Some Christians have the conviction that the "battle" is primarily about the standing of the Scriptures, their authority and trustworthiness. Whilst these are not unimportant, to others, including myself, they are secondary matters. My prime concern is to declare the mighty works of God in a way that imparts faith in God to the hearers. I was spurred on with this task a few years ago when I was abruptly made aware how many "Bible believing" Evangelicals and Charismatics disregard the Biblical account of our origin. I also discovered that many of those who excuse belief in a quick creation of the heavens and the earth also ignore the speed at which they will be dispensed with; ("As a mantle The Lord will roll them up; as a garment they will also be changed" (Heb. 1:10-12).
As I considered my response to this readiness to disregard the record of the Old Testament I found 2 Peter 3, especially v:3-7, very pertinent:
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men. (NASB).
Peter saw that some people doubt the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the subsequent destruction of this universe because they "deliberately forget" (NIV) Creation and the Flood. Since the days of Lyell, Huxley and Darwin we in the West have witnessed an appeal to a uniformitarian antiquity by those who wish to excuse themselves from a belief in a divine creator. This assault, for that is what it is, has been with the hope of over-riding the internal and external witnesses to the existence and character of The Lord which are evident to all (Rom. 1:18-20). A vital task today therefore, is for believers to remind men and women of that which has been driven to the back of their minds. As the Holy Spirit reminds them of their sin and convicts of God's righteousness, He also declares that a day will come when sinner will come face to face with an utterly holy God who will judge justly (John 16:8).
Physical judgements (past, present and future) need to be understood from Heaven's perspective if Christians are not to be alarmed by them, and non- Christians need to be forewarned so they can recognise the hand of a loving God at work.The reason God acts now is in order to warn of worse consequences to come if sin is not dealt with. If this truth is not clearly sounded at this time, our families, friends and neighbours will probably not identify the coming turmoil as a call to repentance as it echoes around the earth. A little girl is rumoured to have prayed "God, if you love little children - why did you create cabbage?" In like manner those who witness the predicted world-wide disasters will not connect them with the God who they previously perceived existed purely for the benefit of people like them.
We must address the evolutionary message which proclaims, "we have slowly come from nowhere and we are slowly going nowhere." The orchestrated attempt of the last 150 years to turn the evidence of an unstable past environment into a stable, slowly changing process which was happening by chance is beginning to lose its grip. Now, increasingly, secular geologists are realising that this uniformitarian hypothesis is "wrong in a number of time scales" (Prof. John Dewey - Oxford University; BBC TV, Horizon 16/12/96).
Whilst this is encouraging, simply presenting correct geological facts is not enough. My conviction is that the "creation message" should declare man's accountability to God, an accountability with eternal consequences. It is important to interpret the geological record of catastrophism within a sound Biblical context, to the best of our present understanding, and to communicate it to Christians and to those outside the Church. Perhaps now is the time to ask our Heavenly Father for the wisdom to be those who understand the signs of the times (past and present), and the ability to "give understanding to many" in times of distress (Dan. 11:33)
Sin brings judgement which affects more than just the sinner.
Genesis recounts Adam and Eve's wilful disregard of The Lord's command and details the consequential judgement. This judgement affected them in four ways:
Some people suggest that this was all that happened at Babel, but is this so? Genesis 11 lacks direct evidence that environmental change was associated with Babel, but in 10:25 there is an indication otherwise - we read of Peleg, who was called "'Division' because in his days the earth was divided". Supporters of the hypothesis that the earth was stable after the Flood argue that Gen. 10:25 refers only to the division of the people. But this Scripture speaks of the "earth", a word used biblically of the "ground", and not of "peoples". Moreover, Strong's concordance defines the name "Peleg" as "earthquake". In 1756 Theodore Lilenthal, a German theologian, was amongst the first to propose continental movement. He made this bold assertion because he had considered the references to Peleg in the Bible! It was not until the 1970's that geophysicists accepted that continental movement was a possibility.
I have long been convinced that this detail about Peleg is The Lord's marker of the break-up of a single land mass. Though no date is given for events at Babel, it seems reasonable to suggest that after the people were driven apart by their language differences, The Lord placed the sea between the groups to hinder them from re-assembling. If so, we have in Peleg a record of a post- Flood catastrophe, an environmental change, our fourth consequence of judgement. Without Babel, the Biblical record of the division of the continents lacks a divinely appointed reason.
A further testimony suggests that there were major environmental events associated with the "days of Peleg". Peleg and his son Reu both lived for 239 years whilst his grandson, Serug lived to 230. These three provide a 3-fold witness to the newly prevailing life- expectancy. The absence of an biblical explanation makes a "miraculous" decrease unlikely. Whilst consideration of physical mechanisms is beyond the scope of this paper, it would seem that environmental deterioration was probably responsible for this decrease, just as it had been at the time of the Flood. Thus, three indicators of corporate judgement were associated with events at about the time of Babel.
Although The Lord's judgements continued during this period, the pattern now differs from the three earlier judgements. God had successfully scattered the human race, and He could now deal with each individual and family/national group on its own merits. The pace of judgement, and its manifestation in falling life-expectancy was consequently more varied. The fall in life- expectancy was doubtless caused by a variety of factors. Sickness seems an obvious cause, though the first case of fatal sickness is not mentioned until Gen. 48:1. Another of course is change in the environment - both direct and indirect, the latter being experienced through events like famine.
We know that during this period The Lord's judgements continued to affect men and women. However, there is a significant difference between what took place in this period and the three instances we have been considering above. As we have noted, the human race is no longer a unified group - God had been successful in breaking that apart. We now find judgement limited, as with Cain, to those who perpetrate rebellion and their descendants. Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh and Egypt and of course Israel itself are examples of people (nations) which experienced corporate judgement. Though judgement was focused geographically on "their" territory, there probably would have been occasions when the effect was felt further afield. The great famine of Joseph's time certainly affected several nations, though it is not clear if this was an act of judgement.
Amongst the Israelites there was a specific shortening of life expectancy as result of their unbelief (Ps. 95 & Heb. 3 & 4). Moses, though himself reaching 120, complained to The Lord that his fellow Israelites were dying by 70 or 80 at the most (Ps. 90:10). Seemingly, Jewish life expectancy never recovered from this drop. (e.g. Eli died aged 98. He was "old and blind" (1 Sam. 4:15) and David was 70 when he died (2 Sam. 5:4)).
Israel also knew that God's judgements often impacted the environment. They had the writings of Moses covering the times we have been considering, along with events such as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophets, Haggai being one example, continually reminded Israel that continued rebellion would affect their climate and consequently their food production. Other nations were also warned that The Lord's judgement would affect their society or their land, or both! In Ezk. 14 we find famine, wild beasts (both environmental disasters), war and plague listed as four judgements of God which He may choose to send upon a country which "sins against Me by committing unfaithfulness". Does this process continue largely unnoticed today?
When The Lord warns of judgement it is always in the context of grace, and the on-going consequences of judgement serve as reminders not to sin. His desire is to bring about repentance which bears the fruit of obedience.
There are other passages which may also be relevant to our discussion, though it would also be possible to offer alternative explanations.
Ps. 46 is a good example. The question to be asked when reading it is: "When the author speaks of the earth changing in a way which affects mountains and seas, is he looking back to past events, testifying to what he has witnessed in his own lifetime, or prophetically describing events which are in the future (both to him and us)?" Traditionally, such passages are assumed to be looking either backwards or forwards, but we rarely give even a passing thought to the possibility that the writer might be describing his personal experience, and his own need for assurance within it. Had the sons of Korah actually witnessed plate movements which caused mountains to slide into the sea? Or were the prophets warning about the break-up of the earth's crust prior to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? To my mind, Ps 46:3 provides a graphic picture of the land mass rising almost under one's own feet. When did the earth melt at the voice of The Lord? (v6), or what desolations had the writer in mind?
The whole Psalm is set in the context of The Lord being a refuge in trouble. The message is, "in turbulent times 'be still' and know that He is God". What could be more turbulent than living through wars? Perhaps living through such violent earth movements that mountains collapse on one side whilst they are thrown up on the other.
The sons of Korah, who wrote the Psalm, were assigned to musical duties by King David (1 Chron 6:38) and this suggests an earliest date for its composition of about 1000 years before Christ. Were they were recording their reaction to what they had personally witnessed? If not, which generation of their ancestors had witnessed the events described? I would suggest that they, and those who heard their songs, were close enough to the memory of these devastations for the words to be meaningful and not simply "poetic".
Please note, I am not suggesting that this is the interpretation we must apply to this Psalm, only that it is plausible, and there is no Biblical reason for disregarding the "eye witness" option. As humans we long for stability and want to assume that things have always been the way we know them now, even when that is clearly untrue. Isaiah 56:12 identifies this attitude: we feel more comfortable if we think that things around us will not change quickly. We cling, without proof, to the thought that the environment will remain stable over a long period of time as a vital component in our looking to the future. In this light we can appreciate why the "Green" lobby has been successful in recent years. Scripture provides a very different picture.
Other passages for consideration, which cannot be discussed here, are: Job 9:5-10 & 14:18-19; Psalm. 18:7-17; Psalms 29,93 & 114; Jer. 4:22- 28 and Nahum 1:1-9.
One passage worth special attention is Isaiah 54:9-10. The Lord is telling Israel that though He stood back from them for a while, He would never withdraw His covenant with them. Of interest to this study is that He compares this total commitment to Israel with the covenant which He established with Noah never to flood the earth again. In v:10 He reinforces this, stating that even though "the mountains depart, and the hills remove" (Young's Literal Translation"), His covenant would not be withdrawn. This proves that whilst the earth will never be totally flooded again, The Lord does not consider major movements in the earth's crust to be excluded by His covenant with the survivors of the Flood.
Israel, though deeply loved by The Lord, found the outworking of His covenant with them to be severe when they transgressed it. The Old Testament records the sins of the fathers not only being borne by successive generations, but being added to by equally wayward descendants. Fresh judgement seems to have regularly arrived whilst the consequences of earlier sin were still being witnessed. Could this have been the awful reality at Babel? Was the earth still unsettled, when human sin aggravated a fragile environment again? Israel only occasionally apparently, came close to understanding that God's wrath was so fierce upon them because His love was covenanted to them. Has the human race become complacent because to many it seems The Lord no longer judges sin? He will never break any of His covenants with us, but let us be sure we have a full and correct appreciation of the terms.
If the end of the Flood had marked the cessation of radical geological changes, the sign of the rainbow would be irrelevant. Although it is primarily a reminder to The Lord of His promise (Gen. 9:16), in reality He has no need of one. On the other hand, if during the years after the Flood, Noah and his descendants witnessed massive earthquakes, land movements and deluges of water (all these on a scale unfamiliar in modern history), then reassurance that the total destruction which characterised the Flood was not about to be repeated would be much needed.
In recent months as I sought, with others, to understand the post-Flood catastrophes from a Biblical basis, perhaps my most surprising thought related to Matthew 24. Jesus was asked three questions by his disciples, and in an integrated response He speaks about what must happen before His coming. In v:7 He foretells of famines and earthquakes, which will be the first signs of the end of the age. This will also be a time when lawlessness (rebellion against The Lord's authority) will increase to the place where "most people" lose their love of God (v:12). What should we make of this reference to earthquakes and famines? Should it mean more to us than a countdown marker?
In forgetting the awfulness and destructiveness of the greatest catastrophe
yet witnessed on the earth, have we also forgotten that the landscape continued
to be greatly distorted for some time afterwards? Mankind consistently
disregards God's past judgements and makes light of the sin which precipitated
them. I am now convinced that by identifying earthquakes and famines as
the birth pangs of the end, Jesus was indicating that there would be a
return to the pre and post-Flood experience of corporate sin provoking
the wrath of The Lord. The signs of this will be first witnessed in the
earth's fabric and environment as well as in the increase in war. If so,
it must be confirmed by other Scriptural testimony. Revelation is full
of descriptions of the progressive destruction of the earth because of
human sin. Is. 24:1-6 focuses on this period in a remarkable way:
"Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface, and scatters its inhabitants. And the people will be like the priest, the servant like his master, the maid like her mistress, the buyer like the seller, the lender like the borrower, the creditor like the debtor. The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the LORD has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers, the world fades and withers, the exalted of the people of the earth fade away. The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live in it are held guilty. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left." (NASB).
This chapter of Isaiah's prophecy concerns the end of the earth. He speaks of The Lord laying it waste, devastating it and distorting its surface, causing those who are living here at the time to be scattered! Obviously the distortion of the earth's crust will begin with an increase in earthquakes. At the same time famine spreads as food production is hindered by the rapid deterioration in the environment. This, it is emphasised, is an irrevocable decree (v:3). What causes this direct judgement? Those who inhabit the earth, cries the prophet, have transgressed laws, violated statutes and broken the everlasting covenant! (v:5). The resulting curse which devours the earth, causes the guilty to be burned and only a few survive (v:6).
Isaiah continues to speak strongly and in v:18 we find a statement reminiscent of the start of the Flood, "the windows above are opened, and the foundations of the earth shake". The next two verses graphically describe geological events which make those of the Flood appear mild. It is not simply the surface which is to be broken up and distorted, but the earth is split through to the very core! Isaiah sees this planet reeling around like a drunkard because the transgressions of its inhabitants are heavy upon it. This, he says, is its end. There are indicators throughout the Scriptures that unlike the limited effect of past judgements, mankind's sinfulness will eventually lead to the destruction of the whole universe. We know from the Scriptures that this will not be totally fulfilled until after Christ's return. Revelation 20:11 sees the universe "fleeing" from God's presence after Jesus has reigned on earth for a thousand years. It would seem that the final great rebellion against the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ whilst failing to achieve its objective, does culminate in the total destruction Isaiah foresaw.
"But the day of The Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!" 2 Pet. 3:10-12.
Like Isaiah, we may find that few listen to our cry: it may be too uncomfortable even for some who believe in Creation. This universe, which only took six days to create, is destined for the destruction of the ungodly (1 Peter 3:7). By contrast the new heavens and earth, and the new Jerusalem have been in preparation for far longer, and we are exhorted to set our minds on the things which are above (Col 3:2). Even we, as believing Creationists, must continually remind ourselves and our neighbours that one day all we see will pass away and that we all will be held accountable. To be prepared we must take shelter in Christ Jesus, the Rock of God. In his early chapters, Isaiah, warns of the coming Day of The Lord. He pleads with people to "enter the rock" (singular 2:10) from both the terror and splendour of The Lord. Later, Isaiah twice warns those who spurned his advice that when that day comes the alternative shelter, the caves in the rocks, will be of no benefit "when He arises to make the earth tremble" (2:19 & 21).
Several Old Testament prophets warn of "the Day of The Lord" - it will be so terrible that men and women will plead with the mountains and hills to fall on them (Hos. 10:8). Perhaps we have mistakenly assumed that "the Day of The Lord" is simply the moment of Christ's return. Perhaps, this day is more the period which precedes His arrival rather than simply the 24 hours surrounding it. We are told that whilst The Lord's judgements are terrible upon the earth prior to the return of His Son, not many humble themselves and repent (Rev. 9:20-21 & 16:9-11). However, The Lord remains a God who is merciful. He seeks to salvage lives through what will happen when he shakes all that can be shaken (Hag. 2 & Heb. 12).
Perhaps through our understanding of the Biblical and geological records, we could remind people that the ground their home is built upon has been shaken violently many times in the past. Perhaps, by His grace, we can also impress upon them that similar upheavals will result in the future from the magnitude of human sin. If they are startled by such thoughts so as to remember the temporal nature of this life and universe, they may also begin to seek that eternal city whose architect and builder is God. We find the spiritual climate today is opposed to the Gospel of Christ. I hold out no hope for that to change in the future. However, some of today's sceptics could well be amongst those who humble themselves before The Lord "when He arises to make the earth tremble", because they recognise it is His hand at work. This because, though their minds objected to our message their hearts heard and became good ground for the seed to bear good fruit.
Above all I have endeavoured to demonstrate that the message of Creation and the Flood should not simply seek to provide a scientific defence of the Bible. It should concern our accountability to our Creator, before whom all men and women will one day stand trial. From Genesis 3 until now, every act of judgement has expressed The Lord's mercy, reminding some, though not necessarily the subjects, that they are accountable for their deeds.
We need to be those who understand the ways of our God, if we ourselves are to be prepared for what the Scriptures tell us lies ahead. But this is not only for ourselves. We need to teach others about the ways of God. Our children for example need to be equipped to discern what is of lasting value in these turbulent times. Others too must be reminded that The Lord has eternal purposes and desires that all come to repentance before time runs out. When He allows the consequences of sin to be reaped in this life, it is to warn that full justice will be measured out on that day when He arises to judge the earth in righteousness.
Although these thoughts are for me a matter of conviction, they are
offered in this study for serious consideration.
These notes are not comprehensive but should stimulate personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything in accord with the example of Acts 17:11 and the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Errors, or queries which are unresolved after consulting the LORD, should be referred to the author: Randall Hardy.
© Randall Hardy January 1997. This paper may only be copied
in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage
requires the written permission of the author.