IS THE "BIG ONE" IMMINENT?
Ok, I know it’s the last thing we want to hear with our province on fire over the past two months. Within our own Canadian Vineyard family, we’ve experienced an “earthquake” of another kind that has knocked the wind out of us, leaving us numb and reeling, spiritually and emotionally. To add to all this, I received a message at our church Facebook site a few weeks ago from someone in Kansas, predicting a major earthquake in this region near the end of summer. I was struck by the person’s certainty combined with humility.
Responding to a word like this can be tricky, and maybe even more so if you’re a pastor. On one hand, I don’t want to spread fear and panic. I am mindful that we are on a major fault line and seismologists, geologists and other scientists have been predicting the “big one” for some time - that it isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.” Yet, it's impossible to predict the timing, so no one knows this except God.
A GIANT METEOR AND Y2K
I grew up with a lot of doom and gloom, as part of the preaching "diet." Predictions that the world would end soon were characteristic of that time. I remember as a child hearing predictions of a Soviet nuclear attack on North America by 1972, and that the great tribulation of Revelation, with all the apocalyptic horror and worst nightmares that any young Pentecostal kid could imagine, was imminent! At ten years of age, I heard a sermon by a well-known evangelist who predicted that a giant meteor would strike the earth within 15 years, ending life on earth as we know it. I remember exactly where I was, sitting on the front row of the church, taking this all in, and being physically doubled over in sheer terror, feeling icy tentacles of anxiety in my stomach, contemplating the fact as a 10 year old that I would never be able to enjoy an adult life, (which included being able to marry any girl I happened to have a crush on at the time)! Then, who of us can forget Y2K (unless you’re under 20!) We were all preparing for the end of the world as we knew it - again! Some people made a lot of money off that!
In addition, predictions of earthquakes hitting the west coast have come to us before. I recall attending some of the more Charismatic Vancouver Pastor's prayer gatherings where we would weigh words like this, discerning together in community and for the most part, disregarding them as "not accurate." So, forgive me if I take any predictions of earthquakes with a grain of salt and caution. I know what fear did to me as a child, and how it negatively impacted my worldview and my spirituality. It kept me from pacing myself well for a “long obedience in the same direction,” which ended up in a catastrophic ministry burnout by the time I was 30! Now that was a real catastrophe!
Yet, for all these disclaimers, I don’t want to dismiss what might be a genuine warning from God, and if it is, what do we do with it? Summer travels have not helped, including the capacity to co-discern with colleagues and to check references for the messenger, but I decided in July to go on a few weeks of my own “Ignatian discernment,” that is, seeking to process the message, being present to God and paying attention to things I noticed that would indicate further action or response. I also prayed and discussed with a few trusted prophetic people, peers, and intercessors in my life. Most did not sense that the word was to be taken literally, as an exact date was given and there does not seem to be scriptural precedent for this. Some felt the message was metaphorical of the spiritual “earthquakes” that have been happening in our BC region as well as our national Vineyard family. I note for example that David Ruis’ opening address at our Montreal gathering was about a great shaking coming, “so the things that cannot be shaken will remain.” Earthquake or not, all strongly exhorted against fear, as fear is not from God.
A THIRD WAY BETWEEN "FEAR" AND "DISMISSAL"
So, what shall we then do? Is there a third way between dismissing the message on one hand, and spreading fear on the other? Well, let’s imagine that we knew for sure that the big one was imminent (and we don’t). How would we behave or respond? Well, hopefully not much different than what we are doing, but here are some thoughts:
1. Be reminded that God is in control. One of the first things that came strongly to me during my discernment process was this Scripture: “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.” Jesus predicted an abundance of earthquakes in his apocalyptic “Mount of Olives” sermon, but he almost mentions them in passing, that they are a backdrop to the real drama of the inevitable advance of the kingdom of God. We have the assurance that God is holding the pillars of the earth, and he has a solid grip on the foundations of our lives and our city: we are in good hands!
2. Take the message as an invitation to pray. Earthquake or not, our culture desperately needs to wake up from our sleep, and we as the church need to humble ourselves and pray for our city. We need mercy and most of all, we need to pray that the Kingdom of God, of justice and righteousness would come, and that our nation would turn to God as our Source and our Refuge. It's highly timely that the 24/7 prayer room is engaged in a week of non-stop prayer for our city this very week – you can drop in any time at 605 East Cordova Street!
3. Further to point 2, it is noteworthy that prophetic messages are not necessary a prediction – they are an invitation to pray so that what was predicted does not occur! This is the mystery of our partnership with God. I remember listening to the elderly and grace-filled Agnes Sanford speak at Charismatic conferences at Melodyland when I was a teen in the late 1970’s, and was so impacted by her courage in deliberately buying a house on the San Andreas fault in Southern California, just so she could pray against the earthquakes! Every time she felt a tremor, she would set herself to prayer, and actually deliberately spoke directly to the earth and the tremors, commanding them to calm down! And they did! We can do the same.
4. This can be another reminder to take the prescribed precautions of those who inhabit an earthquake zone. This includes being “seismically mindful” of where you are at all times, with an action or escape plan in your home, workplace, school, etc. It also means having a 3 day emergency preparation plan as outlined by the City of Vancouver’s NEPP (Neighbourhood Emergency Preparedness Plan). This link takes you to great advice and resources. Their advice includes having a relational network and a communication plan – with family, neighbours, friends, home group, etc.
Is the big one imminent? I don't know. Seismologists say it could be today, or, it could be another 100 years. What I do know is that God is in control and God says, "Fear not. Trust and obey.... Continue seeking first the kingdom of God...” Earthquake or not, our lives are in God’s hands. We are in good hands! In the words of Lady Julian of Norwich, "All will be well... all manner of things will be well in the Lord." Selah!