A few of us were recently discussing the probability of the universe coming together by chance. Musing on this I asked, ‘I wonder what proportion of eminent scientists who say we exist by chance purchase lottery tickets?’
William Lane Craig in chapter 2 of his Reasonable Faith (1994) points out that This is a wager that all men must make—the game is in progress and a bet must be laid. There is no option: you have already joined the game…’
‘The choice should be made pragmatically in terms of maximizing one’s happiness,’ Craig notes Pascal saying. ‘If one wagers that God exists and he does, one has gained eternal life and infinite happiness. If he does not exist, one has lost nothing. On the other hand, if one wagers that God does not exist and he does, then one has suffered infinite loss. If he does not in fact exist, then one has gained nothing. Hence, the only prudent choice is to believe that God exists.’
In the last section of Luke 12 we read Jesus’ words about God’s impending judgment. Some who were listening to him asked him about an atrocity committed by Pilate. Apparently he had mingled the blood of some Galileans with their sacrifices (13:1), perhaps at Passover time. Jesus’ answer is clear but his words are tough: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did…” (13:2-3).
Jesus is saying, ‘You are all guilty before God and justly deserving death. Be warned: men and women are out of step with their Maker’. Every earthquake and flood, every conflict and war is testimony to that. Life is unpredictable and temporary. We need to wake up to this and turn back to God while we have time. One day there will be a world without pain, but it will have to be a world without sin.
Jesus tells us that the choice we have is not only difficult but vital. To underline his point he told a parable about decisions gardeners have to make at times – to get rid of unproductive trees or to wait and see. Wise gardeners wait. They feed a plant, prune it and fertilize it. Only when it fails to respond do they pull it out: “Let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (13:8-9).
Our family experienced this back in the 1980s when a couple of large eucalyptus trees, growing on land adjacent to our house, were apparently dying as the result of prolonged drought. I began watering around the roots, setting up sprinklers every evening. Gradually, as the water soaked into the ground and was absorbed by the roots, the trees regenerated and produced new growth.
There are times when we are tempted to think that Jesus will never return. But we should not confuse ‘patience’ with ‘indifference’. The fact that God does not intervene in a situation of injustice does not mean he is indifferent. Rather, as we read in 2 Peter 3:8-9, he is being patient.
For many of his hearers that day, there were two critical events that would touch their lives – the first, his crucifixion and resurrection; the second, the fall of Jerusalem (see also 13:34-35; 19:41-44).
Jesus is saying that a third crisis is yet to come which will affect the whole world. For centuries the Jewish people had been waiting for the dawn of the age of the Messiah. ‘Well,’ says Jesus, ‘it is here; you are standing on the threshold of the new age, the edge of eternity.’
Jesus asks us the same question today: ‘How is it that you do not see the signs of the times in which you live?’ None of us can predict the future, but we can know for sure that one day Jesus will come again – it will be truly ‘the return of the king’. The second ‘coming’ will be very different from his first, for it will not be a hidden event seen only by a few, but will come with great fanfare and seen by everyone.
If we are tempted to doubt Jesus’ words we should note that the first two of his predictions have occurred! The probability of his third prediction happening is extraordinarily high.