Actually, it’s here already.
But it will get worse.
So the trouble will yet come.
The trouble is the global financial situation, and the evidence is clear. Since 2008 the United States has experienced a recessionary economy. The recession is ranked by the experts as the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Large companies, once the mainstays of the economy, have gone bankrupt or have received government stimulus funds to stay in business. The housing market has crashed, taking with it many formerly prosperous small businesses. Unemployment remains between eight and fifteen percent, depending on who is doing the calculating and what standards they are using. In addition, many have insufficient work and struggle to make a decent living.
Most experts think that the worst is now past and that the economy is recovering. But most also concede that at best the recovery is slow and tepid. Some areas, such as west Michigan, seem to be doing quite well, while others are still mired in the mud of stagnation.
But just when there are some positive signs, the financial gurus warn of the very real possibility of a double-dip recession, by which they mean that the potential exists that just when it seems that things are improving, we could fall back into a worse recession. The reason is that the economy is no longer national, as it once was, but global. The nations of the world are no longer disparate entities politically or economically, but are closely interdependent. When one of the world’s large economies sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.
Currently the European Union is in trouble to the point that many nations, including Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and France, are flirting with bankruptcy. Greece, with perhaps the worst troubles of all, recently tried to impose austerity measures, including wage cuts and reduction of social entitlements, upon its populace. The result was riots in the streets. When the people lost their government handouts, which they did not earn and to which they had no right, they behaved like petulant children throwing a temper tantrum. And this happens in what once was the most highly developed civilization known to man.
In order to avoid being dragged into the depths of a depression, the governments of the world have spent vast sums of money. In the United States the current administration has borrowed $14 trillion (the exact sum depends on who is doing the reckoning) in an effort to lever the economy out of recession.
This is where it gets practical for you, young people. You are the ones who are now saddled with this debt. Not my generation, not so much the generation of your parents, but your generation. The sums of money involved are so huge as to be incomprehensible, at least to me. Yet they are bandied about as though they were pocket change. And to think that this is not money we already have; then we could disagree about how to spend it. But this is money we do not have; it doesn’t exist. Even worse, no one has a clue as to how this could possibly be repaid. Yet the government plunges ahead, assuring us that we can spend our way to prosperity. But it does not require a financial genius to see that debt is not the problem, but only exacerbated the problem by placing a heavy burden on the economy. And all of this will be your problem, young people. That’s a scary thought.
But all of this is not really the problem, is it? I don’t mean to minimize the trouble that lies ahead. I do not envy your position, and I haven’t a clue how you will dig yourselves out of the deep hole into which you have been thrown. But money, even vast sums of it, is not really the issue. Rather, the use of money is the root of the matter.
On a practical level the problem is stupidity, plain and simple. Or as the book of Proverbs calls it, foolishness. Wisdom is the ability and willingness to apply knowledge in a useful and practical manner. Foolishness is the opposite: the inability and refusal to apply knowledge. Foolishness abounds. It is simply stupidity to think and act as if deficit funding is the answer to the problem. Try doing this with your personal finances and see where it gets you. When is the last time you bought something with the expectation that someone else would pay for it? It is no different on the governmental level. But this is more than stupidity. Foolishness includes also an aspect of willfulness: it involves knowing what is right but refusing to do it. Applied to the current situation, it means that one takes the attitude,”I’m going to get mine, and I don’t care who has to pay for it.” This is precisely what is happening now, and the younger generations will pay the price. To the degree that foolishness is willful, it is sin.
This problem is even deeper than this willful foolishness. It involves the principle of stewardship, which in turn involves two basic ideas. The first is that God owns everything. This follows from the truth of divine creation. God made everything that exists, which means that all things are his alone. Further, he is the God of providence, who continually upholds and governs all things according to his sovereign will and plan. This implies, second, that man owns nothing. He has made nothing, and he upholds and governs nothing. Therefore nothing is his. He is God’s caretaker, charged in the cultural mandate to be God’s custodian.
This twofold idea of stewardship is reality. That is, it is the truth; it is what is right; it is how God intended all things. The problem is that because of the entrance of sin into the world, man denies the concept of stewardship and changes it into its opposite. Sinful man regards all things as his, not God’s. Sinful man asserts ownership over the creation, as well as over its governance and sustenance. He therefore twists the truth of stewardship into its opposite, denying what God reveals to be his will and putting himself in the place of God.
Because he thinks and acts from the principle of sinful selfishness and arrogant denial of the truth, man gets everything wrong. Therefore he acts not wisely, but foolishly. He uses the creation in ways that God never intended, and often ruins it in the process. In every instance that Scripture mentions creation and providence in the context of stewardship and of man’s relation to God, it assumes the present existence: man is called to manage what God has created, not what God has not created. Man is called to work with what God gives, not with what he does not give. This immediately makes the idea of unmanageable debt suspect, if not clearly wrong. This means that when man attempts to live by means of what he does not have, he violates the principle of stewardship and makes himself wiser than God. A passage such as Proverbs 22:7 speaks disparagingly about debt when it states that the borrower is slave to the lender. Positively, in Proverbs 6:6–8 we are given the example of the ant as a model to be followed: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise; Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” We are to work to make provision for the future, not borrow to live for the present. The application to the current financial situation is obvious.
So trouble is now upon us. But more is yet to come, because the current crisis is a sign of the times. We are perhaps most familiar with those signs of Christ’s coming that occur in the realm of nature or that are connected directly with the church. But we must not overlook the signs that concern politics and finance, for they are a significant factor in the coming of the antichrist.
The first part of Revelation 13 teaches in figurative language that the antichrist is a beast that arises out of the nations. The nations are portrayed under the figure of the sea when it cannot rest, but is in constant turmoil, casting up mire and dirt. When we put these ideas together, the meaning is that antichrist is a political figure who is willingly hailed as the savior of the world. He will solve all the political and financial problems that continue to plague the world as it is under the dominion of sin. But he does not originate in a vacuum; he does not suddenly waltz onto the stage of history without any background. Rather, he arises out of the nations. Because the nations are chronically war-torn, revolution-plagued, devastated by famine, pestilence, and all sorts of natural disasters, they are looking for a solution. They are tired of the constant problems, turmoil, and uncertainty that characterize their lives in the world. The point is that there must be an occasion, a background, a necessity for his origin and rise to power.
What we are seeing today, and what we will increasingly see as time goes on, is the development of the background and occasion for the rise of antichrist. The fiscal crisis is part of the turmoil of the nations and belongs to the difficulty of maintaining a semblance of stability in the world. It thus helps to prepare the way for the man of sin.
Is there a solution to the current problem? In theory, yes. And it is simple: Fear God and keep his commandments. Be not foolish, but wise. Instead of usurping the place of God, exercise proper, biblical stewardship over all aspects of life. But in reality, will this happen? Absolutely not. Scripture teaches the advance and development of sin that worsens and accelerates as the end becomes nearer. To believe that man will take any steps toward a true resolution of this problem is not according to Scripture, and is incredibly naïve. From a strictly earthly perspective, young people, I do not envy your future, for it does not seem to be bright.
All of this seems so dark and hopeless, and so it is from a human viewpoint. Yet there is a light in the darkness. The very first verse of Revelation 1 puts this into proper perspective when it says that it describes things that must come to pass. The significance of the word “must” should not be lost on us. It means that all things that take place belong to God’s counsel and that their execution is part of his will. Nothing at all can happen except according to his counsel, and God must fulfill that counsel because it is his. This implies that all of the signs in nature, in the church, in the world of nations, and in all aspects of history serve to bring the kingdom of Christ. The signs of the times are not merely a list of things that have to happen before the end of time. But because they are according to God’s counsel, they must happen, because they bring the false kingdom first of antichrist, and then the reality of Christ’s eternal kingdom.
Thus, when we are caught up in the turmoil of the nations—and we surely are and will be, for we with the wicked live on this earth—then we see the signs of the times and we hear the footsteps of our Lord. We understand that without the signs of the times, he cannot come. Then we understand the true significance of the events around us. And we are not afraid, but pray, “Come, Lord Jesus—quickly.