April 5, 2016

Voices: Dwight K. Nelson

Having grown up in this faith community as a fifth generation Seventh-day Adventist, it seems I have always lived with the pronouncement, “Jesus is coming soon.” And so when asked today if I still believe in that imminence, I choose to respond as the apostles did: “The end of all things is near” (1 Pet. 4:7); “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here” (Rom. 13:12); “‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay’” (Heb. 10:37). Add to these confessions of imminence the declaration of our Lord Himself, woven into the Bible’s last prayer, and what other stance is there for an Adventist to embrace? “‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev. 22:20-21).

Yes, but were those ancient texts ever intended to teach that Christ is returning really soon? Having officiated at the funerals of young men and women not even in their prime of life—cut down by the tragedy of an unexpected death—it is my pastoral sense that the Spirit of God, who inspired the spirit of imminence in the New Testament, in fact does intend for His message to be taken quite literally: “Live in daily expectation that Christ is coming soon—for your last breath is one breath away from your first breath at the return of Jesus.”

Does that mean then we are doomed to live out our days in some sort of eschatological limbo, never certain, never sure when Jesus will return? Not at all!

I came across an illustration that radically shifted the paradigm for me with the realization the end is much nearer than it appears. Chris Martenson, economic researcher and futurist, asks us to imagine we’re in Fenway Park, stadium home of the Boston Red Sox. At noon he handcuffs us to the highest seat in the bleachers, and then with a magic eyedropper he places a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound far below—a drop that magically doubles in size every minute. If Fenway were water tight, how long do we have to flee that stadium to survive drowning? For minutes we see no appreciable increase in water—one drop becomes two, two drops become four, etc. By 12:44 p.m. there would be just five feet of water in the stadium, still leaving 93% of the stadium empty. But the startling reality is that if we do not extricate ourselves within the next five minutes, our seats in the highest bleacher will be under water at 12:49 p.m. It is the power of compounding, geometric progression. For 44 minutes we think we have all the time in the world—but five minutes later, it’s over!

So it is, Martenson warns, with the planet today. He calls them “hockey stick graphs”—global trends that for centuries have appeared to be flat-lined with slow, incremental growth: earth’s population; oil, water and food consumption; national debt; personal debt, et al. To outward appearances the stadium has hardly any water in it—plenty of time left to extricate ourselves. But as the researcher warns, in these opening years of the third millennium earth is facing a “perfect storm” of critical trends now simultaneously skyrocketing off the graphs: hemorrhaging debt; oil and energy depletion; scarcity of water and food combined with a burgeoning number of mouths to feed. We thought we had time to get ready—but time’s up.

Martenson writes about economic and ecological survival. Ellen White passionately wrote about spiritual survival: “Great changes are soon to take place in our world, and the final movements will be rapid ones” (9T 11); “The end will come more quickly than men expect” (GC 631). She drives home the researcher’s inescapable point. While no one knows the date, be forewarned that the “exponential function” means that suddenly all the indicators will simultaneously spike—with blinding speed. “And then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).

Think about it. All it will take in this country is a major crisis of crippling proportions—economic (a national financial collapse igniting urban violence and social meltdown), ecological (a killer quake or an errant asteroid with tens of thousands dead), political (a terrorist “dirty bomb” that destroys a city), military (a geopolitical misstep into World War III), etc. One debilitating crisis and this nation will be on her knees, led by religious leaders, pleading with God to withhold further judgments. Now factor in social research showing that when faced with a choice between personal security and constitutional liberties, people choose security first. One crippling crisis and suddenly the apocalyptic endgame of Revelation 13 and The Great Controversy, state-mandated false worship, is not only possible—it is probable! Martenson’s point—the last five minutes are critical. My point—you can get there from here. Rapidly.

Which is why Seventh-day Adventists cannot afford the fatal delusion—“all things continue as they were from the beginning” (2 Pet. 3:4). No matter appearances, the last five minutes are critical.

So how then shall we live, living as we are on the razor edge of eternity? (1) “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). (2) “‘How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’” (Lk. 11:13). (3) “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature’” (Mk. 16:15). (4) “‘Whatever you [do] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you [do] for me’” (Matt. 25:40). (5) “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13). (6) “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). And (7) “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”