Ah, retirement! On February 1, 2020, I officially joined that elite club of retirees. I had all kinds of plans and projects, and places to go, people to see, and things to do. Within a month COVID-19 had totally upended all my plans.
I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who decided to use this time in isolation to read more, or to reread The Great Controversy. This time I would just read the last half of the book—the part about our time. But then I came to the chapter called “The Time of Trouble.” I have to admit, I was tempted to skip it.
I don’t like trouble. And through the years I have often cringed as a well-meaning pastor or Sabbath School teacher began to wax eloquent on the horrors we could expect, and how we should be getting ready now or we would never survive then. I didn’t want to read about trouble. There was already enough trouble around. I wanted to focus on something promising, beautiful, full of hope—not the time of trouble.
But I have a problem, perhaps an obsession: an obsession with filling in all the blanks. At the grocery store parking lot my wife likes to park with space on both sides. Me, I want to park right beside the next vehicle—filling blanks; no empty lots between cars. When we pick blueberries, I want to finish picking all the berries on this bush—even the little nubbins—before moving to the next bush, loaded with big, beautiful berries.
So you guessed it: I read “The Time of Trouble”—the whole chapter. This time as I read I noticed something I had never noticed before: that chapter is filled with Bible promises. So I read it again and made a list. There are 20 of them by my count. I wrote them out on cards and started memorizing them. After all, if we are in, or expecting, the time of trouble soon, maybe it would help to know those promises.
They are not verses I have spent much time with in the past. As I read and reread them, as I worked on memorizing them, I was amazed at what I was learning. By way of example: “We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:5-7, NKJV).1
Paul was not holding his loins as though he was in labor. He was at peace.
I have read those verses many times, and heard them preached and discussed often enough. The focus has always been on how terrible the trouble will be, with the afterthought added: “Oh, and by the way, God’s people will eventually be saved.”
But now the words seemed to jump out and shout at me: No, you are reading it wrong. The focus is not on the trouble; it’s on God saving His people from trouble! Wow! What a thought!
If I could read the verse out loud to you, I think I could convey that feeling with these same words. But I can’t. So here is my paraphrase. Maybe it will better say how I feel and see the passage now: “God says, ‘So what is going on? Why are we hearing voices filled with trembling and fear instead of peace? Everyone knows that men don’t have labor pains. So why is everyone going around groaning and moaning with their faces in distress as though they are in labor?
“‘Oh, it’s a terrible time of trouble, you say? Well, yes, it is bad. And yes, it is like the time of trouble Jacob had. But why should that matter? I have promised to save them. Why are they still afraid?’”
My additional searching has not showed me a single verse or quote about the time of trouble that doesn’t include a promise of deliverance. Deliverance is always the focus, not trouble. Yet the sermons and discussions often mention only deliverance in passing, if at all.
I heard someone share recently about Paul’s shipwreck reported in Acts 27:13-44. The storm was terrible. Everyone was sure they would die. Then an angel told Paul they would all survive, though they would be shipwrecked. It lifted their spirits, but not the weather.
The storm continued to pound them for days. To all appearances, Paul was wrong. He had misheard the angel. God had forgotten. Whatever Paul thought wasn’t happening. Then on day 14 Paul speaks again: “ ‘You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,’ he said. ‘Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish’ ” (Acts 27:33, 34, NLT).2
Notice, Paul was not holding his loins as if he were in labor. He was at peace. No one else was; but he was. Why? Because God had promised deliverance, and he believed God.
That’s what God wants for each of us in these last days of earth’s history. He won’t abandon us if we are afraid. We can cry out to Him, as David or Peter did when in distress. He will be there and rescue us. But He longs to see us as Paul was, having a voice of peace, not of trembling and fear. After all, He has promised deliverance.
Homer Trecartin recently retired from working with Global Mission and the Office of Adventist Mission, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.