CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Y2k – Is the End Nigh?

Feb 23, 1999

It is hard to imagine, but some Australians have not heard of the Y2K problem. Then again, there are some people who have not yet heard that Princess Diana was killed in a car crash. For those few unenlightened souls, let me explain what Y2K is all about. Y2K stands for the Year 2000. Also known as the Millennium Bug, Y2K is an issue which has been debated endlessly for the past several years. Briefly it amounts to this. All computers, in an effort to save on RAM, have been programmed with dates which are only in double digits. That is, the 20th of December 1998 will appear on computer programs as 20/12/98 (or more likely, 12/20/98, since they are based on the American way of dating). It seems that computer programmers lacked the foresight several decades ago when they designed computers, and computer programs. The two digits may have been efficient, but they are now causing major headaches. How will computers read these digits on 1 January 2000? The ‘00’ could be read as 2000, or 1900 or perhaps year zero.

The concern is that computer systems around the world will crash on this day. Depending on who you read, this will either be a slight hiccup in the system or a major mega-catastrophe. Already companies have spent millions of dollars trying to rectify the problem. Some are predicting it is already too late, and major disruptions, from banking, airlines and government on through to manufacturing, education and the military, will occur. Others are painting a less frightening scenario. Yet the gloom and doom stories are already circulating. For example, it is being said that airlines will not be running flights on that day. It is perhaps not a little ironic that the supposed saviour of mankind – science and technology – may next year bring about our un-doing.

How should Christians respond?

Christians (and non-Christians) are already responding. Some see these developments as a sure sign that the end of the world is nigh, or see them as a sign of God’s coming judgement. As a result, many Christians are being encouraged to stockpile food supplies, turn their basements into bunkers, provide alternative water and energy supplies, or just plain head for the hills. Indeed, I have in my hands a pamphlet which reads: “In less than 500 days, the thin veneer of world stability is going to come crashing down around you – and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it. (But you can protect yourself, and everything you’ve ever worked for. Here’s how…” The pamphlet goes on to explain how for a mere $93.95 you can order your “Countdown to Chaos Protection Kit”.

Many Christians are taking this “every man for himself,” “survival of the fittest” approach. They are gearing up for hard times, and hope to be well prepared.

Another option is to be salt and light in a time of change and uncertainty. Indeed, it is possible that the Lord is allowing this shaking of the system to take place to test us – to help us see where our real foundations lie. Is our trust ultimately in God, or in governments, in technology, in the stockpiling of foodstuffs, etc? Perhaps God is trying to get our attention. Perhaps He is trying to get us to see where and what we place our trust in.

If so, Christians will be in a unique position, if they make use of the opportunity. It is interesting to read of the early church in this regard. Why did so many people flock into the Kingdom of God in the first few centuries of the church? One of the reasons is this: When a pestilence or plague swept through an area, the Christians stayed behind and ministered to the sick and needy. It was the pagans who packed their bags and split the scene. The Christians, by remaining and being salt and light, showed just how credible and genuine the Christian faith was. Christianity is not just pie-in-the-sky stuff, nor is it a fair-weather philosophy. Christianity is something that should endure hardships; that should be tested and found more than sufficient. How Christians respond to adversity is a real witness to the world. How will we respond?

It has been said that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. I do not know how the Y2K problem will turn out. But how will we as Christians respond? Will we run and hide? Or will we view this as an opportunity to show the world what real Christianity is all about? Sure, we need to look after our families and loved ones. But perhaps this time of testing will show us what foundation we have built our lives on. Have we built our lives on the rock, or on shifting sands?

Put it another way: why do we serve God? Is it only for the benefits we can get out of it? Or is it because God is our sovereign Lord who deserves our worship, our obedience, our all. The latter was certainly the case with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Remember the story? In the book of Daniel the three Hebrews would not worship the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar. This is what they said: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18) They believed God would deliver them. But even if he did not, they were still going to follow him only. That is real faith. They had their priorities right. The question is, do we? Whether the Y2K turns out to be a real time of testing or not, we all need to be shaken up – shaken out of our complacency, our idolatry, our misplaced trust. If Y2K helps us to do that, it may be something to look forward to.

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