Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Omens, Disasters, Prophecy And American Pride

I have written elsewhere about other concerns I have about how the modern church handles the Bible in relation to prophecy.  In this post, I want to focus on a particular observation that has sunk in over the past week or so: Most of the discussion in the United States about eclipses, hurricanes, judgment and prophecy only makes sense if you live in the United States. 

The entire world didn't have a total solar eclipse last month, yet somehow because the U.S, got it, that was a signal of the end. In 2016, South/East Asia, North/West Australia, and the Pacific and Indian Ocean had a total eclipse. In 2015, it was Europe, North/West Asia, North/West Africa, East and North America, the Atlantic and the Arctic. Total eclipses happen a lot all over the world, but for some reason they don't count unless they blanket the United States. The rest of the world was having natural disasters in 2017 as well, including tropical storms and flooding (some of which devastated church communities) but apparently their experiences did not merit the same prophetic consideration as ours.

This, I think, ought to give us pause, and I will offer several reasons to explain why.


The  Luke 21:25-26 speculation apparently started when someone tweeted a screen shot of a google search they did for the numbers 21, 25 and 26. These were the day of the eclipse and the starting days of Harvey and the flooding in Houston. Luke 21:25-26 popped up, and since it seemed to point toward those things in a section of the Bible sometimes considered to be about the end of the world, the speculation began.

[Worth noting:the Bible did not get chapters until the 1300s and verses until the 1500s. It was a handy way to find stuff faster. This type of numerology could not have been used before then, and it certainly wasn't something the original authors intended or embedded. Carry on.] 

I decided to see if I could match natural disasters that other nations experienced with Bible verses that seemed relevant. Mexico had a terrible earthquake on 9/19, so I googled 9:19. Here's what I got from the Bible in the order they showed up on Google. Here are my fourth and fifth hits:
  • "Arise, LORD, do not let mortals triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence." (Psalm 9:19)
  • "The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury." (Revelation 9:19)
Either one could be applied to what happened, though the symbolism in Revelation is obscure.  Honestly, I would have found something eventually, because I have almost all the books of the Bible at my disposal. A couple more examples of how this can be made to work:
  • There was massive flooding in China on 7/4. "Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made." (Genesis 7:4)  Combine that with, " As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (Matthew 24:37), and you can craft a connection.
  • President Trump overturned DACA on 9/5: "We have sinned, and have committed iniquity." (Daniel 9:5) 
  • On 8/25, Trump ruled to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Daniel 8:25 has something so say about policy. "And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand." Which doesn't sound good for President Trump. 
If you are thinking, "That is not a great way to try to connect current events with Scripture," you are absolutely correct. I feel bad even writing a list like that. It feels like I'm really cheapening the value of the Bible, doesn't it? But you'll notice I used the same method used to start the Luke 21 furor (as well as some connections between the eclipse and some verses in Revelation). It might have even seemed like the China example might work, but then it got of the rails with the President Trump examples. But the method was the same in all of them. And if the method bothered you on one, it should bother you on the others.

You will see a list later of many other natural disasters that occurred around the world this year. In every case, I could google the day and month and find Bible verses that would eventually correspond. This does not mean they are meant to be connected.


Let's assume for the sake of discussion that the hurricanes were a message. Why assume it was God's judgment on the United States? If the hurricane was a judgment, I don't even want to know what was happening at St Martin, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the British and US Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda. They got hammered. Of the 200 people who have already died from Irma, only 50 were in the United States. And while the infrastructure and buildings of the Keys were hit hard, the devastation does not compare with other places I mentioned. If impact equals message, then we heard the echo of somebody else's message. As I write this, Maria is crushing Puerto Rica. Are you wondering, "What have they done to anger God?" Apparently no one else is either, including those who were quite vocal about Harvey and Irma. I just googled, "hurricane maria god's judgment" and can't get a single hit.

There is a selectivity, a self-focus, a confirmation bias here that bothers me. One would think that what is true for Christians here in the United States would be true for Christians everywhere. As Christians, wouldn't we all be collectively trying to help each other figure out what's going on? Yet I've heard nothing about what God is communicating about his anger or the end times through what happens in other countries in 2017.
  • The was a major earthquake in Mexico this week (there was also one on September 7 off the coast of Mexico). 
  • Zimbabwe had a terrible cyclone early this year that killed over 100. 
  • Natural disasters in China the year have killed over 200 people and displaced one million. 
  • Avalanches killed 156 people in Afghanistan this year, mostly women and children. 
  • Sri Lanka had a monsoon that killed 213 people, 30% of them children. 
  • 300 were killed in landslides in Columbia. 
  • Over 1,000 were killed by mudslides in Sierra Leone, and that's just a couple years after an Ebola outbreak. 
If any of that happened here, my news feed would be full of all the speculation about why God is angry at us and how this applies to end times. When it happens 'there' my news feed is full of Christians praying, sending help, and grieving with them. (Which, by the way, is an excellent way to respond. I think the church shines in response to disasters, as seen in the response to Harvey and Irma).

I've been using google to find connections that Christians in the United States have made to prophecy or God's judgment when things happen across the globe. It's very possible I just don't know where to look, but so far I have found none. Based on coverage I've read, if  God has a message for the globe,  it appears in only certain localities, and the locality happens to be the United States (or perhaps Israel).


I don't think we overtly believe the US somehow sits in the apple of God's eye in ways other nations don't - at least I hope we don't. But based on what I've been reading lately, I think an "American Church First" mentality  has become subtly embedded within the church in the United States. It sends a message unintentionally laden with pride: "We are the epicenter of God's plan and focus."

I see no biblical reason to believe this is true. The United States is not Old Testament Israel, a theocratic nation of God's chosen people tasked with embodying God and His message to the world. If anything, we are the nation that is trending on the radar of places in need of evangelism. (Do you know what country received (not sent) the most missionaries in 2010? The United States.) The United States is a secular state, a kingdom of the world, one of many in in which God's spiritual 'kingdom', the church, resides. We in the United States do not have front row seats to His glory or revelation any more than any other Christian in the rest of the world.


We don't need a hurricane to know what makes God angry, and we don't need nourishing days of sun or rain to know what pleases Him. The Bible defines those categories quite clearly already. We don't need an eclipse to know that one day God is going to wrap up human history - and for each of us individually, He could wrap it up today. Believing that one day we will stand before God and receive a just reward should be enough to sober and/or encourage us.

The disciples once asked Jesus, "What will be the sign that You are returning? How will we know that the end of the age is upon us?" (Matthew 24:3). Many believe this is a reference to events in the first century, but let's assume it's a comment about the end of the world. Jesus first tells them their will be lots of wars - but don't panic, because that's not the end. Then there will be false prophets and intense persecution around the world, but the gospel will still make it everywhere. When that happens, the end of the age is near.

Then Jesus says something interesting: "You will remember that the prophet Daniel predicted this—predicted the abomination that causes desolation —when you see the prophesied desolation of the holy place." (v. 15). That is almost universally considered to be the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 (which is one reason many believe this passage is about events in the first century). After that, the church would see false messiahs and prophets arise that would deceive the church. Finally, Jesus wrapped up all of this with some parables and teaching in which certain key phrases keep popping up:

  • No one knows the day or the hour that history wraps up (Matthew 24:36) 
  • They have no idea (24:39)
  • You can't know precisely when (24:44)
  • It will be a day and an hour that isn't expected (24:50)
  • He follows that with a parable about the importance of always being ready for his return because you just don't know (Matthew 25).

No matter your opinion of whether what Jesus said was for then or for now, one thing is clear: Jesus specifically says over and over not to get fixated on dates and times because we just can't know.

So let's be wise. It's one thing to have a curiosity about just how much the Bible does (or doesn't) give details about the future. I'm curious if there is something there, too. I get it. But if we aren't careful, our fascination with discerning details becomes a distraction at best and an undermining embarrassment of Scripture at worst. How many times can we get predictions wrong before everyone around us rightly says, "If the Bible is wrong this often on this issue, why should I think it's right on other things?" There is more at stake then simply being right. This about the reputation of the Bible, the Church, and Jesus himself. 

Our primary Commission as Christians is a Great one: to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Let's not let anything, even good things pursued with the best of intentions, undermine our message or distract us from our mission.


  1. "Like apples of Gold in settings of silver..." Prov. 25:11
    What little experience I have with knowing how prophecy is intended to be used I see that it is a tool God uses for building up the Church. It is fitting and right to separate out false prophets and words that seem right but fall outside of the boundaries of scripture, and handling the Word of God is not something to be handled lightly. Sifting out what prophecy is or isn't seems to also be something God assigned to those who have been tested and found to be true prophets. In the pursuit of handling the Word of God rightly it seems wise too also hold the gifts/tools God uses to accomplish this as sacred. Thank you Anthony for using your gifts to protect, and defend the word of God and His people!

  2. Couldn't agree more. Well said, Anthony!