72 Hours to Chaos

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72 Hours to Chaos

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In 2005 I worked as a volunteer at a shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. We tried to console confused, hungry, frightened people who had been picked off the roofs of their houses in New Orleans and transported to San Antonio, Texas.

One young woman sat on a cot staring aimlessly. In obvious shock, she ignored the activity swirling around her. I stopped, leaned down and asked her if I could help. She looked up with eyes filled with despair and asked, "What happened to my baby?"

I never knew what happened to that woman or if they ever found her baby. Since that time I have often thought about how human life can be degraded by the destructive force of natural disasters. Even more disturbing is the reality of how easy it is for human beings to devalue each other.

It's vital that we maintain the right perspective.

Civilization's thin veneer revealed in disasters

Working in a shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina was a study in how the veneer of civilization hides the possibility of chaos. There were many encouraging examples by scores of volunteers who simply showed up and worked, at times without supervision, to unload trucks of food and water, set up cots and assist the tired and hungry refugees.

Yet there was no way to be totally prepared for the human tragedy that began to trickle into the shelter. Having lost their homes and possessions, the refugees were bused to the shelter, stripped of their filthy clothes, allowed to shower and pick through some donated used clothing, then given a bottle of water and a slice of pizza.

Underneath the attempts to supply basic human needs was a current of chaos. People were lost, confused and angry. "Where am I?" "Why did the levees fail?" "Why have the state and federal governments let us down?" "When will I get to go home?" "What happened to my baby?"

In one instance a policeman was guarding a room full of supplies, including stacks of blankets. He had been instructed not to allow any refugees into the room. A small group of men demanded blankets for their children who were cold. The policeman refused. The standoff was escalating toward possible violence before a volunteer worker explained that the blankets were used and needed to be checked for lice.

One day I received a call from a government worker who was working at another shelter in another city. Her voice trembled as she told me how some refugees had procured guns and that there was fear of a riot. It didn't take long for civilized behavior to disappear when the basic blocks of civilization—food, water, clothing and shelter—disappeared.

How quickly would your neighbors turn against each other if there was no electricity for a week and no sign of the problem being fixed? How quickly would people resort to stealing or violence if there was another Great Depression like that of the 1930s?

Natural disasters give a glimpse into the weakness of the veneer of civilization. Underneath the thin covering is a boiling pot of chaos. We see how thin that veneer is every day in crime, violent entertainment, war, euthanasia—all examples of how human beings devalue each other. Under stress, the cheapening of other people can collapse into violent anarchy.

A study done a number of years ago in Britain concluded that it's a nation just "nine meals from anarchy." An article in the Daily Mail reported on the estimation that it would take only "nine meals—three full days without food on supermarket shelves—before law and order started to break down, and British streets descended into chaos."

The article went on to say: "A far-fetched warning for a First World Nation like Britain? Hardly. Because that's exactly what happened in the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. People looted in order to feed themselves and their families" (Rosie Boycott, "Nine Meals From Anarchy —How Britain Is Facing a Very Real Food Crisis," June 7, 2008).

In other words, Britain, like all civilized countries, is only 72 hours from chaos.

How quickly would people devalue other human beings to justify stealing money, food, clothing or a blanket?

Becoming desensitized to depravity

Here's another example of our thin veneer of civilization from Europe. Prostitution has been a sad reality in society throughout history, an ugly side of human nature. This practice degrades both the institution of marriage and womanhood. It is demeaning for a woman to sell her body as a commodity to be used without consideration of her worth as a human being.

In November 2012, the city of Zurich, Switzerland, legalized drive-in "sex boxes." The Telegraph reports that these "garage-like boxes will have roofs and walls for privacy, and easy access for cars." Michael Herzig, a representative of Zurich's social welfare department, stated: "The women will be better protected from attack, and it will also mean better business for them. With the women right by the sex boxes there is no 'travel time' so they can deal with more customers. It's a better business model than standing on the street" (Matthew Day, "Zurich to Open Drive-In Sex Boxes," Nov. 29, 2012).

Switzerland is viewed as highly civilized, its people taking pride in their tolerance and humanity. Yet for many in Zurich it doesn't seem degrading for a woman to sell her body in a government-supplied "sex box"!

Stories like this are disturbing—or they certainly ought to be. Yet through movies, television, radio, music and 24-hour-a-day news, all of us are being desensitized to the great moral issues of our time.

We must guard against that. For all great moral issues are concerned with God's purpose for humanity and the value of each individual. All moral issues eventually deal with our value as human beings.

Our need to feel moral gone awry

Why should you, personally, care about the great moral issues of our time? As long as people leave you alone, let's just all get along and not judge each other, right?

For many people there is a general sense that the only evil is being intolerant of others. From this viewpoint, there are very few totally evil acts, except maybe to promote the idea that there is absolute good and evil, which is seen as intolerant extremism.

Here's a trait concerning your human nature you need to understand: Unless you're totally amoral, you want to feel that you're basically a good person. You want to experience high self-esteem about your moral decisions.

If you want to feel that you are a good person, what makes up your moral center? What criteria do you use to decide what is good and evil? How hungry would you have to be before you beat your neighbor to death for a morsel of food? In the midst of chaos, how long would it take you to become barbaric? Only 72 hours?

The desire to feel moral has led many to a very warped sense of morality. Consider the following example.

In California a truck filled with live fish on the way to market crashed, and 1,600 pounds of bass spilled onto the highway and died. According to an Associated Press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asked for a memorial to be erected along that stretch of road "to remind drivers that all animals—whether they're humans, basset hounds, or bass—value their lives and feel their pain."

Another spokesperson for PETA announced: "They [the bass] were on their way to slaughter, which is of course pretty hellish. To suffer an accident on the way and be left in the middle of the street is unthinkable."

So for some people the death of a group of fish and the use of fish as food exemplify one of the great moral issues of our time. I'm not supporting cruelty to animals, but elevating the life of fish to the value of human life originates in the same perverted moral center as those who support slavery, abortion, euthanasia and genocide.

That may sound harsh, but it brings us back to a central aspect of true morality: What is the purpose and value of a human being?

True morality vs. self-made morality

The message that the Bible was inspired by God to teach human beings their moral center is derided by secular humanists, the "enlightened" educational community and, sadly, many in today's pulpits.

The Bible reveals that the Creator God sent His Son to free us from evil and teach us the way of goodness and happiness. The book of Hebrews states, "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus Christ] shared the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Notice that Jesus Christ came to earth as a human being because we are "children." Children of whom? Children of God! The great moral truth of our time, and of all time, is that God formed human beings because He is creating a family. That's why you were born! This truth must become the guiding light for all of your moral decisions.

You were created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27). You were designed to have the same moral center as your Creator. When you have a right relationship with God, you will experience a genuine sense of goodness. When you don't have the proper moral center, you will create your own sense of morality to feel good about yourself. When we make up our own sense of morality to feel good about ourselves, we're just covering our barbarism with veneer.

Supporting a memorial for dead fish feels moral. It feels spiritual to someone who doesn't understand the unique purpose for human life. Defending the "right" of a woman to "control her own body" by aborting her unborn fetus feels liberating and moral—at least until you substitute the words "child of God made in the image of God" for the word "fetus."

Many times what human beings make up as morality is the facade that hides our barbarism. God wants us to develop the real character of love.

The apostle Paul wrote: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves [that is, deeply selfish], lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control [pursuing the philosophy of 'If it feels good, do it'], brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!" (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Self-made morality gives human beings a great sense of self-esteem and feeling of being spiritual. As lovers of ourselves, our self-made sense of good and evil is just a veneer over a hollow form of godliness. Only the Creator of life has ultimately determined what is either good for life or destructive for life. God wants to save you from the destructive consequences of wrong moral choices. He wants to save you from the chaos of the world around you by dealing with the chaos inside of you!

The basis of moral decisions

Where do we begin to understand God's instructions for the most basic of moral decisions? Where in the Bible would you go to begin to learn how to change your sense of right and wrong from a veneer to a moral center?

You can begin to understand the great moral center God wants in your life from two short biblical passages.

A man came to Jesus and asked Him, "'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:36-40).

You will never understand who you are until you understand who your Creator is and why you were created. Until you submit to your Creator God with all your heart, soul and mind, you will continue to create false concepts of right and wrong so you can feel good about yourself—and your life will continue to be chaotic. This commandment is the most ignored teaching given by Jesus Christ. You may praise God, sing to Him and claim to be a believer, but are all of your emotions, energy and thoughts dedicated to obedience to Him as your Father?

The second passage to help you begin to form a moral center is found in Exodus 20:1-17 (reiterated in Deuteronomy 5:1-22). These verses record the only time in all human history that God spoke to an entire nation and explained basic morality. We call them the Ten Commandments.

Do you actually know what's listed in them? What about the Second Commandment, which forbids the use of images in the worship of God? Do you kneel down before statues of Jesus and Mary?

What about the Fourth Commandment concerning the seventh-day Sabbath? If you observe Sunday (the first day of the week) as your day of worship you've done nothing more than follow a manmade sense of morality.

What about the commandment against "bearing false witness"? Are you totally honest in your business dealings? The Tenth Commandment forbids coveting. Do you even know what coveting means?

You see, the reason we live under a facade of civilization is because in many cases we are living under a facade of religion and morality. It's time for you to explore your moral center and discover God's purpose in your life!

A tale of two department stores

The shelter for survivors of Hurricane Katrina I mentioned earlier was set up in an abandoned department store. A week later the shock and exhaustion of the refugees was replaced with apprehension about their future. The shelter supplied three meals a day, along with abundant used clothing. Hundreds of people slept on cots, walked the streets around the shelter or watched football on donated televisions. Many displayed a growing sense of boredom.

A short time after that first night in the shelter, I was walking through a different kind of department store. It was an exclusive shop celebrating a grand opening. Violinists played music while well-dressed patrons received coupons for free roses and waited in line to pay $300 for leather purses. A perky clerk asked if I wanted a whiff of fashionable cologne.

What a contrast! I couldn't help but think of the odor of people who had been trapped in humid attics trying to escape rising floodwaters. But this led me to thinking about the fact that I was actually strolling through the facade of civilization—a razor's edge from chaos.

The greatest moral truth of all time is the reality that the purpose for human life is that God is creating a family. Seek Him and you won't have to fear chaos. He will be the center of your life, directing you to His ultimate purpose come what may!