As a monster storm burst upon the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic United States, prayers ascended for God’s protection, particularly for the most vulnerable: those who are ill, handicapped or elderly, along with children and single mothers.
For many, Hurricane Sandy evoked flashbacks of the 2005 Asian tsunami. During that tragedy I was a pastor in suburban Sacramento, California, United States. Having heard that many unchurched people were praying for tsunami victims, we thought it would be good to invite them to pray together with us. So we rented an electric sign trailer and parked it in front of our church, welcoming anyone who wished to pray to join us that evening.
People driving by our church facility noticed the flashing sign. Some returned that evening, joining our church members in the dimly lit sanctuary. As soft music played, I began the service by asking attendees to share their thoughts and sympathies about the suffering in Thailand. Then we would pray together. Afterward, anyone who wished could contribute toward tsunami relief by dropping an offering into a box while exiting the sanctuary.
Members and guests began sharing their poignant concerns for the Thailand victims. Suddenly one of our members on the front row waved his arm for attention. I called upon him to share his sentiments, and he jumped up with an open Bible and declared excitedly: “This tsunami is an amazing fulfillment of Christ’s prediction that there would be natural disasters in the last days! Jesus is coming soon!” he announced to members and guests alike. He then proceeded to read eagerly from Matthew chapter 24 about the signs of Christ’s coming.
I stopped him. “There is a time and place to study Bible prophecy and the signs of Christ’s coming—but not tonight. We’ve come here to grieve and to pray for suffering humanity.” Despite his obvious disappointment, we proceeded to do just that.
Ironically, our prophecy enthusiast may himself have been fulfilling a Bible prediction. Jesus warned that in the last days “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Christ wasn’t just thinking about people who break God’s laws with hardened hearts. Believers also can harbor insensitive souls, caring more about the mathematics of fulfilled prophecy than they do about those who are already suffering a time of trouble. Indeed, some Sabbatarians prefer to argue about the 7th day versus the 1st day of the week rather than come together to rest in Christ through corporate worship and fellowship. For them, the Adventist sanctuary message is more about computing 2300 symbolic days than it is about a literal place of refuge in our great high priest.
Please don’t misunderstand my concern. Being a prophecy student myself, I affirm those who are alert to the fulfilling of times and seasons. We should all watch eagerly for signs of Christ’s coming. But more important than what we know about the last days is how much we care in such a time as this.
So when it comes to Biblical interpretation, let’s do the math, yes. But not at the expense of being the loving Christians that God has called us to be. We can and must love the Lord, not just with our minds but with our hearts—and then go forth into the community, workplace and classroom to love our neighbors as ourselves.
There is a time to study, and a time to pray. With millions of people in the United States and the Caribbean facing the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, this is a time to pray.
—Martin Weber is Communication director for the Adventist Church’s Mid-America Union, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States.