The headline said it all: this was a ‘Disaster of epic proportions’, and I must admit I wasn’t in the least surprised to learn that Libya’s top prosecutor is going to investigate the collapse of two dams that resulted in the death of thousands of people and largely destroyed the city of Derna. I guess we will never know the final death toll, although at the time of writing the UN has stated at least 3,958 people have died and more than 9,000 people are still missing. 

I was deeply saddened to read that more than 2,900 people were killed by the recent earthquake that struck Morocco too. As I understand it this was the deadliest in sixty years and it had a devastating impact on the villages and communities in the High Atlas Mountains, south of Marrakech. I am sure that I’m not the only one who found the TV images heart-wrenching.

As I’ve reflected on these two tragedies, I’ve obviously spent some time thinking about their causes, but I’ve also found myself being drawn back to a very important passage in the last Book in the Bible.

The Book of Revelation belongs to what is known as ‘apocalyptic literature’ and I was intrigued to hear one well-known commentator on BBC Radio 4 refer to the Libyan disaster as one of ‘apocalyptic’ proportions. Given this I thought that it would be useful to point out why this ancient form of literature has something very important to say to us today.

It would help if we begin by looking at the meaning of the term ‘apocalypse’.  The root comes from two Greek words that give us the meaning of ‘to uncover, reveal, lay bare, or disclose’. It could be used of a veil or curtains that are drawn back to reveal things that are hidden from our sight. In other words, apocalyptic writings claim to take us behind the scenes so that we can see the unseen principles that affect the world, and just as importantly how we ought to respond to all that is happening around us.

The eighth chapter is particularly relevant because it talks about a series of trumpets being blown followed by a series of disasters of ‘epic proportions.  So, how does that help us? Well, the answer is quite simple when we see things from a Christian perspective. We live in an imperfect, uncertain world. It’s a wonderful world of course but disaster can strike at any moment for any number of reasons. Disasters such as those we have witnessed recently in Morocco and Libya should not be seen as God’s direct judgment on the victims involved but powerful reminders that we can take nothing for granted, and warnings that the day is coming when we will all stand before Him. In other words, we need to be ready for what will be THE ‘epic moment’ of all time.

The great CS Lewis (who once described himself as ‘perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England’) summed it up this way ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Put simply Lewis was suggesting that most of us have little time for God until we’re in serious trouble and then everything can change. As the well-known saying says, ‘There are no atheists in the trenches’.

When people are hit by disasters God wants us to do all we can do to help them of course. The Bible makes that perfectly clear. But the Book of Revelation makes it just as clear that God is trying to catch our attention too – before it is too late!