The May 1984 issue of National Geographic Magazine held me spellbound for several hours one evening some years ago. It showed through color photos the swift and terrible destruction which buried the cities of Pompey and Herculaneum a few miles south of Naples, Italy in the year 79 AD.
Although nearby Mount Vesuvius had been rumbling and smoking for some time, the volcanic explosion which destroyed the two cities occurred so suddenly that many of their residents were overwhelmed in the midst of their daily routines. The article showed people desperately trying to escape the flood of ash and superheated gas that flooded the cities in a matter of minutes. Until shortly before the final eruption, people had been at work, men and women walked the streets, slaves toiled–even family pets suffered the same fate. It takes little imagination to picture the panic of that fateful day. It must have been horrible.
Maybe the saddest part is that these people trapped and buried in the ash did not need to die. Researchers confirm what ancient Roman records tell about the weeks of rumblings and emissions of gas which preceded the explosion. An ominous plume of smoke had been clearly visible days before the catastrophe. Many people had taken heed of the warning and had fled elsewhere, leaving behind not only their belongings but the diehards who believed the quakings to be merely another episode in the periodic unrest of the mountain. If only all of them had taken the warnings seriously!
There are similar rumblings in our own times: constant warfare, the ever-present nuclear threat, economic woes, the breakdown of the institutions of society, disregard of moral standards, etc. While these things are not exactly new, it does appear that the frequency and intensity of these “rumblings” may point to a coming catastrophe.
Jesus forecast a future day of judgment in Matthew 24, which is expanded in other parts of the Bible. I understand that this type of thing has been said so many times before that people have grown weary of hearing it. Nevertheless, Jesus’ predictions and the troubling current events do remind us of the truth that no matter what the timetable may be, disaster is coming and people dare not be caught unprepared.
So, what to do? Now is the time to prepare for what may come upon us at any moment. It is time to come to terms with God, with our own inadequacies and with the certainty that, come what may, we are not disaster-proof. Now is the time to bring our lives into some kind of order, working consistently, spending within our means, making reasonable and modest choices about consumption and lifestyle. We need to cultivate deep relationships and firm family ties. But there is a deeper, spiritual dimension to all of this. The bottom line is to get real with God. For some of us this is the crux of the issue because we aren’t even real with ourselves.
The good news is that God has a way of helping us do what must be done when we ask for his intervention. It might be appropriate to begin with a simple prayer saying, “God, please come into my life and change me. Open my eyes to the reality about myself and those around me. Help me to be what you created me for. Show me how much you love me. Help me to love others.” As a Christian and a pastor, I would love to add the part about faith in Jesus at this point. But maybe this is enough for a beginning.
I honestly have no special insight into what the future holds, other than what the Bible predicts and what little may be gleaned from current events. But I am certain that one disaster or another will overtake us all, whether the end of the age, a serious illness, the loss of employment or the breakup of our families. It is utter foolishness not to be prepared, thinking that peace and prosperity will be ours forever.