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Literal, material famines, then, during such a period as this, these were another predicted characteristic of the period ushering in the return of Christ. Some of the most appalling in history have in fact occurred in recent years in Africa (Biafra) and many continue in dozens of nations (such as Ethiopia); while India suffers this way too. Figures on food astound. One noted relief organisation claimed that some 40,000 children are dying daily from lack of food. At all events, disorganisation and lack is a conspicuous part of this modern scenario, increasingly chronic, while large scale and deeply realised. Natural disasters seem almost to compete with vicious pride of race or group, even to the point of selective distribution of relief, such as caused embarrassment (*2) to the Australian government around the mid-eighties, at the Foreign Minister level.
Sin and judgment move together like a pack of lions; but the Scripture is fulfilled. God is neither mocked nor inept, but continues to send out His gospel which continues in masses of the race to suffer categorical rejection, and He continues to do what He says, both in mercy and judgment. Indeed, in the case of famine, (as with earthquakes also predicted by Christ - Matthew 24:7- as constituting one index of His return), population increase must make them more magnified in their effects - and they continue to rock the world and threaten its people.
In the present unsubdued scenario, Professor David Pimental of Cornell University, U.S.A. (Adelaide Advertiser, Feb. 23, 1994), estimates the earth's population is already 3 times larger than the planet can sustain; and it is forecast to double in 40 years. Moreover nuclear blasting may well unsettle elements of the geological balance, already fine enough. Population has increased and order has not, among the nations: the human race is becoming like a man who has grown to maturity, but has not reached wisdom; who has now his own money, but knows neither master nor mastery in his life. Later, we shall return to this topic, when the political involvements in this area will be pondered with it.
Geographers have a map signifying the incidence of earthquakes throughout this century; and it may be observed that these phenomena are scarcely rarities... They may indeed be plotted for this twentieth century, to show vast swathes across the earth, ant-like clusters of various densities in various places. One example may help.
Time magazine for October 2, 1971 shows devastation in Iran. It notes that this century has 20,000 recorded earthquakes and aftershocks in a period of 18 years and suffered about 100,000 casualties. True all may not be large; but the results are not small, the cumulative unsettlement is sure: the fact is there. In this one instance, it speaks of 100 villages within a radius of 60 miles, of which 40 were levelled. Indeed devastations have increased many-fold as the century comes to close
More recently (1980), we have had the regional ash and magnificently spectacular if deadly upheaval of Mount St Helens in the U.S., where the whole region has felt the impact, and eyes tightly closed to (spiritual) realities are exposed to particles; and ears deaf to the voice of God, to vibrations. Many who depart from God have notice served.
Interestingly (Time, June 2, 1980), it is reported that geologists find Mount St Helens volcano is venting radioactive radon gas in larger amounts than were emitted by the crippled Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania.
Luke 21:11 refers not only to earthquakes in diverse places but to great ones. The diversity is most apparent; indeed to take the U.S. case, we find Time in reflective mood: "Until Mount St Helens sudden reawakening, many Americans had blithely assumed that most of the volcanoes of their own Northwest were 'dead'. But many scientists knew better. Only two years ago two volcanologists from the Geological Survey made a perspicuous forecast. They wrote, 'ln the future Mount St Helens probably will erupt violently and intermittently just as it has in the recent geological past, and these future eruptions will affect human life and health, property, agriculture and general economic welfare over a broad area.' '' Security indeed is not the order of the times.
As to the great earthquakes, there have of course been notable events such as those in 1556 in Shen-sha, China with an estimated toll of 840,000 dead; Calcutta, India in 1737 with a toll 300,000; Lisbon 1755 with a toll of 30,000 to 60,000 - to use figures supplied in Gloria D. Mikiowitz's Earthquake! (1977). In our own century, examples on a considerable scale are seen in cases like San Francisco 1906, where Mikiowitz supplies this report: "People said the pavement of some streets rose and fell in ripples like a rope being whipped." Again, Messina, Italy in 1908 has an estimated earthquake toll of 160,000, whilst Mount Katmai in Alaska in 1912 is cited as the source of the largest volcanic blast in North American history (the lonely character of the site preserving the country from high mortality in this instance).
Kansu, China in 1920 is accorded a toll of 180,000, whilst Yokohama in 1923 was a city severely damaged by earthquake, and Quetta in Baluchistan, in 1935 was a notable catastrophe area, with toll estimated at 30,000. In 1955 most of the city of Niigata in Japan was destroyed, whilst with a different sort of gravity, the Denver Colorado region in the U.S. in 1962 saw the commencement of a 3 year period of 710 quake occurrences, some larger, some smaller. In more singular immensity was the case of Tangshan in China in 1976. Dr Jung Chang in her Wild Swans records the official toll of the dead and badly injured at 406,000 (p. 656) - near a half-million.
Our century has in fact figured rather like a geyser in a brilliant array of destructive episodes from the earth's restlessness. We have achieved a collection of grandeur in the earthquake category. In Iran - a large death toll from this cause is repetitive: in 1957, 500 villages were destroyed and 4500 lives lost; in 1962 10,000 more died and in 1968, 12,000 lost their lives.
Peru in 1970 gave a startling display: 'In less than a minute, an area bigger than New York State was rocked as if by a giant hand' (Mikiowitz, op. cit.). One town of 20,000 was buried - 8 out of 10 buildings in the Peru quake are cited as destroyed. Death toll looms at 70,000. It was called by scientists, Mikiowitz relates, 'by far the most destructive earthquake in the Western hemisphere.'
However, Alaska in 1964 involves surely one of the most complex scenarios of drastic destruction. It was "one of the strongest and longest lasting earthquakes ever recorded, and when it was over, 50,000 square miles of the state were tilted to new altitudes. Indeed, we read that this shaking had such a violence that, ''It set the whole world to vibrating, like a tuning fork''; and that wells in distant Florida itself, rose and fell. Fishing villages were the rubble of waves that carried them off. We read of broken oil storage tanks, igniting oil and of a tidal wave turning back on the city the burning fuel; of Valdez, 10 feet higher after the event, and of the whole of the Kenai Peninsula being moved sideways some 60 feet and downwards at least 7.
Tsunamis rollicked not only on Alaskan villages to their extinction, but damaged towns in Washington, Oregon and in California.
While the sea raged (as prophesied in turn, by Luke 21:25), one can think also of the horror of seeing great cracks open up to close and swallow the contents, tilted, tossed or reposed in them. With a Richter scale reading of 8.5 it was little less than what was found at the maximum recorded intensity in history: 8.9.
Our century has thus been adorned with some of the records or near records of history as far as documentation is concerned; bedizened with a multiplicity of times, places and poundings of volcanic fury, and earth's sheer rigour. These things have occurred in episodes suggestive, even from this early vantage point, of the geological and maritime syndrome of 'sea and waves roaring'. Cases of this kind in the last 100 years include the classic catastrophe of Krakatoa. This great maritime adventure occurred in 1883 and it sprawled dust which made sunsets over the whole world, to be unusually red, a foretaste perhaps of 'signs in the sun'. We are, in this century, specialists in explosions that thumb the nose to fear whilst creating it, and to consequences that are not diminished, though the eyes of many may be clouded while these things occur, by warlike fever and political lust.
Such things bid fair to unleash new kaleidoscopic displays not only of inhuman barbarity, but of atmospheric splendour, like a mighty send-off to a departing Age.
If, however, stories of Krakatoa read like horror novels with natural phenomena of mighty waves and pounded ships, the very stuff of dreams, the deaths are of another kind; and these sombre signals are here to warn and indirectly, to encourage, according as death or life works in the witnesses beholding them. As Jesus indicated in another area, it is better to lose a limb than a life; and a physical life than the soul itself. Grievous as these things are, they also serve to indicate the culmination is approaching, after which this Age will be terminated with a return in such splendour of peace and power and beauty, a return of the Lord Jesus Christ, as will be a sermon, initially at least, without words.
Freely we may rove from cataclysm to cataclysm within about a century past; and an intensely concentrated array of famous names in the list of earthquakes is found in this time. There is no question of some one new event such as the Lisbon earthquake, in more distant past, so upsetting the thoughts of men who ponder, as there then was; for we are surfeited with loss, and see the appetite of the sea, summoning strength to meet that of the land. The case of Alaska, with its fearsome geological jaws grinding in newly created crevasses, is now one which has to be distinguished... Alaska of 1912 or of 1964 ? Oceanic might is displayed, not only in the global red and tidal waves of Krakatoa, but in the coast-demolishing Alaskan quake of 1964 - while both may be portents of less natural demolitions by means of - oceans: the shallow continental shelf option for aggressive man-made atomic explosions, targeting coastal cities.
It should be remembered in this context, that a wounded bear is not the same as a dead one; nor are bears the only aggressive symbols of nations. Nor indeed, are baby bears unable to grow, especially when they may come at birth, equipped with nuclear teeth; nor for that matter, does the newly created Russian commonwealth - say Commonwealth of Independent States - fail to have the potential of a bear pack...
Let us however return to the writhings of the stage of this scene of earthly crime among the nations, leaving for the time, the nations themselves.
Salient as are so many earthquakes in our century, they are attended like monarchs by a myriad of minor examples, train-bearers alerting the mind of men to the fact that the stability of their earth, though great is not unconditionally guaranteed against any destabilisations by man who rests his feet upon it, or has, perhaps, his head in the clouds and his heart in the dust - if not indeed, burrowing below the very surface of things material, as if in Nature, he could find his rest.
From Nature, small help may be found (cf. Revelation 6:16). Distinguished seismologist Dr Robert Uhrhammer of the University of California's Berkeley Seismographic Station, warned that at any time Australia's East coast could be struck by a wave to 100 feet high, moving at 100-150 m.p.h., thrown up by a cataclysmic mid-Pacific earthquake. Indonesia's 3.1 (Richter) quake, in 1977, was felt in Perth and, he indicated, in the 1964 Alaskan quake dynamism, tidal observation gauges measured the bounce to and fro, of this wave, between Japan and South America for two weeks. At about the time of his speaking, Col Allan in New York for the Weekend Australian (May 31, June 1, 1980) indicated a quake of 6.1 Richter scale magnitude, "rattled California from Nevada to the sea and from Sacramento to Los Angeles"... the third over 6.0 in three days. (See further: Richter Scale, p. 748 infra.)
The rugged earth, like the spirit of man, has limits of immunity from shaking, as man wallows on in his will.
We might add Guatemala with its toll of 22,000 in 1979; and Tokyo, Japan in 1923 with its toll of 140,000. California managed each year 500 shocks strong enough for people to notice; and we read that one quake every four years achieves the 6 intensity rating on the Richter scale, while Mt St Helens, noted above, became a torment to Washington State in 1980, showing that the action is not confined to the centre of fear in this respect, which appears more normally to be California for the U.S.. (See pp. 748-749 infra.)
Various attitudes in California, towards renewed and alarming seeming earthquake activity or threats, have at least demonstrated again, the tide of predicted fear which, compounded with so many other aggravated and aggrandising sources, helps produce the predicted state: ''Men's hearts failing them for fear'' (Luke 21:26 cf. Matthew 24:6).
The function of futuristic seismology is now growing, one such expert appearing on the Australian program - 'Beyond 2000' in 1990, with exposition of areas of risk in terms of various methods of risk assessment, while in New Madrid, Missiouri in 1990, things reached a quite extraordinary flurry of fear and activity. We read in the Adelaide Advertiser of this acute apprehension:
New Madrid, Missouri: High noon came and went yesterday and the people of New Madrid issued a collective sigh of relief. The great earthquake scare of 1990 seemed to be over. Noon marked the mid-point in a disputed but disruptive prediction of a major earthquake in the central United States along the fault line for which New Madrid is named. New Madrid Major Dick Phillips, engulfed by a sea of cameras, lights and sound booms, summed it up: "It's history. I think after today, people will rest easier..." The prediction by Mr Iben Browning, a climatologist, called for a quake of 7.0 on the Richter scale 48 hours either side of Monday. Schools were closed in parts of five States, police and fire departments were on standby, and disaster plans had been drawn up from Arkansas north to Illinois. (Italics added.)
The climatologist had claimed to have predicted the 1989 San Francisco quake, the 1980 eruption of Mt St Helens and had given other recent warnings...
It may be that this fear will increase yet further as atomic weapons increasingly are held in dictator-directed nations, or in Moslem ones where the 'holy war' or jihad syndrome can reduce any normal sense of responsibility.
Again, an increasing megatonnage, with increasing daring, shocks the crust of the earth quite exceptionally - Russia in particular having specialised in vast megaton bombs, perhaps with the intention of being able to remove the U.S. counter-strike capability in, shall we say, a rather heavy-handed fashion that would reduce the need to ... ferret things out.
Already, whatever the causes or compounding of causes, the Mt St Helens eruption has shown the dimensions of powers involved. The Melbourne Age on May 27, 1980 declared:
Thick grey mud rained on southwest Washington State following a second big eruption of Mt St Helens volcano, blinding motorists, cutting power lines... Roads were turned into mudslides in the towns of Longview and Kelso, 72 kilometres west of the volcano and other nearby areas... Dark clouds sprinkled ash over Portland, Oregon ... forcing airlines to cancel flights for fear that aircraft engines became choked.We have dealt in some detail with Mt St Helens already, in another connection (pp. 164-171 supra); but its relevance here is its contribution in magnitude to predicted earthquakes, on the one hand, and to predicted fears, on the other. The sense of a military 'tattoo' is maintained, as in 1991 the 'ring of fire' area, stretching from Alaska to New Zealand, has blazed with fresh zest, following a round of earthquakes in Iran.
Thus Mt Unzen in Japan has erupted massively near once atomically-devastated Nagasaki, after a volcanically peaceful 200 years; while in the same scenario Mt Pinatubo, in the Philippines, resurrected after some 600 inactive years, looms unresolved in instability, after new outbursts reportedly rendering hundreds of thousands homeless.
Thus the meaning in magnitude of these earthquake phenomena is reinforced by the impact of continuity. Man is reminded palpably that nothing even now, without God, is safe. A lively touch appears in the report of US air force men fleeing, for all their colleagues' recent display of devastating power, from the large Clark Air Base (dependents evacuating the only way - by ship!): surely in such a setting of airborne might, a testimony to human impotence. Meanwhile in Japan, Mt Unzen, poised for yet more outbursts, following its recent inundation of villages, has rained rocks, pelting the hi-tech civilisation consolidated about it.
The fears of man and the developing facts of global life intertwine, interlock. It may be that some of the massively destructive events indicated in the book of Revelation, including vast population deaths, will relate to an ensemble of explosives, natural and man-made, as well as astronomical ones, of which the 1987 near-miss by an asteroid and a later similar occurrence, may be instalments. (That of 1987 came nearer than half the distance to the moon. See pp. 681 ff. infra.)
These things, compounded with the suspended products of our nuclear activity in fission products and space fragments, nuclear fall-outs of various kinds from radio-active projectiles, or nuclear-powered craft: they present massifs of man and meteorology in multiplied judgments, actual or latent, while man continues with a sort of world-wide cultural mania, the bombardment of the truth, in cases multiplied but few more appalling than that noted in South Australia, in the schools of the Education Department (see pp. 109-111, 275-277, 308, 208 supra), though this be merely a most brazen example of a folly almost world-wide. Ideologies, grossly offensive to the truth and corruptive to the young, are being crammed by knowledgeable powers in many continents, into the waiting maws of the unhappy young. If even in democracies such violations may freely reign, what of the Communists! But subtlety may succeed where mere force fails. It is then in very pointed symbolism that the Almighty unleashes on our environment, more of the elemental powers, as if to awaken a spoilt child to life, before he loses it altogether. As force prevents debate, even in this State, on open terms, so force answers with its witless strivings, the witlessness of man.
Again such predicted escalations of woes to the race (e.g. Matthew 24, Revelation 9:18-21) may be exacerbated in various ways. Thus efforts to move populations, to alter population centres in an effort to crush the will of peoples, could contribute to the polymorphic plague situation, itself also predicted to reach striking proportions (Matthew 24:7,12,21). The activities in this direction in Ethiopia and the movements of peoples as in Afghanistan, the outrageous insurgency of U.S.S.R. troops into the Baltic States, invaded aggressively earlier this century and subsequently treated rather like rebels for desiring their freedom from a failed and foolish system: these are merely examples. Russian moves to eliminate many of the smaller cultural country centres could also relate. Man, whatever new systems he may devise, is becoming more and more an unprincipled technocratic manipulator, adorned with dizzy dreams as free of logic as of feasibility, becoming more like terrestial nightmares for a race which ignores celestial peace: a plague to itself.
Militant Communism and Mohammedanism alike, to name but two, are quite capable of such actions; and the old Stalin is by no means the end of this... people movement, of which the kulak farmer movement to death, to Siberia or in any case off their farms, was another example.
Prodigious power and miniscule morals combine to create, with the fanaticism of false religion or frenzied irreligion, a political opportunity for escalating madness, of which this present century has been the silent witness: though less silent the cries of those afflicted.
When to misled desire for false glory, is added desire for revenge on those who indulged it, and the means come more readily to more hands, with greater power, and the power to repress is similarly escalated, then the scenario of fear, confusion, plague, famine, disorder, vileness, harassment goes all too readily, according to the predicted path.
Again, it may be that some of the 'pestilences' prophesied will relate to miscarried plans of germ warfare, or chemical consequences of weaponry, as shown in the radioactivity ratings in certain areas. Not least are the effects of Chernobyl, where Communist cut-rate reactors caused so much damage, with so little in protective provisions. The results included thyroid collections in infants - of radioactive poison; and the scope included Norway, England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as West Germany. All this appears merely a prelude. Even the prelude, with the accession of Gorbachev, and prior to his departure as President, is shown now to have been more, far more destructive to the Russian residents, than had been disclosed.
Saddam Hussein's active threat of bacteriological and chemical warfare more recently has merely underlined the threat of a decade before; and questions are being asked of the side-effects of bombing such sites, even when there is the good fortune to identify them before their... use! Or shall it be North Korea - disturbing Japan ...
While, then, Russia and its commonwealth now mutates this way and that, but has not lost its army or weapons, merely the more assured sense of leadership, an unstable phase for such power, Iraq shows the world the chemical and bacteriological possibilities, with unholy cries of 'holy war', more recently, as we shall see, resounding with those of newly disembarrassed Iran. This nation, no doubt pleased with the US demolition of so much of its former enemy's power, is thinking of contributing soldiers to help the Palestinians in the Middle east... As we shall also see later, a regional push intended as a putsch is predicted against Israel; and the Causcases, now so fascinating a hub and starting point for a series of Moslem and disbanded Moslem Soviet States, is one of the leads for its source. What then of Hussein, in the interim ?
If Hussein fails utterly, the idea may prove attractive to other fanatical despots. He may at least serve as an exemplar, however flawed, for revised versions of Middle East aggression, this time protected by numbers, just as the Bible has predicted. Current events therefore not merely fulfil Biblical predictions; their trend fits intimately with predictions to come.
Indeed, where power increases and the worship of the God of salvation decreases, so danger increases and stability recedes. Thus in fulfilment also of these prophecies is the status quo, which enables and advances and enhances just such things as are prophesied, till the earth should, as Christ predicted in Matthew 24, become unlivable except He intervened: something Christ indicated quite clearly, He would do.
As men continue to abuse their souls, and those of others, fear and destruction, plague and famine are all to be expected, for greed and ruthlessness with power and curiosity make a calamitous assemblage, and one increasingly encouraged by soulless religion and soulless political forces. It is not at all that the soul of man has ceased: rather has its vital exercise become increasingly paralysed. Beasts can almost become blessed by comparison with fallen and unredeemed man, as devilries rise in fury in the rebellious spirit of the creation-in-God's-image... of man! The glory gives the capacity; and shame measures its misuse. It seems the race is aspiring to new records here also, in the misuse of God's gifts.
These figures become, like the mushroom cloud, almost a symbol of this Age. As such, they bespeak exactly with unmistakable reality, the syndrome predicted: "there shall be famines" (Matthew 24:7), and this in a total situation making life come to be virtually unlivable on earth. If this is ''the beginning of sorrows'', escalation from here is portentous indeed! (Matthew 24:8 in fact, says precisely this: This is the beginning of the end.)
We come now to the point foreshadowed. Some famine is politically aggravated or perhaps even caused. In 1992-3, Somaliland seems such a case!
Clear witness has been given to the massive slaughter through famine worked by Stalin in the early 1920's (see p. 659 infra). The African famine is now more than mere disorganisation. The Sahara Desert (AAP January 1985, in the Weekly Times) is extending. For over ten years, we read, it has increased southward between 10 and 19 kilometres per year! In 1984, we find the worst recorded year for drought to that time in the area; it is 'as if the desert advanced 201 kilometres' (c. 125 miles). Inaccessibility of many people compounded the sheer local lack. This century, for many reasons, shouts...'famine!' and the noise grows clearer. (Cf. Revelation 6:5-17, esp. v.8, and that sure, slow measured tread to Revelation 9:4-21.) It has escalated since this volume started! Now Rwanda, Zaire, Bosnia create shudders of horror, with frustrated officials, terror, mass migration stirring the President of Zaire to declare these "the last days of the apocalypse". Famine and 'fearful sights' (pp. 679, 681, 840 infra) sear the air.
The starvation and famine figures for men in Asia seem startling almost beyond belief. They are cited in millions, and deaths sound almost like a population census, when they come as figures for hunger-death. (See also footnote p. 670)
A part of a nation can be subjected to governmental 'famine' through bureaucratic intention or failure, as occurred in Russia, the early Communist 'case' (or major segment of history) noted. It is not merely matters of food; it is a certain ruthlessness, an assured and arrogant pretension, implicit or explicit, to the place of divinity which makes these things so distinctive. In those earlier days of this century, Russia must have become the corpse centre, corpse capital of the world. One Melbourne Professor accordingly publicly reported (see p. 659 infra) on the amazing multiplication, cannibalisation and seeming dehumanisation of treatment in the earlier days when the full finesse of the Communist revolution showed its concern - for whatever it was concerned with; and he was depicting that concern... in slaughtering by violence or deprivation, like a devil dressed in the robes of government, ruling through a robot gone amok (cf. Revelation 12:12).
How well this wildly Satanic system of slaughter in Russia fulfilled the predictions of Paul for this time:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come ... For men will be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. (11 Timothy 3:1-3.)The NASB version for verse 3 notes the rendering: "Not loving good", and the translation 'implacable' has been used. As so often, newspaper men on the spot are 'scooped' in such a theme for the period predicted: thousands of years in advance of their arrival on the scene! Not by hours ... but by millenia, God spoke first. The words even seem to take on more intimate meaning when one sees... the events themselves. To this we shall revert. Meanwhile, more particularly let us observe that The Times, August 5, 1921 and December 1, 1920 spoke of the Russian 'famine' as:
apocalyptic in its aweful suggestion of collapse, and as one which far exceeds anything of its kind that has ever been known hitherto in Europe.Professor Atkinson of the School of Sociology of Melbourne University stated:
I was one of the very few to come though all these horrors without being attacked by typhus ...thereby reminding us of the combination of pestilence and famine ... just as indeed, the extraordinary world-wide influenza epidemic of 1919 seemed to make some comment on war and plague. What you can do in military might, its social consequences can outperform!
Famines through totalitarian expropriation and vindictiveness are by no means unknown. Even a whole nation can be significantly menaced through sheer starvation in this current climate of polished politics and rampant power, as was Biafra. Starvation can be an agent of occupation as in Afghanistan in the 90's; or it can need but little aid from man's machinations and arrive to take tens of millions as in China in 1920. Bodies can be starved where souls have long been disregarded, or wildly misconstrued. Then again, engines of repression emerge, as if men were impatient to take judgment and accelerate it, concentrate it in the cyclotron of calamity, as in Cambodia, which not long ago became almost recognisable as a country of starved cadavers, or their extensive pictures. Now it may be Somaliland or Bosnia, with more war near as invaders obstruct aid. Again and again, millions may be cited as victims, if this or that measure of mercy is not forthcoming, and that rapidly; whilst deployment of relief may be hindered by opportunists, militarists or vultures who spell the sound for 'prey', only one way.
Closely linked to these, morally and physically, are pestilences, as predicted by Jesus at the same time, in the same verse indeed; these with famine are part of the advanced syndrome for the race and as such, a sign of His approaching return.
In combination with this, there is value in comparison with words of Paul; and to these we have referred, and will give further attention - for Christ also predicted abounding iniquity (Matthew 10:12). Hate, pestilence and false prophets are set an evil trinity, a calamitous judgment scenario for a wilfully sick patient (cf. Isaiah 45:7, Amos 4:6 ff., II Kings 22:17-22, II Thessalonians 2:10).
The term 'pestilence' is one which can be used of plagues, diseases, rampant spreading sickness, and can be adapted to refer to a 'pestilential fellow'. It is closely linked with the moral element, because this not only leads on to such plagues, but constitutes a plague in itself: a rife spreading of a human virulence, detrimental to, or destructive of the individual, nation or race. The two work in close harmony in aiding disunity of mind, body and spirit. We often use the term in such a way, being 'plagued' by this or that. The term is both literal and metaphorical in usage, but carries one germ of thought.
First then let us notice that it is not merely a matter of atomic radiation, systematic pollution of the water supplies, the atmosphere (*3), the stratosphere, human bodies with drugs ever new, fiendishly devastating and dangerous to the drugged and those in their vicinity; it is also a matter of a spirit of drunkenness, literal, mental, ideologica
l and spiritual ... of wallowing, of waywardness.'Pestilence' is this, especially to the extent it has the same effect, or a similar one, on people at large.
Of course the direct literal application of 'pestilence', as a feature of our time, is enormous. Drugs are not merely big business; they run like sewerage through the water channels of millions of human beings: this is largely voluntary, but is woefully pestilential. The TV drugs are more metaphorical, though the violence they depict can drug the habituated and receptive mind no less than do chemicals. The medically oriented pills by the millions also 'control' the demented,'calm' the troubled and invade the vigour of many who find reality too much. Forests fail through acid rain, smog damages lungs, AIDS visits the race (10,000,000 cases by 2000 A.D., a 1994 news projection for India), from dire sources of spiritual and mental plague, and spills onto the innocent. Plagues laugh at the 'sheer human competence' of godless man.
While the lust for power is all too visible - for the power of God, no less, in particular, as Stalin and Mao, to name but two, made only too clear - the thrust to be autonomous, individually, racially, nationally: the power of lust alike is clearly seen. Venereal disease appears to be regaining its corrosive power over the misused bodies of many and to be threatening the minds of more. Its medicines are no longer seen as invulnerable, as comfortable licence laughs at judgment and the corrosion of love is seen in every version, conversion, subversion and perversion of sex, as though reproduction and the human race were a play-pen of exploitation and degradation, in which the only design is the design on themselves.
For millions, it seems, it is as if the beauty of love were not enough, but must be defiled by misconception and misuse of the very equipment for its racial expression; it is as if even the lungs of man are a labyrinth of pleasure for tobacco, or crack or their substitutes - attractive to many but able to end in the wheeze of weeds and the woes of bewilderment, able for many to lead to emphysema, cancer and that long (?), or long-seeming, inconspicuous anguish where limping life comes to an untidy end, an untimely end, an end not desired.
The plague of alcohol proceeds unabated, despite its loss of glamour as a topic for reproof, claiming its millions on the roads, billions in loss, while providing horrors in its breach of relationships, families and reputation. Even TB is ... recovering! Marijuana continues to threaten genetic damage to the next generation: but why? The follies of dreamland appeal to the escapists from reality, only to become dump trucks, bringing many victims back to a reality harsher than ever before, as injured concentration or stricken other abilities, and misled vital force, regard the wastage ... In the end, this may be irresolute disconsolation or visible dejection. While vision fails, lives of defeat replace the victorious living to be found in Christ, and innumerable bankruptcies of life declare themselves in a thousand subtle ways; and in the less subtle and exterior channels of the plagues which follow from such inward disasters.
Much church and racial falling away exhibits the moral malady, not to say mess, of the late twentieth century. This is found not only in false churches (and there are enough of them), but in false men everywhere. The topic is so commonplace, for the spectacle of meandering men making a moral mess in sickly society has become extreme and arresting, after prolonged deterioration in recent decades; and thus the reader may be tempted to opt out of this overview. The point of the commonplace in this context, however, is precisely the point of the comment. Is it not that this, this attests the great pith and accuracy of the prophecy, deposited thousands of years ago - to just this effect! What the Scripture predicted is like an X-ray plate, showing the disease before it developed. To rehearse the predictions is to meet the facts.
In Timothy - II Timothy 3, Paul says: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come..." As to this word "perilous", apart from scores of wars and pirouetting plagues of new and more fatal means of destruction for more masses of men, there is the simple fact that safety at night has diminished, yes even in buses and other public transport till one living in the same part of the same city must adopt quite changed modes of moving about, from those of one's own childhood; and children need ever-increasing protection. The unnecessary, the unnatural and the unsavoury are as common as uncollected garbage during a strike. A form of social madness has come and is not showing signs of departure. Moral collapse and the collapse of the sense of purpose and power in society is so advanced that self-willed, self-centred manners of men and methods of conduct are all but de rigueur; and men of God can be mistaken in the heaving mess or morass of evil, the very love of God a thing of novelty as was Faithful in Vanity Fair.
We interrupted our quotation from the prophecy of Paul concerning the last days or times, sited just before the return of the crucified but resurrected Christ."For," he continues, "Men shall be lovers of their own selves..."
Notice the ascription of cause to the peril; the evil proceeds outward from the heart. Indeed, one sect appears founded on just this folly. More broadly, this emphasis in its extreme social form we have noted, as the torment of moral adversity mounts like a wave over the 'free society'... Good indeed is it to have political freedom; but foul is the folly when moral manacles mar the possibilities, and those who have fought to retain their lives from slavery to other nations, make them bound to senseless sin. We are told that men may be as women, women as men, children as adults; all have 'rights' and wrongs seem to be forgotten, except in the doing. Like diminutive godlets, men and women and children increasingly not only err but are taught to err by all sorts of cunning professors of psychology and theology and sociology; and it is now almost a feeble beginning of these things to hear the need never to repress - which means 'love yourself'. Paul must however be quoted in full:
Know this: that in the last days, perilous times shall come: for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection... (i.e. 'without a sense of the normal relations, of warm and natural kinship, of designer's morals' - we might render the sense of the Greek word)
This passage teems with modern fulfilment, and so we may be forgiven for many interruptions to indicate these fulfilments, as we proceed. Covetousness is so raging that not to seek through any form of strike or disruption or graft or corruption, to gain all one can, while one can, is by some regarded as a sign of weakness - or even lack of fraternity with those of like grasping mind. Blasphemy is a matter of sales it seems - one prominent Australian newspaper seeking to defend its mannerless misuse of the name of Christ for mere emotional adornment of its point! Statistics are invoked to defend the employment of the greatest name in history on earth, as a mere stimulus to emotion, in a way many men would fear to do to the names of their own wives...
'Christ' is often a cry of mere pique. Indeed, the love of self is correlative with the disregard of the Maker of man - to the point of that evil combination of mockery and insolence which seems to want stilts, the better to slap the face of the Crucified Christ. It is however not in the mere multiplication of blasphemy (perilous as is such a path and mindless in the end, as an affront to one's only available saviour); it is in the point of the term 'without natural affection' that we see the fulfilment like a plague of field mice. It creeps, it crawls, it crashes and smashes and writes in the dust, it flaunts... it seems on all sides.
The Greek term means 'cruel, heartless, without kindred feeling, family feeling', and so it comes to have a broad connotation of all that goes with this loss of naturalness, both in brotherly love, and in lust.
'Men' want to be paedophiles to molest children with psychological sanction; or to mistreat one another with the devious departure from explicit design; or women to do likewise to one another, as if the physical construction were not apparent to the merest glance, a marvel of gender correlation on investigation.
All the elements of design are like a library, so great are the components; and now that AIDS has come to the aid of moral awareness - in that male creative power is not found physiologically suitable for other males, but a cause of their death in increasing numbers - what then ? Teachers in some numbers still seem to want to be free to mistreat the minds of adolescents by teaching such things, infamously serving it in the guise of an 'alternative life style'. Merchants market child pornography - and what of the children who participate ? Meanwhile, venereal disease again breaks antibiotic bounds and refuses to be set aside by medical advance.
Natural affection ? No, it is quite unnatural in the modern trend. It gushes and geysers where it does not belong, with painful physical reminders of the folly. Life itself is forfeit before truth is acknowledged in many a paper, many a pulpit. Churchmen indeed in England can meet (as recently as 1985) to declaim that AIDS peril is not to be seen as a judgment of Almighty God. What then do they think He has done ?
Do they not hear the inward wails of the doomed ? Unable to resist sin, they now fail to resist disease or death. Moral resistance broken, they can find physical resistance departed with it - not seeking the mercy of God, many continue in their ways. Sad gaiety and sombre mockery... What more is required to convince men who name the name of God, that the Almighty is not mocked ? (Galatians 6:7).
The combination of the unnatural and the self-centred, morally and physically, is making failing man into a monster, increasingly resembling a sort of civic dragon belching fire and folly, consuming the children and abusing the populace. Ethically, loyalty and in families warmth also, are becoming more unusual; while single mothers and fathers or even metaphorical unnatural ones, make family itself into a prosthetic and halting substitute. This is of course no reflection on the courage of those who are left without their life partner through calamity; but it turns on those who in principle opt for what ends 'natural affection' in various aspects of its 'natural' place in life. Our point ? Thatthisnaturalness is waning, being vexed, folly being even governmentally sanctioned; and that it is thus fulfilling this prophecy with all the pointedness that we have become accustomed to see, where the word of God says what will happen!
It is now timely to remind ourselves that Christ in Matthew 24:7 cites pestilences, a term inclusive of the pernicious - as one more part of the syndrome showing His return draws near. Current plagues or pestilences are social, emotional, venereal, medical, moral; while false religion similarly plagues man, as if a supreme super-market supplied every conceivable poison, as a service to customers. The results of such things are not unexpected.
U.S. psychiatric figures - in millions - show results that are also mental. Since Hiroshima, the pestilence has been radiational; but the literal and the metaphorical mix in one medley of malady. The world is stricken.
The prophecy is sadly but brilliantly and systematically fulfilled.
Paul proceeds in our locus: Trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce,
despisers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying its power. And from such people turn away.Yes, they break the word of God in their own bodies, and then their own words: without natural affection, truce-breakers. (And all of this ? - it is the prescription of the apostle, his designation for 'the last times.')
Indeed, the contempt for the truth of Scripture is reaching, on psychological but not logical grounds, an almost obsessive and compulsive force; its mention can be a cause of disorder, and its defence - of passion on the part of those who hear. Men turn from it more than from death, while some prefer even death to reconciliation with the Almighty or attention to His words - like divorcees who would indeed rather die than live again with their former spouses.
Men loftily call themselves 'Christian atheists' or 'Christian agnostics' or in other ways seek to show, it appears, the glory of their souls... and this in the absence of the One who gave them those same souls, and the power to say or believe anything with significance or truth! The refrigerator for reality has been tossed carelessly onto the garbage heap under searing heat.
Self-proclaimed as meaningless meanders of matter (may we say 'magical meanders'), they make modern twentieth century myths. Where, by their own stated views, there can in fact be no truth - for as nothing is held to be absolute, no reference point is secure, measurable or imaginable: yet they will tell us what can and cannot be, what is and is not the case, with all the aplomb of the intoxicated. A form of logical insanity seems the most socially acceptable, not to say commonplace, way of life for many.
Paul proceeds in our predictive locus:
Despisers of goodness and of good men (Thayer)
is a dictionary rendering of one more of Paul's predictive words, concerning the last times. Such an attitude is in fact a characteristic of the spirit of this Age as surely as is blasphemy against the true God: good in Himself - and good for man. Man alas who is no good for himself, by himself... turns (to continue Paul's prediction):
fierce ... heady and highminded,
amidst the puny pushiness of his plashy pretences. This then is also covered in advance by Paul in the same text, like a predictive reporter ... of monumental accuracy.
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