“No hotter book lies in all the Old Testament. Neither dew nor grass nor tree nor any blossom lives in it, but it is everywhere fire, smoke, and darkness, drifting chaff, ruins, nettles, salt pits, and owls and ravens looking from windows of desolate places.” so writes Scottish theologian George Adam Smith describing the book of Zephaniah.
The picture of what the “The Day of the Lord” will be like is further enhanced for a better description. Here that coming day is described a little different than found in the book of Joel. This prophecy is about the day of terror that will fall upon all creation in judgment for sin. It is a grim picture of destruction, but out of it will come a righteous remnant of people. Zephaniah is compared to the Revelation of the Old Testament, with its description of the apocalypse (the complete final destruction, with the word’s etymology, also including another meaning, to reveal something, unveil it). The variance with this writing is that the state of Israel is in the foreground and the Gentile nations in the background. The reverse is found in Revelation, where the Gentile nations are in the foreground.
A thing to remember about stories of apocalypses is not to look at them as Hollywood portrays. Biblical apocalyptic stories have a happy ending. It is a divine judgment that provides a divine blessing. The apocalyptic writings of the Hebrew Bible can be found in Joel, Amos, and Daniel and then in brief passages in the Gospels (Mark 13, Matt. 24, Luke 21), in the Corinthian letters, the Thessalonian epistles and in the book of Revelation. Many apocalyptic messages have been written in the Apocrypha from the New Testament times that did not make it into official canon and during the intertestamental 400 year period between the shared testaments (200 BC to 100 AD).
Through God’s inspiration, Zephaniah records the future dramatic changes that will occur at Christ’s coming in chapter 3. Just before that chapter, at 2:8 its revealed that the gentiles would be part of the chosen group by God. It can’t be reiterated enough, God’s ways are not our ways. His packaging of promises, found in unique ways, ultimately shows His’s love at the core of his being as a continuing one, that never gives up to find a way to reconcile us to Him.
Zeph’s ministry overlaps a young Jeremiah’s ministry. It’s right before the Babylonian captivity. It uniquely traces his personal genealogy with the beginning point at Hezekiah (assumed to be King Hezekiah). He is presumed to be the great-great-grandson of a king, giving Zephaniah the distinction of a prophet with royal blood. He apparently ministered primarily to the upper crusts of society rather than to the average Israelites, as evidenced by his references to the princes, judges, prophets, and priests (Zep. 1:8-9; 3:3-4).
He writes of apathy and indifference as more responsible for a nation’s moral collapse than those who are engaged in evil ways. Irish statesman from the 1700’s, Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” If no other wisdom comes from the review of history, shown through the cyclical pattern throughout the OT prophetic warnings, it’s that humanity’s pattern of not heeding God’s truth doesn’t stop. Elie Wiesel, who spent the remainder of his life as an activist for humanitarian efforts after his imprisonment at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, took this to heart. He was one of the great moral voices of our time, and, in many ways, the conscience of the world. He never forgot the atrocities of World War II, and he wouldn’t let his message be forgotten, always reminded by the indelible concentration camp tattoo A-7713, his identification number, on his wrist to give voice to this horrific period in our history.
No one can predict the exact dates of the apocalypse (cf. 1Thes. 5:2, Mk. 13:32). God warns us and gives clues predicting what will come to pass or indeed are currently happening. Y2K (abbreviation for the dawn of the new millennial year 2000) is probably the closest I came to think it might happen sooner rather than later. It was speculated that when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, the global computer system, which runs infrastructure, would crash. I got caught up in it just as our ancestors did with Premillennialism of when the clock struck twelve after the first millennium.
The uproar originated over the data number code that operates in computers, which can be viewed the same as calendar time. The questionable glitch was would the computer recognize the annual date by the last two digits of the year instead of the four? Would 2000 be recognized as “00”, which might communicate to the computer to shut down? The Y2K computer bug, as it became known, was predicted to cause global problems, including the disruption or shutdown of electricity, water services, banking, and transportation. I did not get too caught up in the end time evangelists’ interpretation of what was going on so much as the possible challenge in our dependence on technology. Society’s infrastructure has come to rely on it such that if it were to stop, what would be the backup? There are enough “old timers” (myself probably included) and survivalists who know how we subsisted before the current demand for technology. If the moral foundation of how to live and survive (both spiritually and physically) isn’t in place, then when emotional panic inevitably raises its head there may not be solid enough footing to stand upon. It’s when you have a sure foundation to stand on while everything is ever changing. Singer Natalie Grant has this line I resonate with at many levels from her song In Better Hands Now, with the lyrics “It’s hard to stand on shifting sand.”
This Y2K doomsday conspiracy made me look at life differently. I was becoming disgruntled in general during this period, losing a level of control and things were moving at too fast of a rate. Dependence on technology for better or for worse was high. I secretly was wishing for a wake-up call for society, an interruption of technology. Perhaps going cold turkey without it temporarily would slow down our dependence on technology. Maybe traditional values in relationship tending could be re-established. Remembering the Y2K saga of a technological infrastructure collapse probably reads foolish today, and obviously, it was a false alarm. There wasn’t a digital shut down, the computers took the new year numerical date of 00 for 2000. Y2K, the engraved Mayan calendar stone, and the mysterious seer Nostradamus prophecies did not come to pass. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (cf. Matt. 24:6).
In the mid-1980s, the idea intrigued me during the rise of the use of the Internet and personal computers whether a person could live and run their household and life from their computers without ever leaving home was fodder for articles. One writer took the took the theory and lived it out their life (think Nellie Bly [1864-1922] style) reporting from experience of not leaving their home for a month, completely relying on technology (this is before the advent of the mobile phone) for all their day to day needs. It was accomplished minus the time efficient methods we have today. Also during this period, there was another advertisement showing a person working on a laptop in a beach setting, presumably while on vacation. It was a foreshadowing that turned into too real of an actualization for man to never unplug. Be careful what you wish for.
The paradox is, I am now guilty of actualizing my goals through technology as much as I can from a home office for my life and in my profession. My phone prompts notify me about employment gigs. My favorite commute is to the office in my house. Ironically, I realized that my new “intrigue” now is to learn how to unplug from technology.
The advent of the Internet and social media outlets are barely twenty years old at this writing. It is still new enough that the verdict isn’t out on the pros and cons of it. The jury, still out, reviews whether being digital connected leads to social isolation or do the lonely seek solace in social media? One thing for sure social media is here to stay. My children grew up with it; my g-kids were born into it.
In this season of empty nest, when I find myself with too much solitude, I turn to social media, checking in on my kids and others, then (at my worst) go off on the bunny trails clicking links that pull me away from my original intent of research, indulging in mindless, mind-numbing reading on the internet. I have experienced the monitor’s blue light (also in digital readers, television screens, and alarm clocks) that radiates from the screen into my mind’s eye which in turn disrupts my sleep hormone if I’ve had nighttime exposure too close to bedtime.
I do appreciate how technology has enabled easier communications particularly with my kids living in the direction of the four winds. Essayist Rebecca Solnit comments that modern noncommunication is changing experiences of time, solitude and communion with others. She says it is painfully convenient to use these venues and humans get addicted to its fast service. It has become ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, always-updating, checking in. As Solnit admits, and guilty as I write, that each generation broods over disruptive new technologies and chatter as if it is some techno-dystopian world. Since the invention of the printing press, every new revolution in information technology has prompted similar apocalyptic fears.
Conversely, Rick Warren says, “To use only the Gutenberg (press) in the age of Google would be unfaithful to the Great Commission.” I use the digital venue, thinking of it as only dabbling with a social media page in a chosen area of interest, and yet still the strong pull of the Internet what with curating, posting, getting an image, double checking, etc. is addicting. Now with digital publishing, I see some benefits. I can unplug, so it’s not too bad however digital detox centers, beginning in China and now throughout the United States for addicted digital users of gadgets in exchange for an off-the-grid experience of growth, reflection, mindfulness, creativity, community and (dis)connection are popping up to help people.
Once I attended a woman’s retreat, they took our watches away. We slept at the center where the retreat was held during the three-day event. They rang bells for meals and sessions. I remember losing track of time once I lost the ability to constantly check my watch. Sounds lame now the impact of not wearing a watch, but double dare you to get rid of your timepiece (better yet designate a day to unplug) and see the results.
Author and news show commentator David Brooks writes, “There are many things big data (digital output) does poorly. The quest for knowledge may be pursued at higher speeds with smarter tools today, but wisdom is found no more readily than it was three millenniums ago in King Solomon’s court. Our generation is bloated with information and starving for wisdom.” Co-founder of the Huffington Post (one of the first digital news aggregator) Arianna Huffington calls it the iParadox: The smartphone isn’t making us wiser.” (iParadox is like the trademark names of iPhone, iPad, iGeneration. It infers that those who have Internet technology with a capital “I” are is prevalent in life than in previously known. The use of “I” also is a play on the pronoun how “It’s all about me”).
While working with a school principal who disapproved my request to try and resuscitate our little school library. The library had been demoted to the abandoned sports locker room (the aroma negated that wonderful smell of books). He told me libraries and their books will become obsolete due to the demand for immediate access to information at our fingertips.
We are beginning to contend with more details than we can absorb and handle in our emotional development, and it produces a sort of low-grade anxiety, never detected before, that partners with the stress from the rest of life along with unfulfillment.
The commute on the information superhighway is a tough one. It’s the new version of the road warrior. Once started down this road, multiple mobile gadgets are acquired to keep up the pace. We have become Pavlovian reactors to each personalized ringtone, audible ping, and beep that indicates a message has come in from one of our devices. We haven’t figured out how to use it in the balance with the rest of our lives. I have sat with an extended family who gathered, from a great distance, to be together only to see everyone plugged in and phubbing on their omnipresent digital devices. My daughter sat with this group, so I sent her a text asking her how she was doing today. She sheepishly smiled realizing the point I was trying to make and put her phone away. Whyte describes it as even though dominated by the electronic gadgets and social media platforms that are supposed to facilitate communication, none us (are nor) have been having a real conversation.
Writer Henry Beston wrote seventy years ago, in another time from another generation, for a call to relearn the art of presence. The research and jury is still out on the use of our electronic devices (its still considered too new to collect) but initial studies do not look promising on the effect it is having on our children their depression, despondency and social skills.
It took great effort on my part while training for a caring ministry to learn how to be present in a telephone conversation. In other words: no multitasking while on the phone. Previously, for years I was convinced that the only way to survive and get things done was to multitask while being a mother and wife to four kids and their father, whose job took him on the road more than not leaving me to solo parent. That training caught up with me. I have allowed, as Solnit says, to assuage my fears of loneliness I am at risk of having any real connection with my kids by plugging into social media outlets to see what they are up to or ignoring the multitasking they are doing when we are in conversation. But I still call them and use social media information for an awareness of what they are up to. I hate being aware that they (and others for that matter that I talk to on the phone) are not totally present in our conversation. Occasionally, it’s okay to be distracted but to do it all the time gets old. I miss the uninterrupted communication between two people. I yearn for the caller to do one thing exclusively when they call and that is to converse instead of using the phone while driving, or shopping or while ordering through the drive-through window at coffee shops. Solnit mentions multi-taskers walking in front of cars against the green light, or into street poles or fountains while looking down at their phones, totally absorbed.
To interject some levity on my plight the following could be applicable to me: “Last night, my kids and I were sitting in the living room, and I said to them, ‘I never want it to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.’ They got up, unplugged the computer and threw out the wine.”
I have a love-hate relationship with technology. Once a couple of my kids threw me a birthday dinner and included my other two kids, each who lived on the opposite sides of the continent, to “face time” into the party on their computer tablets. Initially, it seemed surreal but then became fun to have them all present, us acting silly, telling jokes and laughing with each other. I appreciated the gesture to try and get all of us together to celebrate my birthday. But it was a little eerie and a bit foreshadowing of how slowly we are adapting to the lack of physicality of a human face to face communication. Then there was the time one of my bonus sons witnessed his daughter’s birth over a live stream via the Internet when he was deployed overseas.
I am not becoming a technology Luddite. But I am aware it will be a just a matter of time though when I can’t afford much less keep up with all the whiz-bang new technology, therefore, won’t be as sufficient (i.e., finding telephone numbers without the internet today is almost impossible) or independent without family help or a close companion. There are benefits of information technology. It’s only that we jump into an entertainment venue or use of technology without thinking about what’s happening to our soul out there in cyberspace. How do we help people not feel obsolete just because they don’t know, or can afford, the latest so-called advancement? The name Zephaniah means “hidden of the Eternal.” I am left reflecting on the verses “Be still and know that I am God” (cf. Ps. 46:10) and “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.” (cf. Jas. 4:8). God doesn’t leave us; we leave Him in many ways. One way of leaving Him is by substituting our time through technological advancements to such an extreme unparallel to the way people once related to each other in the past. God always loves; it’s us not showing Him our love.
Dr. Carl Jung carved onto the doorpost of his “castle” home: “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”, a good thing to heed during any apocalypse imagined or to come.