What would you do if you knew you had only 20 minutes to live?
For a few terrifying moments on Saturday, Jan. 13, more than a million panicked inhabitants of the Hawaiian islands were suddenly and unexpectedly faced with that grim reality.
At 8:07 a.m., an emergency alert was sent to cellphones across the islands with this heartstopping text:
“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
Within seconds, chaos and fear spread like wildfire across the island. Hawaiians knew that if the missile had been launched from North Korea—the only likely perpetrator—they had no more than 20 minutes before it traveled its 4,661 miles and exploded its nuclear warhead over the islands.
Cars hurtled down highways at perilous speeds seeking to escape congested areas. Thousands called their loved ones in tears saying what they felt were their final goodbyes. Dads and moms and children huddled together in bathtubs and prayed as they waited for the devastation to come. Some parents put their children down manhole covers, hoping to avoid the expected obliteration of virtually every object standing above ground. Some stores shut their doors and refused to allow panicked resident to seek shelter inside.
As we know now, the alert turned out to be a false alarm, the fault of a negligent government employee who chose the wrong option from a computer drop-down menu. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 8:45—an agonizing 38 minutes later—that a second message was sent:
“There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.”
While that emergency alert proved false, the threat of a nuclear holocaust is certainly a clear and pressing danger. Just recently, I read that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was holding a briefing on how the public should prepare for an impending nuclear attack.
A press release distributed by the CDC said, “While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps. Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness.” The release was accompanied by a photo on the CDC’s website featuring a mushroom cloud.
In particular, the looming threat of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) nuclear explosion could have such catastrophic consequences that it is almost too grievous to even contemplate. Estimates are that such a weapon exploded by a nuclear warhead in the atmosphere over North America could wipe out our electricity and food supplies, and kill 200 million people.
EMPs emit rapid waves of energy bursts that could jam the entire power grid. Everything from computers to cars would be rendered inoperable. Chaos would ensue, with people so desperate that they turn to widespread theft and even murder. Disease would run rampant with no medical facilities left to treat the sick and the wounded.
Just recently, North Korea claimed they had developed a hydrogen bomb that could be placed onto an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which would give them the capacity to trigger an EMP attack. They claimed the ICBM could travel more than 6,000 miles—jeopardizing the majority of the continental United States.
In light of these perils, what should the Christian’s reaction be?
Should we retreat into safe spaces in our churches and fellowships? Never! The darkness of this day only means that the Light of the Gospel is even more desperately needed. Believers should “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15) in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
Should we back out of engaging the culture or political process? Never! We are always to be godly salt and light in a decaying culture. Like the Prophet Daniel, the “people who know their God shall stand firm and take action” (Daniel 11:32).
The Biblical response is always, “Fear not!” The Prophet Habakkuk put it this way: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
The Israelites faced an impending invasion from the evil empire of their day—the Babylonians—and contemplated the absolute worst possible scenario, the ruin of their food supply and the absolute collapse of their agrarian-based economy.
Yet their response to such utter gloom and horrible prospects was still to find their joy and hope in the Lord their God. No matter what would happen—and it did happen—at least some Israelites vowed not to abandon their ultimate faith in their sovereign God, who rules over all the affairs of men and nations.
We must remember that the Scripture promises that world events will turn increasingly vicious and evil as the return of Christ draws near. War. Violence. Hatred. Natural disasters. Family strife and division. Oppressive governments under the rule of the Antichrist, staunchly opposed to God’s people. Billions of people killed because they reject the salvation of the coming King.
If you knew you had only 20 minutes to live, here’s what I hope you would do:
Reaffirm that you are in right relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, having repented of your sins and placed your faith in Him. The only damning tool in the hands of the real enemy—the devil—is unforgiven sin, and if we have trusted in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins on the cross, our sin is forgiven. “In whom [Christ] we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
Then, tell as many others as you can about the Savior. Call your unsaved loved ones and urge them to turn from their sins and put their trust in the Lord. There is not a second to spare and it’s never too late—remember the thief on the cross—to cry out to God for salvation. I hope I would be standing in the middle of a crowded thoroughfare where I could boldly preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ until the very last second.
If, one day, the incoming missile alert isn’t a false drill, and the 20 minutes is truly all the time you have until the world implodes, remember that all this is under the sovereign rule of Almighty God who is preparing to return to judge the living and the dead.
As “people [are] fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world” the believer knows that the Son of Man is about to return in “power and great glory” (Luke 21:26-27).
And instead of shrinking in fear and succumbing to panic, know with certainty that when these things begin to take place, you can “straighten up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Look up, take courage and eagerly await the coming of the King.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.