Dear Brethren and Co-workers with Christ,
We are all saddened by the fiery devastation that hit the Hawaiian island of Maui. Thousands lost virtually every possession they once had, and the death toll continues to rise. As I write, 99 are confirmed dead, but only 25 percent of the homes and businesses have been searched, so the death toll will almost certainly rise.
We can only imagine the terror of those fleeing the rapidly moving flames. One lady described telling her children to “run and don’t look back.” She then told them not to worry about her. “Just run for your lives.” I could not help but to think of Lot and his family as they were told to flee from Sodom and not to look back.
Nor could I help but to think of a time in the future when the Church of God will flee from Satan’s persecution. “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time [three-and-one-half years], from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:13-14).
While some will flee to a wilderness hideout, we see that other true Christians will hesitate. “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17). These are those described in chapter 3 as being neither cold nor hot. “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see” (Revelation 3:16-18).
Sadly, many will be caught off guard and will be too spiritually blind to see the danger. As with Lot’s wife, they will look back, not wanting to leave what they have. Jesus speaks of this coming time. “Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. ‘In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back’” (Luke 17:28-31).
He then gives us this warning. “Remember Lot’s wife [who turned back]. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32-33). There will be no secret rapture at the time of Christ’s return. There is a time of fleeing—a time to “get out of town” and leave everything behind, just as the people of Lahaina had to do. We do not yet know when that time is.
What happened in Maui was not the time, prophesied in Scripture, of God’s servants fleeing from an enraged Satan, but it holds a lesson for all of us. As in so many disasters, such as 9/11, the difference between immediate action and hesitation may mean the difference between life and death. Tragically, in the case of Lahaina and elsewhere in Maui, the clear path to safety was not always obvious and many innocent lives were lost in the confusion.
There is another lesson we may learn from this tragedy. We read that, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (Luke 13:1). Jesus asked this important question: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (vv. 2-5).
Human tragedies occur every day, but occasionally one is so great that it captures widespread and historical attention. Such is the case of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that took an estimated 3000 lives, or the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which claimed some 300. We likely remember the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2011 tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant along with thousands of lives. The Maui firestorms will no doubt be etched into our memories.
Brethren and co-workers, this is not God’s world today. The context shows that when Jesus mentioned the “ruler of this world,” He was not referring to His Father, but to Satan the devil (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). So under his influence, our first parents wanted to determine for themselves right from wrong. They wanted God out of their business. That is why He has given us these six thousand years to learn a harsh lesson. No, the people of Maui are no greater sinners than the rest of mankind. This being the case, many may wonder why God did not stop this, and other disasters, if He truly is all-powerful and all-loving. Our resource Acts of God: Why Natural Disasters? is instructive:
Could God stop natural disasters? Could He give adequate warnings so people could get out of the way while He builds a new island or mountain? Could He direct the wind to take a course away from His children? Of course He could! Who created the dirt under our feet? Who created the law of gravity, the strong force and the weak force? Cannot the God who created the universe and life on this planet protect us? Scientists understand that our universe did not always exist. So how did it come to be? We are so arrogant we conclude that it all happened by chance—so God is allowing us to live in a world of chance. The disasters that “time and chance” throw at us should get our attention (p. 22).
There is coming a time when the One who rules over all will intervene more powerfully than ever in world affairs. He will remove the current “ruler of this world,” but that will not happen until we come to the point of no return (Matthew 24:21-22). Only then will He step in, but mankind is in for quite a “spanking” before that happens. Mankind must learn the lesson that human reason is not the path to peace, prosperity, happiness, and safety. Proclaiming this truth about the future world under the rule of Jesus Christ is what we are all about. This is what you are supporting with your fervent prayers and generous tithes and offerings. Thank you, dear brethren and co-workers, for what you have done and what you continue to do.
We look forward to and pray for God’s Kingdom to come. In the meantime, our hearts and prayers go out to the people traumatized by the Maui firestorms.
Sincerely, in Christ’s service,
Gerald E. Weston