The Power of Portent

The scenes have been all too familiar—and tragically so. The photographs could have come out of the monster earthquake tsunami that leveled swaths of the east coast of Japan in 2011. Or the pictures could have been taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that obliterated entire communities on our own eastern seaboard in 2012. But now for the third year in a row another eastern coastline has been reduced to broken match sticks in the furious wake of Typhoon Haiyan. And the death toll is agonizingly too high once again. Just another random act of Mother Nature out of control? Perhaps. One more nail in the coffin of global warming? I’ll let the scientists argue their points. But I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that, contributory factors aside, we are witnesses to a ratcheting up of (un)natural calamities whose message to the human race is more than simply a scientific one. Millennia ago an ancient prophet observed: “The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:6). Nobody, least of all this prophet, is suggesting that all natural calamities are divinely targeted earth events to punish the guilty. By the tens of thousands, it is the innocent who suffer. Nevertheless, we mustn’t miss the prophet’s point—haphazard and seemingly random meteorological events may be divinely permitted portents to warn the human race of impending judgment. Imagine for a moment an asteroid similar in megatonage to the one that exploded near Chelyabinsk this past February. Only this time what if such an asteroid, undetected and unexpected, would strike a populated center somewhere on this planet? The reaction of this civilization would border on the edge of panic and “revival.” “An act of divine judgment” would be the message trumpeted from a thousand pulpits, mosques, synagogues and temples. The point? Catastrophic (un)natural events instantly, universally suggest divine judgment. That was the prophet’s point. It was Jesus’ point, too: “‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken’” (Luke 21:25-26). Roaring and tossing of the sea? Heavenly bodies shaken? Portents of random obliteration or signs of impending divine judgment—either way Someone will have the rapt attention of the entire human race. My point is twofold. First, we must not become calloused to these crescendoing natural disasters. Text the American Red Cross for a donation on your phone bill for the Philippine crisis. Go online to and contribute to their Leyte disaster relief. Don’t allow your emotions to be aroused without acting in response. Our GROW Group made a contribution to AFIA, the Filipino American club on campus. Second, wake your heart up! We no longer live in natural cycles on this planet. “More and more, as the days go by, it is becoming apparent that God’s judgments are in the world. In fire and flood and earthquake He is warning the inhabitants of this earth of His near approach” (9T 97). Go deeper in your walk with Jesus—linger longer in His presence each morning. Ask for a new boldness to share the urgently good news about Him and His soon return. Step outside your comfort zone—share your faith with a stranger or a friend. After all, if Heaven is ready to go, shouldn’t we be, too?