I made my first visit to New York City in 1985. My girlfriend at the time wanted to see the Statue of Liberty, but we didn't have time for the harbor ferry. We decided that the best place to see Lady Liberty would be from the observation deck on the top floor of the World Trade Center. I remember my ears popping in the elevator as we rose high above the Manhattan skyline. It was like being in an airplane. I never could imagine on that bright April day, looking out from what was at that time the second tallest building on the planet, the events of September 11, 2001.
Then Jesus asked, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." (Mark 13: 2)
The great temple of Jerusalem must have been the grandest thing these hick disciples from Galilee had ever seen. I'm sure they never could imagine such a magnificent structure--the symbol of their nation's relationship with Almighty God--lying in ruins. The very thought made their blood run cold.
"Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" (Mark 13: 4)
But Jesus never gives them the straight skinny. In fact, he even admits that he doesn't know. (v. 32) He does, however, warn them that unpleasant things will be occurring. False rulers, earthquakes, war, and famine. And these are just for starters.
In fact, it's been happening for a long time.
A needless war in Iraq and a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan.
2008--the whole US economy goes into the tank.
A nuclear meltdown in Japan.
Civil war in Syria. More war in Gaza. A potentially nuclear-armed Iran.
Earthquake in Haiti.
Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Irene. Hurricane Sandy. Climate change. Rising oceans.
People actually watching Jersey Shore and The Bachelor (Certain signs of the decay of civilization!)
So what do we do? Build a bomb shelter? Head for the hills with supplies and ammunition? Wait for the Rapture?
Here's what I'm thinking: If Jesus doesn't know, then I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to decide that my life will not be about the things that happen, but rather about how I choose to embrace them. I believe in a Lord who was both crucified and resurrected. I will look to the God of creation who holds the entire cosmos in his hands, and I will not despair. I will not surrender to fear or selfishness. As Jesus could speak words of love, hope, and forgiveness even from the agony of the cross, I will try--to the best of my puny ability--to imitate him in my circumstances. Yes, troubles will come, but he promises that these are the beginnings of the birth pangs. That is, when the pain is over, something new will be here--and it will be wonderful.
Stones crumble. The Word of God endures forever.