I recall 1978. Or it might have been 1979. An ordinary working day and lunchtime at what was British Aircraft Corporation, near a small town of Weybridge in Surrey. This rather spacious aeroplane-manufacturing works complex, consisting of several large buildings, each arranged symmetrically to form a grid of streets not unlike a typical American town layout, was built on a former motor-racing track, the then nationally famed Brooklands, with remnants of the racing track still visible throughout the seventies. The complex featured two large canteens, across the street from the factories, and built back to back with each canteen housed under the same roof. One was the worker's canteen with no staff, where cold snacks were available from vending machines lining the wall. The other canteen was fully staffed and served hot dinners for a discounted price. Before the Trade Union intervened, manual employees, such as skilled and semi-skilled precision machinists from the factory shop floor, such as myself, would have been forbidden to enter the restaurant where hot food was served, but instead had to be content with the cold snacks from the vending machines.
|A VC 10 under construction at Weybridge.|
But by the mid-seventies the Union was successful in its campaign. And so, by the time I joined British Aircraft Corporation in the Autumn of 1977, we machinists and labourers alike were allowed to mix freely with the suited office staff, which before were the sole users of the canteen. Therefore, being such a free-thinker back then as I am now, and without isolating myself entirely from my work colleagues, I tended to avoid the cliche-culture of manual workers remaining in their groups, and tended to "invade" office staff whilst assembling among themselves at table. With a tray of hot food in my hands, I chose a table where I knew was a favourite among office staff. Sure enough, about half an hour later a group of suited men around my age or a tad older piled around me. Although I keep saying that they were suited, in reality they were allowed to work in the office without the need to wear a tie. By going by my experience with them, with a few exceptions, these more casually-dressed individuals tended to show a greater sense of camaraderie towards the likes of myself.
I was quite popular among them, although there will always be a few who resented having a manual worker sitting at their table. Only once was I ordered to move by one angry office pen-pusher. Since this occurred very soon after returning from backpacking the USA in 1978, and going by the timing of this incident, his anger and consequential rejection of my presence might well have been motivated by jealousy. Otherwise, among them I was quite popular. On this occasion, I was alone at a table which accommodates six people. This particular group of office staff, seeing me sitting alone, all rushed to occupy the remaining five seats. Not only had I felt welcomed by them, but had the impression that they wanted to be in my presence to ask me some questions.
The one with the most pleasing personality and was sitting right next to me, turned and asked:
If your God is such a God of love, then why does he allow such suffering in the world?
Oh gosh, here we go again! Then I turned and asked:
Do you believe God himself had ever suffered?
He could not answer, but still stuck to his thinking that the existence of a loving God couldn't be reconciled with the reality of the world's sufferings.
And so within the last few weeks the news media pumps out disaster after disaster. After all, what is it about the Caribbean region and Mexico becoming the victim of two tropical storms (so far) along with two earthquakes, both hitting Mexico City with intensity? The storms, with both hurricanes reaching magnitude five, which is at the top end of the intensity scale, had devastated the islands of the Caribbean. This, together with the two earthquakes had caused a high rate of fatalities and many more homeless. Then in addition, right on the other side of the globe, an earthquake hits Japan within the same time frame. Yet it is the islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea which are worst affected, whilst the UK seemed to enjoy immunity from such forces of nature. After all, with just one centimetre of snow covering our land, the whole nation comes to a standstill - schools close, trains remain stranded between stations, roads turn into skidpans and traffic builds up into a snarling congestion. After all, nature mustn't be too hard on us British! If half-an-inch of snow can cripple us, heaven help us if a magnitude twelve earthquake was to strike, or be hit by an intense Force Five hurricane.
Indeed, how can a God of love allow for all this? And then only at some parts of the world and not in other parts? To add salt to the wound, it does look as if nature is far more harsh towards the poorer tropical nations, while the richer nations such as the UK and Northern Europe seem to escape from such disasters. Even then, sitting on a throne in Heaven, God and his heavenly population aren't at all affected by these disasters, are they? And yet we earthlings are, and it does look as if God's arm is too short to intervene. Yet the question remains: Has God himself ever experienced suffering?
By reading the Internet lately, a plethora of blogs, articles and comments began to appear as if a by-product of these catastrophes. These contributions generally centres on the concept that as these disasters grow more and more frequent, this is the sign that the Rapture and the Second Advent of Christ are rapidly approaching. Even as I write, there is talk of the world ending today, a theory advocated by some christian crackpot, and therefore giving our faith a bad reputation. The fact that I'm right at this moment typing on the computer testifies that I'm still here and this present world hadn't ended, nor are we about to face Antichrist and the Great Tribulation.
This idea of the imminent coming of Christ is taken from Matthew chapter 24. Especially in the case of this generation in no way passing away until all these things - earthquakes, disease, global warfare, etc - are fulfilled, then the end will come (Matthew 24:34). The trouble is, when did this generation came to be? Was it those born before or even during the Great War of 1914-1918, as advocated by Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and perhaps Norman Robertson? The snag with that idea is that those alive during the Great War, even children alive during 1914, have long passed away. And the end still hadn't arrived. Or what about the generation who were alive when Israel became a sovereign nation on May 14, 1948? Yes possibly, because among the veteran population, there are many still alive to this day. Even more so who were alive when Jerusalem became the capital city of the restored nation of Israel. That took place in July 1980. This may indeed be a point worthy of consideration, because Jesus began his discourse on the Temple in Jerusalem, which stood at that time, and he foretold its destruction by the Romans some forty years later. If Jesus was speaking specifically about Jerusalem, and this present generation is the actual one Jesus was referring to - the generation who saw Jerusalem declared the capital city of Israel in 1980 - then I'm one of this generation, since I was already 27 years of age when this declaration was ratified. Indeed, the Rapture could occur within my lifetime, assuming that I could have up to thirty years left to live (taking me into my nineties!) But whether plausible all this may be, my generation have not seen the beginning of "wars and the rumours of wars...nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, famines, pestilences and earthquakes in diverse places, which are the beginning of sorrows (or birth pains)." Rather, the beginning of all these was seen by those alive around 1914.
Therefore a counter-argument had arisen among more recent authors, such as Benjamin L. Corey, who wrote and published books as well as posted on the Internet. These authors specify that "This generation" of Matthew 24:34 refers to his disciples who were alive in his day, and were still alive during the razing of Jerusalem to the ground by the Romans in AD 70, and this event referred to as "The Great Tribulation". This carried with it the argument that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 resulted in the sun turning dark and the moon blood red, and the cloud of ash obscuring the stars at night - giving the effect of "falling from heaven" as the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were wiped out.
I think I can see where this author is coming from. First of all, Jesus was talking specifically about Jerusalem, with its destruction in AD 70. This was nine years before Mt. Vesuvius erupted and wiped out cities which had nothing to do with Jerusalem, the two locations being about a thousand miles apart, neither had the eruption brought the Second Advent nor the end of the world as we know it. Then throughout history, volcanic eruptions of greater intensity occurred, blackening the sun rays in the atmosphere, causing the moon to turn red and taking the lives of multiple thousands. One striking example was the explosive eruption of Mt. Krakatoa in August 1883. The resulting dust cloud blown out from the caldera has created a belt of darkness around the globe, but this didn't bring the return of Christ either. And of the many, many cases of widespread famine and diseases throughout all history, none had brought the present world to its climax. So in one sense, Benjamin Corey and his ilk may have a point in their argument. But the question of This Generation still remains.
Corey bases his argument on Jesus's words, this generation - that is, the generation alive during the Lord's ministry and the immediate years to follow, that is, his disciples. It's true that some of Jesus' followers might have still been alive during AD 70, although I tend to believe that the majority of Jesus' immediate disciples were martyred long before Jerusalem was razed. Therefore could he be referring to my generation, who saw Jerusalem restored as Israel's capital? Or thirdly, could this generation be a reference to the Jewish race?
The footnote in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible has a footnote under Matthew 24:34, which reads, or race. The late Dave Hunt, who among other books, also wrote How Close Are We? - also believed that the term this generation was a reference to the Jewish race, at present existing in unbelief for up to two millennia after the Crucifixion, and tied to Jewish culture and traditions, kept alive despite its attempted annihilation by the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries as well as by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Jewish race lives on to this day, even in unbelief. If Jesus' meant this generation not passing away as referral to the Jews as we know them, then he is absolutely right! The Jews are with us to this day, and they will not cease to exist after the Second Advent! Rather, the whole of Israel will be converted at his coming, as these verses testify:
And I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one who mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn ungodliness away from Jacob:
For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
Romans 11:26-27, AV.
The idea that this generation is a referral to the Jewish race as it stands at present in unbelief certainly makes sense, and eradicates any theory of which generation will see the signs ushering the end of the age. Because, in all truth, nobody knows. But the Rapture is imminent. That is, it can happen at any moment, totally unexpected. His return has been imminent since the day he ascended up to heaven. Nobody knows when he will come back, and God himself does not wish to give any dates either. So nobody should even guess. To guess the date is not the will of God for us.
But as we await his coming, suffering continues. Physical suffering, especially around the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Earthquakes, hurricanes - demolishing property and taking lives. People suffering, both physically and mentally. And are we immune here in the UK? By no means! Statistics have shown of a rise of mental illness, with a significant rise of depression rising among the young, both boys and girls, by as much as 70% in the last 25 years.*
So the key question is: If there is such a loving God existing, then why does he allow so much global suffering?
The question can be faced with a counter-question: Has God himself ever suffered?
The answer to that is - Yes! God knows everything about both mental anguish and physical suffering. To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.
2 Corinthians 5:19.
Jesus Christ, whilst at the Garden of Gethsemane, was so mentally anguished, that he literally sweated blood. Then at the cross, his physical suffering combined with the reality of being abandoned by his Father for the first time in all eternity has made his suffering the worst in history, and no other person in the whole of history had ever suffered to such an intensity. Especially among Christian martyrs, whose hearts were ablaze with the joy of the Lord in their spirits, already equipped with the knowledge of an eternity in glory.
Is God fully acquainted with suffering? Yes, absolutely. A worthy revelation for those who sat with me at table back in the seventies.
* The Independent, 27th Feb, 2016.