The black flies buzzed thickly around him as Nickolai grimaced and reached down. His legs were numb again. Massaging his feet, calves and thighs, he groaned in pain. The sensation was almost unbearable, but he had to keep the blood circulating.
He had barely enough room to move in the 3 x 3 x 2-foot wooden box, and it was day eight of his punishment for refusing to work on the Sabbath. The stench was overpowering, but there was no way to escape. The crate was strong, and even if he did manage to get out, he would never be able to make it home from the remote Siberian prison camp to which he had been sent for refusing to betray his church members (The Miracle of the Seventh-day Ox).
The world in which we live is rapidly crumbling. Though there has always been persecution and catastrophe, the last decade seems to have brought a marked increase in their incidence.
The crisis is international: 1.3 million people face starvation in a Kenyan drought. ISIS holes up in Mosul, using local captives as human shields.
The crisis is also local: catastrophic flooding destroys tens of thousands of homes in Louisiana. An Orlando club massacre kills 49 and wounds 53.
At home or abroad, reading the newspaper or watching the news is impossible without coming across yet another report of rights violation, disaster or violence.
In addition to all the calamities befalling us, we also seem to have lost our footing in the social realm. What is this strange fervor that seems to be falling upon our citizens, where offense is taken at nearly everything? Where presidential campaigns are primarily spectacles? Where racial tension and violence are exploding? Morality seems to have gone out the window. Tolerance, common sense and personal responsibility seem to have fled. Can we even trust each other any more?
I can see it in my friend’s eyes. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen with this law. So far, everything’s been okay with his doctor. But if we ever had to take him to the emergency room . . .” She trails off, and we watch her two-year-old son, playing happily on the floor. He’s quite possibly the healthiest child I’ve ever seen, chubby with bright eyes brimming with intelligence. An amber necklace sits around his neck to help with teething.
“Mama, pum?” She steps over to the counter and he follows, watching as she halves several Italian prunes. He reaches for the knife.
“Honey, no.” She hands him a wooden knife as an alternative. He retrieves a toy fruit stored across the kitchen and sets to work sawing it in half. Watching his simple trust and adoration of his mother, I find it hard to imagine a claim of neglect or abuse being legitimately considered against her. Would the law really intervene simply because a majority of the public doesn’t agree with her alternative medical choices?
Some of the liberties we took for granted just a few years ago are already being rescinded. As of this past summer, children in California have lost their right to free public education if they are not vaccinated. There are no exceptions for personal or religious beliefs.1, 2 In California and again in Georgia, Dr. Eric Walsh lost employment because he had preached—at church, not at work—on Biblical principles such as “health, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science and creationism.”3 The legal organization First Liberty is pursuing a discrimination lawsuit on his behalf, and now the State of Georgia is demanding all the sermons he has given since age 18, as well as his Bible.4, 5 Where is his freedom of speech? Where is his right to practice the religion he deems fit (which happens to be Adventism)?
“Would you like a free book about The Great Hope?” I smile at the young woman walking by, squinting behind my sunglasses as I hold a book out toward her.
“Oh, no thank you.” She pauses. “I’m already a Christian.”
It’s the second Sabbath of August and my church is handing out free literature at the local logging fair. We have a booth, a Bible quiz and free ice water. I’m in the grassy walkway, intercepting passersby.
“Already Christian? That’s great!” I switch hands and offer her the second book in my stash, The Great Controversy. “Then you’d probably enjoy this one. It talks about the history of the Christian church. Have you studied Revelation at all? It talks about that, too—what will happen just before Jesus comes back.” Looking into her eyes, I’m surprised to read a glimmer of genuine apprehension.
“I don’t really like Revelation.” She shifts her weight uneasily. “The beasts, all the things that happen . . . it’s terrifying.”
Her fear is not an isolated case. The end of the world, a few years ago just a fleeting thought, has become a serious topic. Apocalyptic movies and books are common. Fear of Revelation abounds. Preppers are building specialized homes in the countryside and stocking up on food, water, and ammunition. Conspiracy theory has exploded (Does the government track every step we take?). The population at large can sense something is happening, and is starting to get nervous.
There is something strange about this movement. Though this country has been through multiple wars and hard economic times, 54 percent of us now agree that it can be necessary for the U.S. government to sacrifice freedoms to fight terrorism. Sacrifice our freedoms! This belief flourishes in spite of statistics telling us we are 13 times more likely to die in a railway accident, 1,048 times more likely to die in a car accident and 12,571 times more likely to die of cancer than from a terrorist attack.6 There is a deep-seated fear sweeping the country along, seemingly out of proportion to what has actually happened.
The Bible does tell us trials and terrors will come upon the earth. Luke 21 depicts wars, earthquakes, signs in the heavens and fear. 2 Timothy chapter 3 describes moral paucity.
Revelation details specific events, including the rise of the United States, the role of the papacy, and an ultimate choice resting on worship. Our earthly situation will continue to grow worse until the second coming.
Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy. Sending forth the 12 disciples to minister, He warned them, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). How, then, can we make peace in our society at all? Should we even try?
The Bible tells us so
According to Scripture, the answer is an overwhelming “Yes.” During His three and a half years of public ministry, Jesus experienced many trials. Once He had rubbed the church leaders the wrong way—which happened rather quickly—challenges were constant. Confrontations were common. Murder was attempted on more than one occasion. In spite of it all, He carried on quietly. Taking every opportunity to minister to the hurting and lost, He turned no one away, including church leaders (Luke 7:36) and the Romans under whose rule the nation was chafing (Luke 7:2-3).
After Jesus’ ascension, Paul and Silas followed in His footsteps through their kindness to a Philippian jailer (Acts 16:28). We as Christians are called to do the same as those who have gone before us, even when the sky is dark and threats are innumerable. Our actions are not simply to be reactions to the world around us, but interactions with heaven. It is this that sets us apart.
Many instances in Scripture call us to act in a peaceful way despite challenging circumstances. Consider Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Gal. 5:16 tells us to “walk in the Spirit” and then in verse 22 describes what that entails: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Isa. 58:6 calls us to “undo the heavy burdens [and] let the oppressed go free.” What better example of burden and oppression is there than today’s world? Slavery and poverty abound around the globe. Desperation and hopelessness fill all classes of people. In the midst of this darkness, we are called to offer light.
Seeds of hope
Nickolai sat on a barrel, gratefully accepting the cook’s hot borsch and Russian black bread. It had been several months since the warden had let him out of the box, agreeing to his weekly Sabbath rest if he could bring enough water for the camp in six days instead of seven. God had come through with a miracle every week. The cook, by now Nickolai’s close friend, suddenly spoke up.
“I want to be baptized.” Nickolai looked at him in surprise. “I believe in everything you’ve told me because I’ve seen the power of God in your life.”
The conditions at the camp were difficult. However, because of Nickolai’s hard, faithful work and his trust in God, the entire camp glimpsed the peace of heaven. This heavenly peace eventually gained Nickolai his freedom.
The results of our labors may or may not be seen by our eyes. Regardless, we need to remember the door of mercy is still open. Hearts that seem impenetrable to us may yet be convicted as history draws to a close. “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (Eccl. 11:6).
Even if the second coming doesn’t occur in our lifetime, the seeds of quietness and hope we plant now will spread to others, creating pockets of peace and rest. The effects won’t go unnoticed. In spite of the winds of strife raging around us, we can be the peace in the eye of the storm.
— Ginger Hany is a biomedical science major with a pre-PA emphasis from Eatonville, Washington.