Many Christians these days are deeply troubled over world conditions, and well they might be, except that they are troubled for the wrong reasons.
Up to very recent times we Christians could think restfully of heaven and earth. The earth behaved itself, as did also the moon, the planets and the stars. The nations were kept under the control of kings, emperors and various other rulers. Wars were local and fairly soon over. The soldiers did all the dying and the civilian masses were relatively safe. Weapons were conventional and of limited effectiveness. Earth afforded a home for the Christian as long as he needed it and a heaven above the starry heavens awaited him when his earthly pilgrimage was over.
Then came the atomic age, bringing weapons capable of annihilating whole populations in a split second with fallout that would jeopardize the health of almost everyone not killed in the initial holocaust and threaten the sanity and normality of generations yet unborn.
Hard upon the nuclear age came the space age with its artificial satellites, showing that if God could make a moon, so could Russia and the United States—not so large perhaps nor so long lived, but a moon nevertheless—which proved that if we were a little behind the Creator we were at least catching up. Interplanetary travel is now declared to be the next thing on the agenda, and at least a few now living may reasonably anticipate a trip to the moon (God’s original moon, that is) and possibly to Mercury, Venus or even Mars.
The familiar, safe universe to which our minds had grown accustomed and which we trusted almost as much as we trusted God has blown up in our faces. The new concept of space has stunned us and our faith is staggering in an effort to equate the highly complex world of space and nuclear energy with the relatively simple world of the Bible and Christian devotion.
Another thing that disturbs believers, especially those of middle age and beyond, is the scrambled condition of the nations. We grew up accepting certain nations as great and others as small and inconsequential. Now some of the greats are on their knees, some of the insignificant ones are calling the turns, while a few of the ancient nations, such as Egypt, Syria and China, which had for centuries lain dormant like extinct volcanos are erupting and threatening to bury great areas under their lava.
Place names the Christian formerly met only on the pages of his Bible now appear daily on the front page of the newspaper. Such names as Lebanon, Arabia, Ethiopia have suddenly come alive, and their amazing resurrection has coincided with the coming of the space age. Nothing will stay in place; we are forced to suspend judgment, admit ignorance and rethink a dozen matters we had once accepted uncritically as settled.
This sudden transition from a small, slow, manageable universe to one of overwhelming power, incredible distances, speeds beyond comprehension and vast, wild, exploding bodies is too much for some of us. The quiet, anthropocentric world of the Bible is gone and, sadly enough, with it has gone the confidence of millions. These had united in one concept the world they knew with the faith they held, and as one went the other appears to have gone with it.
To find ourselves we Christians need to stop a moment and do some hard sharp thinking. We need to think, as Anselm once said, not that we may believe but because we already believe. Our thinking must center around the Scriptures of holy prophet and apostle, and must come to rest at last upon the sacred Person of Christ and our present relation to him.
The French genius, Pascal, said, “In the Holy Scriptures we find true prediction, and we find it nowhere else.” With that statement I believe every school of evangelical thought will agree, and the truth is that conditions as they exist today were foretold in the Scriptures from three thousand to eighteen hundred years ago. Our present confusion arises from our having looked straight at those predictions without understanding or believing them. We refused to accept the world the Bible said would be, and clung childishly to the safer, more conventional world with which we were familiar, until it began to dissolve beneath our feet.
Just now we evangelicals are suffering a sharp reaction from the prophetic teachings of the first third of the twentieth century. The pendulum has swung from too much prophecy to too little, and that just when we most need the sobering word of the prophet to keep us calm and sane amid the crash of worlds. For this our Bible teachers are more than a little to blame. They looked at biblical prediction through a microscope instead of through a telescope as God intended.
A clever Swiss writer, Denis de Rougemont, has said something to the effect that God says “I am He who is,” while the devil says “I am not.” God works by asserting his being and the devil by denying his. From behind his screen of pretended nonexistence the devil has worked successfully to discredit prophecy at the very moment we need it most. We dare not let him continue to deceive us.
The Old Testament prophets saw the advent of Christ through a telescope; the microscopic detail was left to the after wisdom of fulfillment. Then Christ and his apostles raised the telescope again and gave the Church the long view of things to come. The chaotic world we are now entering is the very one the apostles saw through the telescope of biblical prediction. Some details are clear; many others must wait fulfillment. But we can see enough to recognize the landscape, or perhaps we should say the skyscape, for a great deal of New Testament prophecy is concerned with the heavens—not the atmosphere only but the far-out world of interstellar space.
One has but to read the predictive passages of the New Testament to discover how accurately they describe conditions as they are now or as our scientists warn us or promise us that they soon will be. But most significant of all is that those Scriptures place the interests of latter day men in the starry heavens. They tell us that a time will come when the eyes of mankind will be focused on space in terror or in hope. And is it not further significant that the New Testament writers should have foreseen and described the psychological conditions on earth set up by happenings in space? and that they should have done this nearly two thousand years ago, when the most advanced scientist could not have dreamed of anything as fantastic as the modern space age?
Looking through the telescope of New Testament prophecy what do we see? The shaking of the heavens and the earth, the panicky flight of helpless populations fleeing in terror before something that is taking place among the heavenly bodies, the ascending of pillars of smoke into what would now be called the stratosphere or the ionosphere, the thunderous passing away of the earth and all the related heavens to make room for a new heaven and a new earth that will be a fit home for a redeemed human race, the appearance from remote space of beings wholly unlike anything with which earth dwellers are familiar.
These are a few of the wonders we behold through the telescope of prophecy. It has been the practice of some exegetes to dismiss these predicted events as figurative or symbolic, but I cannot see how a serious inquirer can do this. Since the Messianic predictions of the Old Testament were quite literally fulfilled down to the minutest detail, is it not reasonable to believe that the prophecies of the New Testament will also be?
Making no attempt at close exegesis of any of the New Testament passages mentioned here, we may yet say that the writers knew too much about our day, for the whole thing to be mere coincidence. That they did know about our times in such detail should afford assurance that the Eternal Spirit moved them to write.
Let any man whose faith is trembling before events among the nations of the world read the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew. Should he be troubled about brainwashing techniques, hidden persuaders, the growing power of governmental control over the minds of men, incipient dictators, unionism or the death of honor among nations, let him read the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation. Should the revival of Romanism worry him, let him turn to Revelation 17. Should he be on the verge of surrendering to the blandishments of religious liberalism, let him read the two epistles of Paul to Timothy.
Read those passages and remember that they were written more than eighteen hundred years ago. Do not worry about close interpretation. Use the telescope and glass the terrain; it may be too early for the microscope. The important thing is that God knew all about what is happening centuries before it began to take place.
Again, we should remember who we are and what is our relation to the triumphant Christ. As Thomas Kelly has said, we Christians live simultaneously on two levels, the physical and the spiritual. We tend to lose our heads when we become engrossed with the physical—matter, motion, time, space, energy—and forget the spiritual.
When we understand that true faith in Christ effects for the Christian an eternal union with him as he is in God, time and space cease to have the same meaning for use as they had before. When God takes a believing man into his heart he rescues him from the corrosive action of time and the breathless fear of energy and space.
If God smiles he must surely be smiling at Sputniks and Explorers. Without doubt he pities the little man who can control growing numbers of swiftly moving missiles but cannot curb his own temper or direct his feet free of the grave. And he will yet judge in great severity a race that has made a moral wallow of the earth and is now determined to extend its pollution to the heavenly bodies.
We have erred by thinking of ourselves as “under the circumstances,” a situation in which no Christian should ever allow himself to be placed. The grinding motion of circumstances soon wears out the bodies and souls of men, and those of the present day are particularly sharp and abrasive. We must escape them by taking our position in the heavenly places where we by every right belong.
That the Christian belongs above is not a poetic fancy. The data rests upon the solid foundation of New Testament theology. Our spiritual home is the Father’s house. We should learn to think from the throne down, not from the earth out. Let us but accept the earth as our psychological home, the proper vantage point from which we view the cosmic scene, and the space boys are one up on us immediately. John said of Christ, “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all” (John 3:31).
The farther we move up into God the calmer we become. God is never caught unaware. He is sovereign over all, and in infinite power he is working toward a vast purpose which his infinite wisdom has assuredly devised.
To go out by that same door where I came in, let me repeat that Christians these days are disturbed for the wrong reasons. To grieve over the wounds and sorrows of the world is good and right; to share the woes of our fellow men, to bear on our hearts the burden of the world, to intercede in tears and travail for their sins is to fill up in some measure that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ. But to panic before growing knowledge of the heavenly bodies is to reveal how inadequate has been our conception of God and how little we really understand the meaning of the resurrection of Christ and his ascension to the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens.
A. W. Tozer has been Pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Chicago since 1928. He is Editor of The Alliance Witness and a past vice president of the national movement. His published works include Wingspread, The Pursuit of God, Divine Conquest, and The Root of the Righteous.