Repeated warnings went unheeded. Are you and I paying attention?
As I write this, it’s September 11, 2005. Four years ago today, terrorism came home to America. Three thousand citizens lost their lives in hijacked airplanes and crumbling towers. Simultaneously, three hundred million who call America home lost their innocence. We were vulnerable. We were naïve. And we were not ready for an attack on our shores.
Ironically, four years to the day, America is in the midst of another recovery effort following a major disaster. In many ways, it feels like déjà vu. Then it was firefighters plowing their way through the rubble in the Big Apple. Now it’s coast guard helicopters plucking hurricane survivors from the rooftops of a toxic water world once known as the Big Easy.
It’s September 11. And sadder than the faces of displaced evacuees trying to locate family members is the fact that not much has changed. Four years later, we’re still vulnerable. Still naïve. Still not ready for the unexpected.
Why? The reasons are many and varied. But among them must be disregard for repeated warningsa problem that’s been around far longer than bin Laden or Katrina.
The patriarch Noah preached 120 years about a coming flood that would destroy the earth. People ridiculed or ignored the madman who was building a ship with no body of water nearby to sail it on. They went on with life as usual, marrying, feasting, building, planting, working, living, dying, until . . . until the day the flood waters came and swept them all away. Only eight people and a boatload of animals survived that cataclysm.
Jesus warned His disciples that not one stone of their precious temple in Jerusalem would be left on top of another. Four decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, in A.D. 70, the Roman army under the command of General Titus crushed a Jewish rebellion in Jerusalem. Soldiers leveled the massive temple stones in search of the melted gold that ran between them as the temple burned.
As the RMS Titanic steamed toward New York on that fateful night of April 14, 1912, the ship’s officers were warned verbally and by posted notice of the approaching ice field. But in a ship labeled “practically unsinkable,” such warnings were not taken seriously, and, slightly less than three hours after the deadly collision with an iceberg, the sea swallowed the Titanic and 1,523 of her passengers.
The United States in general and the Gulf States in particular have been reeling from the collision with Katrina. “There have been calls for years to make Louisiana more resistant to the threat of hurricanes,” writes Bill Cose of Newsweek, “just as there were calls well before 9/11 to take the threat of Al Qaeda more seriously than we did.”1
In cyber cafes and around the water cooler in offices across the nation, the questions keep coming: “Why didn’t they get out?” “Why did it take so long for help to come?” “Why were the warnings ignored?”
Why indeed? By now it’s clear that authorities were fully warned and aware of the danger a superstorm like Katrina would pose to New Orleans. A 113-page disaster plan obtained by ABC News paints a grim scenario of floating coffins, thousands of fatalities, and the spread of waterborne diseases.
“ ‘What troubles me the most is the fact that they knew the potential impact, knew the potential loss of life, knew how many people would be stranded,’ said Jerry Hauer, a former emergency management official. ‘And they did not use every resource humanly possible to get people out of the city.’ ”2
In the end, what may be most shocking about this disaster is not the ferocity of the storm, but the folly of the humans. But before we smugly point fingers at everyone from the victims themselves to the “incompetent” first responders, we need to get real about our own failures to respond.
Why do we dismiss our doctor’s warnings to stop smoking or to lose weight? Why do we keep adding to mounting credit-card debt and put almost nothing away in savings? Why do we ignore the symptoms of a crumbling relationship until it’s too late to save a marriage and rescue a family?
The short answer is that we live for today and fail to plan for the needs of tomorrow. Like a minority of New Orleans residents who defiantly refused the order to evacuate their homes despite the lack of services and the threat of disease, we cling to our way of life even if it kills us.
The coming crisis
At the same time that Jesus predicted an end to the temple in Jerusalem, He also gave His followers “warning signs” of the end of the age.3 He also warned them to be ready for the unexpected. “You also must be ready,” He said, “because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”4
Failure to be ready for the next terrorist attack or category 5 hurricane is bad enough. But what do you and I need to do to be ready for the second coming of Christ?
- Stay alert. “Therefore keep watch,” Jesus said, “because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”5 In the original Greek, watch means “to be awake or vigilant.” A modern dictionary defines watch as “keeping awake in order to guard.” “To be on the alert.” So related to the return of Christ, watch means, “don’t fall asleep spiritually.”
In our hyper-busy lives, our relationship with Jesus is the easiest thing to neglect and set aside. Everything from pursuing a college education to watching reality TV shows or simply moving a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer seems to be more important than getting to know God. Watch out!
As we see the words of Jesus becoming reality on our high-definition TVs, don’t “channel surf” spiritually. Pay attention to what’s going on. Be on the alert and acquaint yourself more fully with the disaster preparedness plan as outlined in the Bible prophecies of Daniel, Revelation, and the words of Christ. (See Marvin Moore’s article “The Prophetic Implications of Katrina” in this issue.)
- Take the warnings seriously. Many Gulf Coast residents didn’t evacuate when they had the chance because they’d seen and survived hurricanes before. Many were Camille survivors and thought this was just another storm. We now know they were wrong.
The Bible predicts that at the end of time, skepticism about the truth of Christ’s promise to return would be rampant.6 It’s true that we’ve always had wars and famines and earthquakes, but even savvy media types are using terms such as “apocalyptic” and “biblical proportions” to describe the latest calamities to strike the earth. Do your own research. Check the intensity, frequency, and breadth of the disasters just since 9/11. Are these the “outer bands” of a coming storm? Take the warnings seriously.
- Get to know Jesus. It’s never too late to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. In the days ahead, the world will continue to look to technology, government, and money to save us from the storms of lifenatural and man-made. But only Jesus can get us safely through. Whoever believes in Him, the Bible says, “shall not perish but have eternal life.”7
It’s September 11. A day to mourn two disasters that didn’t need to happen. But today, as you read thiswhatever the date and wherever you areyou can avoid being unprepared for the next “storm.” Silently, in your heart, wave the white flag of surrender and say to Jesus, “Please help me; save me now.” Then “stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”9 Jesus is coming soon. Be ready.
Randy Maxwell writes from Nampa, Idaho.