Alan Weisman, in his internationally acclaimed book The World Without Us, describes what our planet could be like if humans were suddenly “gone.” So what would earth look like? At first glance things would be good! For one, there would be no more noise from cars, machines, and airplanes. Nights would finally be dark and reveal a starry sky. Cities would disappear. Such coastal cities as Hamburg and Amsterdam would be flooded, as dikes would disintegrate. Statues and monuments would become excellent anchor points for sea life. The tunnel connecting France and England would perhaps survive a few thousand years before collapsing. But even when the sun would burn out there would still be human traces. The many radio and TV waves that we have sent into space would continue wafting through the universe.
What is it about the world without us that so fascinates people? Perhaps it is the underlying question: What will happen to our planet? Will some trace of our civilization remain? Will anyone survive?
Thousands of years ago as Noah and his family left the ark they found a world “without us.” Every step took them over a gigantic cemetery—they were the only survivors. Noah’s ears probably still rang with the scornful laughter of the past 120 years. And then the memory of the terrible darkness as the ark rode out the monster storm! They were survivors through God’s grace! Noah probably promised himself: we humans must never forget this!
The theme of survival and remnant can be traced throughout Scripture. There are Joseph and his family, Moses in the bulrushes, the Israelites facing the sea, Joshua and Caleb, Rahab and her family during the conquest of Jericho, Gideon and his 300 men, Elijah, Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace, Jeremiah, Baruch and Ebed-Melech in Jerusalem, Ezra and those returning from exile—the list could continue.
Have you noticed that they all did not belong to the majority! They were the “others,” and I wonder about their shared characteristics.
Genesis 12:1-3 tells us of Abraham’s call. This is the birth moment of God’s people. God challenges Abraham to take three steps: leave the current environment, be completely dependent on Him, and, as a result, be a blessing to all humanity!
God’s call begins with a command followed by a promise. Finally, it ends with a blessing. These three elements are key features of every divine call. We often tend to gladly claim God’s promises, and expect His blessing without paying attention to the previously given command.
Abraham belonged to the tenth post-Flood generation. Noah’s descendants had quickly forgotten the lessons learned during the Flood. Soon open rebellion bloomed at Babel. God answered humanity’s rebellion by calling Abraham.
The underlying drive of the tower builders of Babel involved their attempt to overcome the trauma of the Flood, turn their backs on the rainbow (in other words, scorn God’s mercy), and, united, determine their own destiny.
God’s way is completely different. Called by God, the remnant are those who radically separate themselves from everything that disconnects them from God! Abraham was called to disconnect himself from his homeland, community, and family! The city of Ur was one of the oldest Sumerian cities. Its main deity was the moon god Nanna. Excavations confirmed a highly developed culture, with a diversity of temples. Terah, Abraham’s father, worshipped other gods (Joshua 24:2). Why did God call Abraham to take these painful steps? God had to free him from the ties of the past so that He could use him. “Faithful among the faithless, uncorrupted by the prevailing apostasy, he [Abraham] steadfastly adhered to the worship of the one true God” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 125). We often think that lifestyle issues are of secondary importance. But this is where God began with Abraham!
God promised Abraham the very things that the builders of Babel were trying to accomplishwithout God’s help. Abraham was to be the founder of a great nation and be noted in the history of humanity. Today we don’t know the names of the tower builders at Babel, but even thousands of years later Abraham is still honored by millions. He left everything. God’s word was the only thing that he had to hang on to! He had to absolutely depend on it! He became a “friend of God” (James 2:23), father of faith (Rom. 4), and ancestor of Jesus (Gal. 3:8, 29)! Note the influence of one person totally dedicated to God! It pays to trust God, even when it hurts.
We Are Called Out Too
Is Abraham’s story an exception? God’s “church” in the Old and New Testament is the continuation and repetition of Abraham’s story. It is always a rest, a minority, the community of the “called out” (ekklesia). They continue the covenant that God made with Abraham so long ago.
In Revelation 12:17 we read that the end-time remnant will keep the commandments of God and are attentive to divinely inspired prophecy (the testimony of Jesus), rousing the fury of Satan. As Seventh-day Adventists today we do not believe that we are the only believers; rather we believe that we are called for a specific mission in our time. We are called to keep God’s commandments and hold to the faith of Jesus.
We don’t read in the Bible that Abraham in any way earned his calling. He needed grace as much as we do. Abraham was not elitist or aloof. He was considerate to those around him, regardless of their nationality or religion. Surprisingly, he is also not depicted as a faultless hero. The shameful moments of his wavering faith before Pharaoh and Abimelech are not hushed up in Scripture.
Abraham’s call was not for any selfish purpose. “You shall be a blessing.… In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). At times it may have felt as if he stood alone against the rest of the world. Wouldn’t it have been easier to combine some of the religious elements and expectations of the surrounding nations and blend in better by adopting some of the worship styles and rituals of the Canaanites around him? He could have argued that mission required this “adaptation.” However, Abraham did not compromise.
The Advent movement is called by God, as Abraham was, to spread the eternal gospel (Rev. 14:6-12) through a clear separation in lifestyle from the world. We are to live out patiently our faith in Jesus as an invitation and warning to the world around us (Rev. 14:12; Heb. 11:13, 16). God reminds us of our mission in life: “You shall be a blessing!” (Gen. 12:2).
The anger of the dragon (Rev. 12:17) directed against the remnant is part of the great controversy between God and Satan. The dragon is infuriated about our commitment to Scripture, our family worship, happily married couples, a Scripture-based lifestyle. He is angry about our church services, mission, friendships, Sabbathkeeping, and faith in Jesus. He is particularly angry at the church of Jesus that proclaims the prophetic word, as this lays bare and predicts his strategies.
Jesus promises that the anger of the dragon will not be the last word in the matter. He promises that in the end radio and TV signals traveling in outer space will not be the only traces of human existence. There will be a new earth that will be the center of the universe, the home of the eternal God and those that loved and followed the Lamb (Rev. 21:1-3).
Erhard Biró is president of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, in Stuttgart, Germany. He is married to Elke and has three adult children, Harmen, Patja, and Jared.