“Arthur was a very happy young man. He loved life, he was an active member of a Christian church, devoting his life to the Lord. . . . He was happily engaged to a smart, kind-hearted medical student with a bright future.” This is how the family and friends of Arthur Medici described the twenty-six-year-old after he was attacked by a shark on Saturday off the Cape Cod beach and later died at a hospital.
In other news, Typhoon Mangkhut, described as “the world’s strongest storm this year,” reached mainland China yesterday after pummeling Hong Kong and killing at least fifty-four people in the Philippines. More than 2.5 million people have been evacuated in southern China.
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Florence has “slowly ravaged the South with rain and wind.” As of this morning, seventeen deaths have been confirmed as a result of the storm. Officials warn that flooding “is only going to get worse.”
Even after the storm is over, lingering floodwaters will be extremely dangerous. Chemical and biological contamination are a continuing threat, including bacteria that can pollute drinking water and cause life-threatening infections.
Eighteen quintillion grains of rice
One fact these stories have in common is that humans do not control nature. We face threats as frightening as sharks, as massive as typhoons and hurricanes, and as microscopic as bacteria.
I make this point today because you and I live in an age of such technological advancement that we can delude ourselves into thinking we’re more powerful than we really are. Consider some examples:
- Every minute on the internet, 2.78 million YouTube videos are downloaded; 2.4 million Google searches are initiated; 347,222 new tweets are sent; 527,760 photos are shared on Snapchat, 150 million emails are sent; and Amazon registers $203,596 in sales.
- An iPhone has more computing power than all of NASA had when it flew Neil Armstrong to the moon.
- Earbuds can now translate between fifteen different languages in real time.
- Robotic exoskeletons are being developed to assist our soldiers in battle. They will also help those with amputations and other physical challenges.
- Technological advances in genetics carry the potential to change every dimension of healthcare, from diagnosis to treatment to prevention.
Technology is advancing as Gordon Moore predicted it would. In 1965, the engineer noted that the number of transistors per silicon chip was doubling every year. In 1975, he revised his time frame to two years. “Moore’s Law” is commonly cited today to predict that the processing power of computers will double every two years.
To illustrate this phenomenon, put a grain of rice on the bottom left square of a chessboard. Then double it on the next square, to two. Then double it again on the next square, to four. Continue doubling the amount on each successive square. The last square would contain eighteen quintillion grains of rice, more than has been produced in the history of the world.
In the face of such staggering technological advancement, it’s easy to believe that humans are quickly conquering the world. But that’s a trap.
The best way to live in this world
The first temptation is the only temptation: “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Every sin is a variation on the same theme: be your own God by stealing this, lying about that, slandering this person or attacking that one. What Nietzsche called the “will to power” is the basic drive in fallen human nature.
Then a hurricane or typhoon attacks with force we can neither prevent nor control. Or microbes we cannot see cause infection and even death. And they remind us that no matter how much technology advances, this planet is still broken. Storms and sharks and microbes still threaten. Death still awaits.
The best way to live in this world is to remember that this world is not our home.
I participated Saturday in a memorial service for Soledad Matos Alamino. Unless you’re familiar with the Alaminos’ ministry in Cuba, you probably did not know Soledad. But when you meet her in heaven, you’ll see why she was so admired by all who knew her.
I have made nine trips to Cuba, each time witnessing New Testament Christianity in action. I have often called Pastor Carlos Alamino the Apostle Paul of Cuba. His ministry is reaching multiplied thousands of people, training hundreds of pastors, and planting scores of churches. And none of it would have been possible without his wife.
Soledad died recently of cancer at the age of fifty-five. She was as courageous in facing death as she had been in facing government officials, persecution, and deprivation. Her secret was simple: she lived for heaven on earth.
She lived to glorify God, to bring people to Jesus, to love her Father with all her being and her neighbor as herself. She met physical needs to meet spiritual needs. And she knew that every day is one day closer to Paradise.
Soledad made this world so much better because she knew this world is not our home.
The eternal significance of present faithfulness
Today we are called to pray for the victims of Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut and to give and serve in ways that will show God’s presence in our compassion. And we are called to “work” and “keep” this world in every way that honors God and advances his kingdom (Genesis 2:15).
But all the while, we should remember that we are improving bodies that are but “tents” (2 Corinthians 5:1) and a planet that will one day pass away (Revelation 21:1). The good news is that we cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.
Many of us have asked why God would allow Soledad Alamino to die so young. But her daughter made a statement at her mother’s funeral in Cuba that resonates with me today: “God never leaves anything incomplete.”
Ten thousand millennia after this world is forgotten, eternity will only have begun.