The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.—Revelation 8:7
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.—2 Peter 3:10
When you know your Bible, everything changes. You see the world differently. For example, a couple of years ago, my hometown of Greenville burned in the Dixie Fire. Several different homes that Randy and I grew up in went up in smoke, along with many other places that defined my childhood. The emotions that are stirred up in me when I think of those places, and when I remember that they’re gone forever now, are complicated, and hard to put into words. But along with them, there’s a thought in the back of my mind, which is there because I know what the Bible says: “Well, it was going to happen at some point.”
It was inevitable. Greenville was going to burn, because everything is going to burn. That’s what 2 Peter says. The elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. If Revelation 8 is to be taken literally, then some parts of the earth will burn before others, as God’s judgment unfolds in the last days. But eventually, it’s all going up in flames.
I don’t say this flippantly. Like everyone else, my heart breaks when I see the pictures coming out of Maui. Our family got to walk the streets of Lahaina two years ago (a few months before Greenville burned, actually), and it’s awful to see that beautiful place reduced to ashes. People lost loved ones, they lost their homes, their community, their livelihoods—it’s truly a tragedy. I have spent a week doing clean-up work in Paradise, and it was sobering. That community was devastated by fire almost 5 years ago, and many of those people have still not recovered. The damage caused by fire is no joke.
And yet, God has plans to wipe the earth clean with fire the way He once did with water:
By these waters also the world of that time (Noah’s time) was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.—2 Peter 3:6,7
Genesis 6 describes how God flooded the earth as a way of wiping it clean of all the wickedness He saw on it. In the same way, the earth we know and love is “reserved for fire.” Its destiny is to go up in smoke, because in God’s perfect judgment it is too wicked to go on forever.
It’s okay if you have a hard time with this. I do. I love this place. I have had a great summer, and one of the greatest things about it has been all the opportunities I’ve had to enjoy the natural world. I’ve been backpacking in the Sierras twice, with plans to go once more before the weather turns cold. In training for the kayak leg of the Courage Triathlon, I’ve paddled on every beautiful body of water within striking distance: Hog Flat Reservoir, McCoy Flat Reservoir, Antelope lake (twice), Lake Almanor (twice), Eagle lake (3 times) and Mountain Meadows Reservoir (3 times). I’ve had close encounters with white pelicans and bald eagles and sandhill cranes. This morning on my bike ride I got a close-up view of a coyote. I love the world God has made. It brings me joy, and as I age I feel a growing urgency to enjoy it as much as I can, while I still can.
But then again, this is also the world where war and human trafficking are realities. It’s the world where marriages fail and diseases ravage our bodies. It’s the world where corrupt politicians have way too much power, and kids bully one another on the playground, and where too often financial stress sucks all the joy out of life. We live in a world where the majority of people are in rebellion against their creator. They live with their backs turned to God, hoping He will leave them alone to do as they please, even though the sin that pleases them is slowly destroying them.
And so, God says, it all has to burn. Inner-city San Francisco is going to burn, and South Lake Tahoe too. One day Las Vegas will go up in flames, and so will the Sierra Nevadas and the Rocky Mountains. The good with the bad, all the beauty and all the wickedness, gone forever. But of course, not until the time is right. Not until, in God’s perfect judgment, everyone has had every opportunity they need to say yes to Him, or to finally reject Him. Then He will speak the word, and the earth will be cleansed.
This is scary for those of us who become too attached to this place. If we have no hope of heaven, if we don’t trust that God is capable of creating something even more amazing, if we don’t take Jesus at His word when He says He is preparing a place for us in His Father’s house, then we’re likely to feel that God is doing something really cruel by condemning the earth to destruction. But the Bible doesn’t present the coming judgment as something Believers have to fear in the slightest. Because Jesus has gone before us and paid the full price for sin, judgment holds no fear for us. And because the God who made the Hawaiian islands is infinitely creative and beautiful, we can trust that He will outdo Himself with the new Home he is planning for us in eternity.
In the meantime, the challenge is to love the people of this earth but not the sinfulness of humanity, and to appreciate the beauty of this place without getting overly attached to it. We must learn to see this present creation as God does. In Psalm 102, He compares it to an item of clothing that wears out, like a favorite shirt that has become faded and threadbare. At that point, it’s time to throw it out to make room for a shiny new one:
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.—Psalm 102:25,26
Carey often tells me I hold onto old clothes too long. I have a hard time admitting that something is all used up. When I am hiking down a mountain trail, I have that same attitude toward this world: “It’s not so bad! It looks great! It’s got a lot of life left in it!” But then I read the headlines, or I have a week where I counsel multiple people grieving the death of a loved one or a marriage, and I think, “Okay, God, whenever you’re ready.”
Maybe your favorite place on earth hasn’t burned to the ground yet. Rest assured, the day is coming. And if you’ve entrusted your eternity to Jesus, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Something better is in store, and God’s Word instructs us to look forward, not backward:
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create…—Isaiah 65:17,18
I pray for the people of Maui, and of Greenville, and Paradise. I pray for God’s mercy in the difficult days they are facing, and that they will turn to Him in faith and find a hope that does not fade. I also pray for myself, that I’ll learn how to love what is good in this world, but to hold it loosely, so I can be ready at moment’s notice to embrace my Home when Jesus sees fit to take me there.