It has certainly been a significant year. The Jewish ‘exodus’ from Gaza and Israel’s subsequent political upheaval have gained significant press. We have witnessed widespread riots over a number of weeks in France, with thousands of cars and buildings destroyed by fire. In the very land where the modern cry of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” began, democracy has proved to be anything but liberating. Iraq continues to spin out of control with suicide bombings occurring on almost a daily basis. Iran remains an explosive flashpoint, with their leader threatening to wipe out Israel and continue their nuclear program with assistance from Russia. Meanwhile Israel continues to consider pre-emptive strikes against Iran’s facilities.

Earthquakes and hurricanes on an increasing scale have followed last year’s Boxing Day Tsunami. The recent earthquake in Pakistan killed more than 70,000 people and many thousands still remain homeless, with winter setting in. What has been most apparent with these events is the complete hopelessness of world leaders in their responses to these disasters. The war on terrorism continues, with terrorists spreading their tentacles into Great Britain and now even Australia.

Much has also been written about the influence of the Papacy, with the entire world’s attention being fixed upon the Vatican for many weeks during April. Pope Benedict XVI’s return to his home country of Germany, speaking to millions of people in August, including a mass attended by 800,000 people in Cologne, displayed the power which the Vatican has over the minds of men. Pope Benedict XVI immediately began to pursue unity with the Orthodox Church and other Christian religions. And most tragically of all, so called ‘protestant’ leaders spoke of reunion with Rome and “the end of the Reformation”.

The New Morality

We often talk about the decline of our modern culture, but what is particularly fascinating is when the world itself identifies the problem, but does not know how to solve it. Consider this:

“Drug taking and infidelity may be gossip-worthy, but they are not, for most of us, morally reprehensible. TV celebrities and prostitutes, pop stars and prison sentences, socialites (etc)—it all boils down to lifestyle choices. ‘Traditional’ morality, according to a recent report from Britain’s Social Affairs Unit, has been replaced by an alternative morality—and what constitutes good and bad behavior is not as cut and dried as it once was. The new morality works like this: if you’re not harming anyone, anything you choose to do is fine; and if you are harming someone, that’s sad rather than bad. We have gradually traded in the old moral code for one that starts with the assumption that we should all do what feels best for us…. Judging is old morality, empathizing is new morality.

The new morality may avoid stark choices between good and bad, but it does have rules of conduct all of its own. Recreational drugs are perfectly acceptable provided you don’t do them in front of the children… Marriage, and all contracts, are breakable should your circumstances change—Who knew when they were twenty-seven that a happy marriage required an income of a hundred grand minimum? Basically, we’ve created a whole new layer of behavior, sandwiched between right and wrong, which is where most people are most happy to operate. In this fuzzy, grey hinterland you can get away with almost anything, provided either you don’t get caught or you turn it into a joke. Broadly speaking, the new morality world is divided into plodders and opportunists, and you know which side you want to be on.

To get the new morality right, you want to be seen to be caring and open-minded—virtues that are more important than being principled or courageous or particularly honest. That’s just the way it is. As long as your self-esteem is intact (and that’s basically salary-linked), you count yourself a pretty moral sort of person. By this stage you might have come to the conclusion that you’re not really part of this new moral code, that you’re more of an old-style moralist with softer edges. I know what you mean. But try this test. Kate Moss: liability or model having a good time? Big Brother: disseminator of moral depravity or something silly to watch when you’re too plastered to take in anything more demanding? See, you’re more modern than you thought” (Weekend Australian Magazine 12.11.05).

By using agreeable terms such as “empathizing” and “caring” we need to realize that they are talking about something far different to what Scripture speaks about. They are speaking about empathizing with those who hate God and caring for toleration of wickedness.

Elusive Happiness

So if this is the basis upon which our modern society is now built, we naturally ask the question—is this really making people happy? Another earlier article (Weekend Australian Magazine 26.03.05) attempted to answer this question:

Are We HavingFun Yet?—Big houses, flash cars and high-flying careers are failing to fulfil their promise of happiness for Urban Australians. We need to find a new life script…

This article quotes observations by English philosopher Theodore Zeldin. As Mr Zelden looked over Sydney Harbour, being entertained by one of Australia’s most successful businessmen, who supposedly had ‘everything’, including ‘more money than he could use in a lifetime’, the businessman said, “I’ll give you anything if you can cure my loneliness.” The article continued:

A rather telling comment on our times for Zeldin, commonly hailed as one of the 100 most important thinkers in the world, is that the encounter with the unhappy executive was by no means unique. “So many CEOs are starting to question what they’re doing with their lives,” he says. “They’re killing themselves and wondering, what for?”

The harsh reality is that while politicians exhort us to embrace economic prosperity, there are disturbing signs that our growing wealth is starting to erode our sense of wellbeing. We may earn bigger salaries, live in stylishly renovated homes, drive flashier cars and have the means to splurge on all manner of indulgences, but while cash registers ring our discontent grows exponentially. Surveys confirm that while we’re consuming more, we’re enjoying life a lot less. In fact, we’re working harder than ever to keep improving our financial and professional status, but the chase is leaving us emotionally and spiritually spent. Australians’ use of antidepressants has risen by 58% in 4 years and, most alarmingly, the rate of depression is soaring so rapidly that by 2020 it is expected to be the most critical health problem facing western countries.

Sydney University’s Dr Robin Murray comments: “We’ve made material wellbeing our priority and we’ve developed this mentality of ‘I’ve got to have it and I’ve got to have it now’. We have come to rely on the quick fix. Yet you only need to look around cities like Sydney and Melbourne to see how many people have become dissatisfied with their lives.” It’s a mentality in stark contrast to that prevailing in some of the Third World countries where Murray has lived. “People in countries like Nigeria and Rwanda have so little that their priority is finding enough food to feed their children. It’s about survival. And yet I have this enduring memory of strolling through the markets in the Nigerian town of Ibadan. There was always so much laughter and happiness, and I often wonder what they’d make of this Western preoccupation with finding happiness when in material terms we have so much.”

So many Australians feel that they’ve lost a sense of control over their lives: they’re working longer hours, they’re mortgaged to the hilt and they’re not spending nearly enough time with their family and friends… More than half of all Australians already feel that their quality of life is deteriorating. While we embrace new technologies and spend large chunks of our days connected to iPods and mobile phones, we’ve never felt more disconnected from people. On the home front it looks even bleaker, with 32 percent of all marriages expected to end in divorce, and families contracting so dramatically that statisticians predict that by 2026 one-third of all homes will be occupied by single people.

Sarah Edelman, a research psychologist at Sydney’s University of Technology, then comments about “hyper-achievers at the pinnacle of their careers” who confess to being “unbearably unhappy”…

“They are materially comfortable, many have partners and families, and yet there’s this vacuum in their lives. Many complain of feeling trapped in soul-destroying jobs where the pursuit of status and wealth has, paradoxically, created huge amounts of stress and unhappiness.”

The article also quoted a study of 24 000 Australians, measuring personal satisfaction, finding that those who lived in smaller, rural communities with reasonable facilities and greater social cohesion were found to have higher levels of wellbeing than city dwellers. So often we read in the Scriptures of the corruption found in the big cities (eg Gen 11:4–6; 13:13;18:20; Micah 1:6,9). No wonder God’s Kingdom will be founded on a rural lifestyle, where people will find satisfaction with their work and in a quiet, secure family environment (eg Micah 4:4; Eccl 5:18; 8:15; Isaiah 65:21–23).

Prosperity and Poverty

Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor in our world today continues to rapidly increase. The prosperity in western countries is not helping to build better societies. The pursuit of riches is creating a crisis in families, particularly due to children being neglected by ‘time-poor’ parents:

Parents despairing at spoilt, bratty offspring have only themselves to blame… All over the suburbs there are signs parents are losing control, creating a generation of super brats—spoiled, unruly children who have never heard the word “no”…. Naughty mats and withdrawn TV privileges are seen as the answer to a full-blown crisis of parental confidence so serious that mums and dads in New York are turning to professional “parent coaches” at $US75 [$AUD100] an hour to help them manage their offspring… Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, author of Surviving Adolescents, calls it “Tamagotchi parenting”, taking the name from the Japanese virtual pet toy, regularly fed and watered but without moral guidance. He sees digitally savvy children disappearing behind an “emotional firewall” at home. “They see parents as people you watch TV with”, whereas the emotional relationships are with their friends, with whom they are permanently connected via mobile phone and instant messaging in a cyber world unsupervised by adults (Miranda Devine, Opinion, Sydney Morning Herald 3.11.05).

World Looks Away as Niger Starves—About 3.6 million people face starvation in the West African state of Niger unless the world responds urgently to the food crisis there, Oxfam says. “Families are feeding their children grass and leaves from the trees to keep them alive,” Natasha Quist, a spokeswoman for the aid agency, said. Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, was devastated by a plague of locusts last year, and by drought that lasted until earlier this month. UN humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, said this week that 2.5 million people in Niger were in desperate need of food after the world ignored UN appeals for urgent aid. Oxfam estimated that about 1 million children were at risk. The UN first appealed for assistance for Niger in November and got almost no response. Another appeal for $US16 million in March raised only about $US 1 million… (Ms Quist said) “The UN needs money now. Every day that the world’s richest countries look the other way, more people face starvation. They have to put their hands in their pockets before it’s too late”(Sydney Morning Herald 22.7.05).

The Struggle for Jerusalem

We continue to see Jerusalem as a “burdensome stone for all nations”. Key prophecies about Armageddon describe the conflict as being centred around Jerusalem and the “mountains of Israel” (eg Joel 3:16; Ezek 38:8; Zech 14:1–15; Isa 34:8). The following articles show the significance of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and the long-term implications for Jerusalem:

Settlers Find Devilisin Detail of Gift from God: Religious Zionists Cannot Prevent Gaza Withdrawal—“In that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying: Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” Genesis 15:18. The Bible has always posed a problem for Christians who read it as the literal word of God: most of it isn’t about Christians, but Jews. For Israel’s growing fundamentalist minority, on the other hand, interpreting the Bible requires little resort to fancy talk about allegory, imagery or old and new dispensations. In his covenants with Abraham, Moses and Joshua, God explicitly gave the Jews exclusive rights to a massive chunk of the Fertile Crescent, including parts of modern Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. It is their religious duty to collect on the deal. To Israel’s small but influential religious Zionist movement, there is nothing absurd or immoral about 8000 Jews living a privileged existence on seized land in the Gaza strip, a tiny, impoverished de facto prison for 1.3 million Palestinians. It is God’s will, and the God of the Old Testament didn’t mince his words. ….Mr Sharon and his advisors have sold the “disengagement” plan to a majority of Israelis by saying it will indefinitely ease international pressure for a broader withdrawal. But, as the settlers learned again this week, even God’s deals can contain a great deal of small print” (Sydney Morning Herald 23.7.05).

Fight HasBegun for Jerusalem—Following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria, Ahmed Qurei, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister and senior PLO figure announced Sunday that the fight for Jerusalem has now begun. (He) said that the PA would now focus its attention on Jerusalem. “The fight has begun for Jerusalem,” Qurei said, “and it is a dangerous war. No Arab, Palestinian—Christian or Muslim—will accept Israel’s racist plans” ( 29.08.05).

EuEnvoy Otte: Withdrawalisthe Modelfor Jerusalem—The EU envoy to the Middle East, Mark Otte, said that Israel’s recent uprooting of Jewish communities is a model for the rest of Samaria, Judea and Jerusalem. “Our position regarding the West Bank and east Jerusalem is identical—they are occupied territories…” ( 30.08.05)

Blair WarnsofAction Against Iran—British Prime Minister Tony Blair served warning yesterday that the West might have to take military action against Iran after worldwide condemnation of its President’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. “Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having nuclear weapons?” Mr Blair said (The Australian 29.10.05).

Indications are that the Papacy is also beginning to reassert herself in Middle East affairs. Under the title “The Vatican and Israel—an unholy war of words”, The Economist (6.08.05) reports, “What has gone wrong between the Vatican and Israel? Israel’s ties with the Holy See have been reduced to tatters.” The Daily Telegraph similarly reported (on 30.07.05) that “the Pope will not be dictated to by Israel… ”, as it hit back at officials of the Jewish state. Now the Papacy is starting to show her true colours, as she will also do in the final conflict.

Russian Political Manoeuvres

Meanwhile, Russia’s ties with China also continue to strengthen. Although China may not have a specific role in Bible prophecy, it should be remembered that when Russia and her allies invade Israel at Armageddon, there also will be “many people with them” (Ezekiel 38:9). We should never underestimate China’s influence, especially in providing support for Russia in the latter days. They have a common purpose—providing a counter-balance to US military power.

Russia and China in War GamesChallenge to US—Submarines, bombers armed with cruise missiles and 10 000 members of Russia’s and China’s armed forces threw down a gauntlet to the United States yesterday when the two former enemies launched their first major joint war games. In a sign of the growing closeness of presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hu Jintao of China, the two former red armies will simulate a joint invasion of the Shandong peninsula on the Yellow Sea, south-east of Beijing (UK Daily Telegraph 18.8.05).

Russian-Chinese ties have been warming, boosted by the signing last year and ratification this year of a final settlement of a long border dispute. The two states are to hold their first joint military manoeuvres later this year in China. The leaders offered each other support in Moscow’s war against separatist rebels in Chechnya and Beijing’s effort to assert control over Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province. “The declaration reflects similar approaches by Russia and China to fundamental world policy issues,” Mr Putin said after a signing ceremony. “We understand well the importance of good-neighbourly relations based on partnership between Russia and China, both for our own peoples and for the entire world” (The Australian 4.07.05).

The Moscow Times (7.08.05) reported that these military exercises were to also involve more than 11 000 navy personnel. Chinese military support for Russia in the final crisis would be a devastating blow to Israel and the US.

Just before the recent German elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a special trip to Berlin, with the two countries reaching “an agreement which has put the fear of a potential Russo-German entente into Poland and Eastern Europe” (The Mail on Sunday). The agreement between Putin and the outgoing President Schroeder was said to “significantly alter the balance of power inside the European Union.” This recent agreement involves laying a pipeline to transport gas from Russia to Germany, and “makes Eastern Europe more dependent on Germany, makes Germany more dominant in the Franco-German alliance and makes Germany more the master of the European Union.”

Wherever we look on the world scene, we see such convincing evidence that we are in the latter-days. The birth-pangs are becoming stronger and stronger. How thankful should we be for the “sure word of prophecy”, that we may hold fast until the end.