This headline is an uplifting way to begin your Friday: “Apocalyptic asteroid strike that could wipe out humanity is ‘only a matter of time,’ top scientist warns.” Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University Belfast told the BBC, “We will get a serious asteroid impact sometime. It may not be in our lifetime, but mother nature controls when that will happen.”
Here’s another news item to make your day: we may be facing a french fries crisis.
Crop damage due to cold and wet weather is causing a shortage of potatoes in North America. As a result, the US Department of Agriculture expects the nation’s output of potatoes to drop 6.1 percent compared to the previous year. Consequently, prices may rise and we may see a shortage of french fries in the near future.
Here’s my question: Which of these stories feels more real to you?
A “city-killer” NASA missed
We’ve been warned about “killer asteroids” before, but humanity still survives.
Fortunately, NASA assures us that it “knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years.”
Here’s the problem: the space agency could be wrong.
They didn’t spot the “city-killer” asteroid that narrowly missed Earth last July until just hours before it shot past us. The manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies admitted, “This object slipped through a whole series of our capture nets, for a bunch of different reasons.”
When it comes to killer asteroids, it just takes one. But no one knows when—or if—that one will arrive.
“The worst natural disaster in the history of North America”
The french fries crisis, on the other hand, is a real-time problem. We may not be astrophysicists qualified to calculate the trajectory of near-Earth objects, but most of us “would like fries with that.” We can understand this threat to our fast-food consumption.
It’s human nature to focus on problems we think we can control to the exclusion of those we cannot. That’s usually good advice for countering stress and anxiety.
Here’s the catch: our biggest problems are more like asteroids than french fries. The fact that we cannot control them only makes them worse.
Consider an example: Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer-Prize winning 2015 article in The New Yorker describes how “an earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest.” She warns that this inevitable cataclysm, many years overdue, will be “the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.” But I was left unchanged by Schulz’s remarkable essay because I don’t know what I can do to make a difference.
The Pearl Harbor shooting on Wednesday feels far from home since Pearl Harbor is nearly four thousand miles from my home. But Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s declaration this week that our city’s crime rate is “patently unacceptable” feels closer to home because Dallas is my home.
The dangers of complacency
When the Assyrian king Sennacherib, ruler of the dominant superpower of the day, threatened to destroy the Jewish nation, king Hezekiah prayed: “O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone” (2 Kings 19:19).
And God did: “The angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (v. 35).
Sometime later, Hezekiah received envoys from the king of Babylon, showing them “all his treasure house” and other possessions (2 Kings 20:13). The prophet Isaiah then warned him: “The days are coming, when all that is in your house, and all that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord” (v. 17).
This time, Hezekiah responded: “‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?'” (v. 19). As a result, the king did not prepare his son, Manasseh, to follow God as he had. And Manasseh’s sins led to divine judgment that fulfilled Isaiah’s warning and destroyed the nation by the hand of Babylon.
Two reasons to “pray without ceasing”
Christmas proves God’s ability and desire to engage personally in the largest and smallest problems humanity faces. Jesus is the divine Son of God who became a tiny infant. As an adult, he healed great crowds (Matthew 4:24) and a single centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5–13). He died for the sinful human race (Romans 5:8) and forgave a sinful tax-collector (Luke 19:9–10).
One of the most powerful ways we can honor the birth of our Lord in a day that seems to have forgotten the “reason for the season” is by rejecting the myth of self-reliance that dominates our culture. We do this by trusting Jesus with problems so large it seems only he can solve them as well as problems so small it seems we don’t need his help.
This is because the latter category doesn’t really exist.
Consider two reasons why we should “pray without ceasing” as we face every circumstance of this day (1 Thessalonians 5:17). One: Such reliance positions us to receive God’s best. Two: It will produce in us “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
And that peace will show our chaotic world that Jesus is just as real and relevant today as when he first entered our fallen world.
Corrie ten Boom believed that “any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”
Do you agree?