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Those who believe the Bible understand that Jesus revealed that our world will face very traumatic times in the years leading to His Second Coming. Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world are suffering, and although many agencies and individuals try to help, the suffering continues.
Jesus warned of end-time religious deception and persecution, followed by regional wars and ethnic violence, then unprecedented famine and worldwide disease epidemics (Matthew 24:4–7). These prophesied events are found in Revelation 6 in symbolic language as the infamous “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Though countless millions are in need today, Scripture warns that humanity’s sufferings will become much worse in the years before Christ’s return. Understanding that so many in the world need help in their time of trouble, what should our attitude be today? And what is our hope for tomorrow?
From America to France, from Japan to Africa, human suffering is a worldwide phenomenon. According to a June 19, 2013 BBC news report, there are currently more than 7.6 million displaced refugees—the most since 1994, not even including the more than one million people who fled Syria in 2013! But it is not only those fleeing war, violence, weather or poverty in developing nations who need help. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are nearly 100,000 chronically homeless individuals sleeping on the streets across the United States. According to The Economist, in Paris, France “a growing number of homeless are stretching the limits of the city’s generosity” (“Down and out in Paris,” October 13, 2012). The World Food Program estimates that 870,000,000 people worldwide do not have enough to eat (WFP.org, “Hunger Statistics,” July 10, 2013). The list goes on.
Since the human picture is sometimes lost in the statistics, two brief examples from Japan may help illustrate the pervasiveness of need, regardless of where or how “modern” a nation may be. Homelessness in Japan—especially among older people—has surged in recent years. According to Reuters, people older than 55 years accounted for 73.5 percent of Japan’s homeless in 2012. The story of Toshiyuki Ishioka, a 50-year-old ex-businessman, is all-too-common: “‘The company I used to work for went bankrupt, so I’ve been living on the streets for eight years now,’ said the 50 year-old, whose tanned, leathery skin made him look older than his age. ‘It’s also difficult for older people like me to find jobs because we’re just not as strong.’” Kyoko Machiya tells a similar story. The slender 64-year-old woman lives in a makeshift cardboard box structure and reports that although she tried to live in a homeless shelter, she eventually decided to move out: “‘It’s not their fault, but it’s pretty difficult being surrounded by those with severe mental illnesses,’ Machiya said, ‘It wasn’t a pleasant environment, so I ended up on the streets again’” (Reuters, “Old age far from gentle for Japan’s graying homeless,” March 1, 2013).
From war to tsunamis, from droughts to mudslides, from disease to economics, human suffering has many causes. And the Bible reveals that these problems will worsen before Christ’s return, especially affecting the modern nations descended from ancient Israel. To those who are blessed to live in Western nations, the worst of the suffering has always seemed to be “somewhere else.” However, prior to Christ’s Second Coming, Scripture warns that, because of modern Israel’s sinfulness, the “Western” nations identified in Scripture as the “House of Jacob” will enter into a time of terrible calamity beyond what we today see even in the nations that are suffering the most (Isaiah 48:1–12; Ezekiel 5:11–17). This punishment will culminate in the Great Tribulation spoken of by Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:21).
In a world with so much suffering, what should a Christian do? If we neglect or despise the poor, we sin (Proverbs 14:21). Being charitable does not mean that we should be unwise or allow ourselves to be exploited (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12), but God does want us to help those who truly are in need, whether by giving of our time, talents, prayers, encouragement or money (Romans 12:6–11). James 1:27 instructs that pure religion is to visit the widows and fatherless in their time of need. Faithful Christians will not neglect to do good to all people as they are able, especially serving their brothers and sisters in the faith (Galatians 6:10). Scripture is clear that if we see those in need but have no pity on them, we do not have the love of God in us (1 John 3:17).
Whether we are wealthy or poor, we must remember that all we have is a gift from God—the food we eat, our clothing and life itself (Leviticus 26:4; Matthew 6:25, 33). God expects our appreciation, and He commands our generosity toward others. But there is an additional truth that we must understand. There is a kind of hope and help that we can provide to those who suffer that is significantly more important than anything we can offer physically.
Ultimately, there is no way that any of us—individually, or any agency or human government—can solve this world’s problems. In fact, the Bible warns that conditions will grow much worse in the years ahead. Solving this world’s problems will require the return of Christ. This truth is a foundational part of the vital message of the soon-coming Kingdom of God. This message is what the Church of God is commissioned to preach until the end of the age. Praying for, supporting and participating in the proclamation of the true gospel of the coming Kingdom of God is one of the most profound ways you can do God’s will and help people today—help them repent from sin, be blessed as they begin to live according to God’s laws, have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have real hope for a better future for all mankind!
As Jesus commanded, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ’s return, when God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of those who follow Him (cf. Revelation 7:17) and when Christ will establish peace and abundance throughout the earth for all humanity (Isaiah 2:2–4; Amos 9:13; Micah 4:4; Revelation 19:11)! This is the hope for a suffering world!