquakes” (Matt. 24:7) that Christ foretold to be in “various places” is “a gale” (defined as very strong wind). One just devastated America’s Midwest. A weather event called a derecho (often called land hurricanes) brought 75 to 110 mph straight line winds (comparable to an EF1 tornado or Category 2 hurricane) tearing through 700 miles of the country. Millions were still without power after four days. The storm leveled tens of thousands of trees, barns and silos, also toppling giant trucks like toys. In Iowa alone, 10 million acres of crops were completely flattened just before harvest. This is 43 percent of the state’s production.
Jesus also spoke of “troubles” of a different kind immediately preceding His coming. The Greek word can also mean “roiling of waters.” Monsoon rains and flooding have devastated Asia this year. Over 9.6 million people have been affected by flooding in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh with some areas receiving more than 40 inches of rainfall! Over 500 have died and great numbers more are missing.
The secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stated, “People in Bangladesh, India and Nepal are sandwiched in a triple disaster of flooding, the coronavirus and an associated socioeconomic crisis of loss of livelihoods and jobs.” In addition, over 2.7 million in China had to evacuate due to flooding from heavy rain. The monsoon season is typically June to September.
In what has been an active hurricane season so far, Hurricane Hanna hit Texas on July 25 as a Category 1 storm. Winds up to 90 mph caused downed trees and powerlines and more than 15 inches of rain in some areas led to flooding. At the same time, Hurricane Douglas skirted the Hawaiian Islands, leaving very little damage in its wake. A third hurricane, Isaias, threatened several islands before hitting the U.S. East Coast. Complicating matters, officials planning for such natural disasters must still contend with the COVID-19 pandemic. Isaias is the 9th named storm in the Atlantic, which has never happened this early before. Weather experts expect an extremely active hurricane season and have predicted 24 named storms—twice the usual.
The same Jesus Christ tells us to “Watch…and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things…and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). Many are earnestly seeking this promise! The horrors above will soon give way to the world peace all long for. What an awesome privilege it is to know God’s Plan and to soon be used to help heal such a broken world.
The awful and rapidly worsening conditions of this world should have us all fervently praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” We cannot have long…