Y2K has arrived, and we have all lived to tell about it. The phone still works, the power is still on, the water still drips from the tap, and the planes have not fallen from the skies. Nor have we experienced a global economic meltdown. In fact, business confidence is as strong as it has been in thirty years, and the stock market is higher than ever.
There have been a few computer glitches, of course, but no more so than usual. The difficulties have been minor, such as the citizens who were called to report for jury duty in the year 1900, or the passengers who were welcomed back to 1900 at the Philadelphia Airport. It is still possible that a few more problems will show up in the coming week, when business returns to normal. But after all the paranoia and all the re-programming, the Y2K problem has turned out to be little more than a minor inconvenience.
In a Window on the World one year ago tonight, I warned that Christians were especially prone to coming down with “Millennium Fever,” the irrational belief that the world as we know it would come to an end in the year 2000. To our embarrassment, this has proved to be the case. Many of the books published to help people survive the end of the world were written by Christians. Many of the Y2K websites on the Internet were interspersed with biblical prophecies. Some people even purchased “Rapture Insurance,” in case their families were left behind when they were taken up to heaven.
Millennium Fever partly explains the phenomenal success of the “Left Behind” books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. At 10 million copies, these Christian thrillers were the bestselling books in America last year. They imagine what would happen if “The Rapture” were to occur, leaving a remnant of believers behind to suffer the wrath of the antichrist. One reason the books have been so popular is because so many Christians have been worried about Y2K.
As it turns out, we have not been left behind after all. Now that our collective case of millennium fever is over, and our national temperature promises to return to normal, it seems good to ask what have we learned from the first non-event of the new millennium.
We have learned not to believe everything we hear, especially from people who want to sell us portable generators and freeze-dried foods. We have also learned—some of us—what supplies we need to have on hand in case of a bad storm. Last week the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article entitled “What will you really need if Y2K fears become reality?”
But the most important lessons have been spiritual. We have learned that technology is not completely to be trusted. Computers are among the most powerful gods of this age. They give us the illusion of controlling our world, when in fact they often control us. They demand our time and our money. They offer us hope and security. They invite us to gaze at their bright screens and worship. And yet if we treat them as gods, they are bound to disappoint us. They cannot feed or clothe us. They cannot provide us with meaningful relationships. And as we have discovered, they cannot promise us the future.
We have also learned not to predict the end of the world. Earlier I mentioned Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. A year ago they warned that the Y2K bug could trigger a “financial meltdown” that would enable “the Antichrist or his emissaries… to dominate the world commercially until it is destroyed.” But during the past year, as it became increasingly obvious that Y2K would be more of a nuisance than an apocalypse, LaHaye and Jenkins retracted their warnings. In the end, they seemed to be as amused by all the hype as everyone else.
Predictions about when judgment will come are always proved wrong in the end. The Bible explicitly denies that anyone except God himself can ever know when the world will come to an end. Jesus himself said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). Y2K has been another reminder, if such a reminder were needed, that prophets of doom are self-appointed; they do not speak for God.
Finally, we have learned not to be distracted from the things that really matter. While some Christians were prophesying the end of civilization and preparing to survive it, there were many more important things for us to be doing. Things like feeding the homeless, working for racial reconciliation, and caring for unwanted children. Things like defending the truth of Jesus Christ in an age of relativism.
Early Saturday morning the world was given a beautiful reminder of what really does matter. The first sovereign nation to enter the new millennium was the island of Tongo. Through the work of Methodist missionaries, Tongo has been strongly influenced by the Christian gospel. Rather than celebrating the new millennium by exploding fireworks, or setting a river on fire, or running up the steps of an art museum, the Tongolese decided to sing to the glory of God. Some 50,000 of them—nearly half of the island’s entire population—gathered to sing to the glory of God.
This is what they sang, for all the world to hear: “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Hallelujah” (cf. Rev. 11:15; Rev. 19:6,16). After all the fearful predictions, it was the perfect way to begin the new millennium.
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