Saturday, a severe earthquake struck in Italy with the loss of at least eighteen lives, and with at least two hundred seventy injured. In a matter of six seconds the work of centuries was destroyed, when gems of antiquity and pieces of art were destroyed with the museums that contained them. Who was it that said, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” And that in but six seconds!
Today, while these lines are being written—and it is the Tuesday after that Saturday—reports are coming in of the earthquake that struck across the wide ocean and on this side of the globe in our own country, more specifically in the Los Angeles area of California. At the last count thirty-three were killed, and millions of dollars of damage was done to the freeway systems, while untold millions of dollars of property damage also resulted. And even while the reports are being updated, the top story of the day is forced to share time with them and shorten the programs the news media have prepared for the day. Strikingly enough, three men are at the moment rushing at unbelievable speeds back towards this globe that suffered this devastation. They had circled the moon, and two of them had walked upon its surface. But this is their home. Here only can they live without all that equipment that artificially produces for them the food and the oxygen they need for life. They must, therefore, return to such a globe.
And tomorrow morning in the early hours we will witness a total eclipse of the moon, for the earth will be in just exactly that position in relation to the sun and moon that it will cut off completely the light of the sun from the moon’s surface. It will be directly in a line between both sun and moon.
The reports of the earthquake were hardly aired before the theory was presented that this unique position of the earth in relation to sun and moon caused our globe to be pulled by the gravitational forces of these two bodies into a shape somewhat like a football; and this caused the fault line, that runs through California from as far north as San Francisco past Los Angeles and into Mexico, to shift and cause the quake. Tomorrow we will hear men tell us that a quake here had been expected, and in fact had been predicted for many years.
Well, you heard these reports and these explanations. And you heard all this a month ago, since of necessity these lines must be prepared that far in advance of the date that they appear in your mail box.
We say that you heard these reports and explanations.
But were you listening?
And are you a month later still listening? Are you listening to what God says? You heard man’s reports and explanations. You have by now heard his reassuring words that he expects some day not only to be able to predict where the next earthquake will come, but also the date. But are you listening to what God says in all this, that is, to what He says in that and other earthquakes, but also in the spoutings of unbelief of so-called scientists? You cannot help hearing what men have to say about these matters. Nor do we condemn hearing it as being out of rather than in His fear. But in His fear are you listening to God? There is a big difference, which we ought to see.
You see, there is something spectacular about a moon eclipse, especially when it is total. But it strikes no fear of fright in us, for we know it to be the result of a harmless movement of the sun, moon and earth in their God-ordained circuits. No terror grips our hearts, then, when we witness such an eclipse. Moments of deep anxiety bordering on strong fear do accompany a blast-off of a rocket for a journey to the moon, especially when such difficulty in docking is encountered as this last time; and also when the section separated to land on the moon approaches its surface; and again at the critical moment of blasting off again to rejoin and dock with the command module. With bated breath the splash-down is followed; and all along the line there is room for fear for the wellbeing of the men who undertook this dangerous voyage into space.
But what fear grips the hearts of men when the earth begins to heave and buckle! What fear at this very moment for thousands that the dam which holds millions of tons of water above them might crack open and wash down their valley to destroy their homes and themselves! Can you blame them if in fear they flee to a safer place? When the solid earth begins to move up and down and buildings begin to topple, cracks appear before one’s feet, huge slabs of concrete are lifted up and bridges are thrown down, there is justifiable fear. Many who are afraid to fly and cannot be gotten on a plane, because they feel safe only on the ground, become greatly disillusioned when that ground gives way and throws them around, and hurls objects at and upon them. Some, the saying goes, “Like to fly with one foot on the ground.” Yes, but when an earthquake strikes, even with two feet on the ground there is no assurance of safety. It comes without warning; and one never knows just where it will open up the earth, or cause the ground to rise. Like the lightning which strikes without warning and the place thereof cannot be predicted, so it is with the earthquake. It may strike right there where your two feet are resting upon that earth.
But the question is, whether the fear of the Lord causes us to listen to Him speak when He shakes the earth upon which He has placed us. Fear there is going to be. But is it merely the fear of terror, of sudden death or bodily injury? Or is it the fear of the Lord, which in the midst of terrors gives us peace of heart and mind?
The fear of the Lord will cause us to listen to what God is saying. Let us bear in mind that God is speaking in these events because God is working in them. He has something to say to us because He is doing something for us, even in these works of devastation. And we are not at the moment particularly concerned with the matter—which is surely true and not to be denied—that God speaks judgment in such shakings of our earth. This one of today did occur very near our modern—and by our, we mean our American—Sodom and Gomorrah. For Hollywood escaped the fiercest blows of this act of judgment of the living God. We must listen to Him concerning judgment when we hear of these works of His hands. But at the moment we would stress another matter. And if we listen, we will hear that which will bring comfort and encouragement, peace and joy. We will hear good news, the gospel, in the midst of all this tragic news.
Did you ever notice that although you hear the clock tick, you do not listen until it suddenly stops? Have you never read your newspaper while hearing soft, soothing music from radio or stereo? You are hearing but not actually listening. And any school teacher knows very well that children hear the assignment but are not listening. Therefore hands are raised to ask for a repetition of that assignment. Yes, we have heard for years of earthquakes in diverse places. In connection with the one this morning reports have been given out that about nine thousand of them occur each year. And we have also heard, or even read ourselves, that Jesus said that earthquakes in diverse, that is, different, places would be a sign of the beginning of sorrows and of His return. But were we listening? Are we paying attention to what God is saying?
For one thing Scripture teaches us that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain, waiting with earnest expectation for the manifestation of the Son of God, Romans 8:19-22. In the earthquake, if we live by faith, we can hear that creation groaning. If we listen to what God says therein, we will hear that groan and much more. For that creation groaneth in hope. And there ishope for that creation, for it shall be delivered from bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
That latter element we must hear and will hear if we listen to God in His Word and works. The day of the glorious liberty of the sons of God is coming. A new heaven and a new earth shall soon appear. And the old earth, but also the present heaven, must first pass away. In Revelation 21:1-3 John sees this new heaven and this new earth, and that the first heaven and the first earth are completely passed away by earthquakes, and heavenquakes. Haggai 2:6
The process of the passing away of the old has be gun. Each earthquake is another word of God that He is keeping His word of promise to us. Yes, in all that pain and death, in all that devastation and destruction God is speaking to the heirs of salvation, and to the meek who shall inherit the earth, that the new heavens and the new earth are a step closer, and that He has not forsaken or forgotten us in the midst of all the rapid development of sin, and in the perilous times, which are upon us and will increase in their intensity. He is calling loudly, more loudly even than the roar of the earthquake as such, and of the falling buildings and cries of the injured: “My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased, is coming soon!”
There is the point of our question which forms the title for these lines! Are you listening for Christ to come? You are going to hear of more earthquakes, and of more wars and rumors of wars. You are going to hear of more exploits of man and more verification of Daniel’s words that knowledge shall increase, (also of the heavenly bodies in outer space) and that men shall run to and fro (even to go to these heavenly bodies). But are you in all this listening for Christ’s return? Do we simply hear, and then go on and forget? Do we simply hear what men have said about these works of God (which they do not at all attribute to Him), or do we hear what God says in them?
He certainly tells us that here we have no continuing city. He tells us that all of man’s works will be destroyed, and that in a moment! He tells us that it is not man’s achievements of reaching heavenly bodies to walk on them that is going to bring us the kingdom of heaven and heavenly bliss, but that it is the coming of His Son from out of heaven down to this earth to conquer by His suffering and obedience, spoiling principalities and powers, triumphing over them (Col. 3:15), that brings us peace and joy and life everlasting. He tells us that it is His Son’s ascent into heaven to the Father’s right hand to have dominion over land and sea, and His return without heat shield and parachute, recovery vessels, helicopters, frog men, and all these earthly things of the earth that must pass away to make room for the new earth, but by His own almighty power as our King, that will bring us peace and salvation.
And He says, in the person of His Son, “Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me.”
While reading these lines, hopefully you have been listening to Him. You have fixed your attention on these things. But as you lay this magazine aside, do not forget that glorious truth. Continue to hear it in your soul. And when more tragedies such as these come—as they surely will—listen more carefully to hear the good news in this bad news. The news media can only bring you bad news, and they surely do. But listen to what God says in that bad news. For He speaks the good news of the gospel. He assures us that our adoption, which will be perfected in the redemption of our bodies, will soon be consummated.
Listen to what God says. For His people it will always be good news. For it will always be: “The day of your redemption draweth nigh.”