Signs of the times indeed

Firefighters assigned to the U.S. Air Force 23rd Civil Engineer Squadron (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Eugene Oliver)

When I was a kid I loved to watch the classic TV show “Star Trek”. One of the features of that show that always resonated with me was how the USS Enterprise would be approaching a planet that had not been previously explored and Mr. Spock would solemnly pronounce it to be “Class M” meaning that conditions on the surface of that planet made it possible for humans to live there.

I haven’t watched an episode of that show since the 20th century, but this last week, that phrase “Class M planet” was on my mind a lot as I watched news reports from around the world of searing heat waves, massive forest fires (including in places where you’d expect like Greece and California but also at latitudes above the Arctic Circle in Sweden) and devastated harvests on farmland all over the world.

Drought stalks many countries, especially here in the Middle East, leading to many second and third order crises. The horrible civil war in Syria was caused, in part, by social disruptions resulting from large numbers of people trying to move into cities after the rural farms their families had lived on and worked for generations could no longer support them due to drought in that country.

There are many more stories like this from all over the world. The UN estimates that there are nearly 70 million refugees living in countries of which they are not citizens, with a very large percentage of them having been forced to leave their homes because of problems caused, at least partially, by severe heat, drought, pollution and other environmental issues. Many other people are internally displaced inside their own country for this reason, including in the US.

In other words, there are large and growing parts of the surface of this planet we call Earth which are no longer “Class M”.

But that’s just one big problem we all have.

Another big trend is that the population of this planet is growing very quickly.

I saw a report recently that estimated every 24 hours roughly 150,000 babies are born all over the world, and in that same 24 hour period, roughly 60,000 people die of all causes. The numbers fluctuate up or down a bit on any given day, but generally speaking, every 24 hours there’s another 90,000 people on this planet.

So two large trends can be observed, a small but growing area of the planet’s surface where it is no longer possible for human beings to live and an ever growing number of people who have to live somewhere. Those people also have to eat, and it takes a fairly large amount of land and water to produce the food to feed them.

As the great Jewish-American poet Bob Dylan said, “you don’t have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing.”

Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 16:2-4;

“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.”

Brothers and Sisters, I would never claim to be a prophet, but I DO feel in my guts that what we’re seeing in regards to the increasingly difficult weather conditions on this planet, the exponentially growing human population making ever greater demands on finite resources and all the wars, famines, outbreaks of disease and other second, third and fourth order effects these phenomenon are having add up to something like the “sign of Jonah” Jesus is speaking about in this passage.

In such a situation, the wise thing to do is to stop trying to save what is already lost and concentrate all our attention and efforts to save what can still be saved. The good news is that the things which can still be saved are all that ever really mattered anyway.

I pray that we all have the wisdom and discernment to figure out which is which, and the courage and determination to act on that knowledge.