“Why are we not acting to save the world?” agonized the 78-year-old dean of behaviorists, B. F. Skinner. “The world is fatally ill … it is a very depressing way to end one’s life. The argument that we have always solved our problems in the past, and shall therefore solve this one, is like reassuring a dying man by pointing out that he has always recovered from his illnesses.”
Skinner’s speech before the American Psychological Association Convention stunned the 2000 conferees, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer (Sept. 25, 1982). This was the consummate optimist who had ceaselessly “dreamed of Utopia, a society in which the laboratory principles of behaviorism would apply to individuals,” that would eventually carry human society back into paradise.
This “social engineer” who “taught pigeons to play tennis” and “raised his daughter, Deborah, in a climate-controlled ‘baby tender’ for two-and-a-half years …” had now given up on man’s capacity to save the world. This erudite Harvard intellectual whose novel Walden Two became a behavioristic bible for a generation of nuclear-era truth seekers told his audience that ten years ago, “when I wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity, I was optimistic about the future. … A decade ago there was hope. … Today the world is fatally ill.”
Skinner is only the latest in the hopelessly long line of ivory tower incumbents to drop such a bomb of gloom and doom. Philosophers, educators, politicians, and entertainers are all crying out that man no longer possesses the capacity to save himself from a universal suicide devised and engineered by his own nuclear knowledge. Universally, man’s question is reduced to a single cry: “What must I do to be saved?”
Today is a far cry from the European world of 300 years ago, when a Marquis of Halifax could lie back in his castle and reply, “To the question, what shall we do to be saved in this world? There is no other answer but this, to look to your moat.” A moat a million miles across could hardly be a great enough gulf to offer salvation in our nuclear age, when a bomb can heat to 150 million degrees in a millionth of a second, and where even the skies, say the scientists, are not beyond the impending astrophysical possibility of collapsing into a “black hole.”
A Gallup Survey in September 1982 reported that about four times as many people expect nuclear war in the near future as did so a decade ago. Actually, half the people expect a nuclear war by 1992. A poll by CBS concluded that at any time, “70 percent of Americans believe a nuclear war is a real possibility.”
How can man be optimistic, asks the Secretary General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar, when every day a minimum of ten new nuclear weapons are being made? At least 50,000 of these are already deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union, poised at hair-trigger readiness. Jack Cahill points out that there are 42 other nations with nuclear know-how, having among them some 10,000 additional nuclear weapons. Those 60,000 weapons are ready within 25 minutes to exterminate 100 billion humans, if that many lived on this planet.
Let’s face it, ours is “a terminally ill planet,” says Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of the 13,000-strong Physicians for the Prohibition of Nuclear Warfare. Dr. James Muller of Harvard Medical School warns that on the first day of a nuclear war, two-thirds of all Americans will be killed, including four-fifths of the physicians.
Dr. Donald Bates, professor of the History of Medicine at McGill University, is not looking at history but to the future when he warns Canadians that unless we can prevent nuclear war, on the first day that it happens 80 percent of our citizens will be dead, with the other 20 percent wishing they were. When you read figures like this, you realize that former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is not exaggerating when he observes that “survival has become the prime quest of nations.”
Can the world–the present order of civilization as we know it today–be saved? Not only does the current consensus of scientists seriously doubt it, but military heads also have profound reservations.
Sir John Hackett, Britain’s foremost soldier-scholar, published his Third World War at the end of the seventies, projecting August 1985 as a hypothetical date when such a war might take place. In late 1982 the former commander of NATO’s Northern Army Group came out with a sequel, The Third World War: The Untold Story, in which he added the dimension of conflict in space. Laser beams, aimed from military satellites in space, cut down planes and rockets to decimate with nuclear incineration whole blocks of peoples. After creating a scenario of nuclear exchange in which the Soviets with a nuclear strike annihilate central England, and the Allies retaliate within 25 minutes with four ICBMs which incinerate the heartland of the USSR’s industrial complex, Hackett urges, “The West’s only hope is to trust its stalwart military men and give them whatever costly whizbangs they ask for.”
“It is the belief of the Reagan administration,” concludes The Boise Journal (Aug. 8, 1982), that the Soviets “have an overwhelming preponderance of conventional weaponry,” which, should war break out between the East and West, would force the West quickly into nuclear use to avoid defeat. Should that happen, estimates Jerome Wiesner, former presidential science adviser, “No amount of computer training will enable U.S. generals to prevent Europe from being turned into a big ‘lake of fire’ if there is a nuclear war on that continent.”
The Los Angeles Times editorializes that the U.S. Defense Department is planning on having to fight the Soviets in a nuclear war. Richard Nixon in Leaders stated that the nuclear arena is where international warfare is definitely headed. Cyrus Vance took the opposite position as Secretary of State, concluding, “I happen to be one of those who believe it is madness to talk about fighting nuclear war…. The incredible devastation that would ensue, for all intents and purposes would spell the end of life as we know it” (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 19, 1982).
On the other hand, Henry Kissinger warns that we must philosophically face the fact that “man cannot unlearn the secret of the atom” and “it is reckless” to conclude that if we get catapulted into a nuclear exchange, it will “automatically escalate into Armageddon.”
The Middle East, which has such a small proportion of the world’s population, threatens any day to trigger a terminal war. In October 1982 former President Jimmy Carter wrote in Time, Looking back on the four years of my presidency, I realize that I spent more of my time working for possible solutions to the riddle of the Middle East peace than on any other international problem.” Despite all that Carter did in this arena, Time observed, “Bloodshed and tragedy in the Middle East dominate the world’s news.”
In considering the larger question, “Can the world be saved?” there is no doubt today that we are living geopolitically in a world that is on a collision course with catastrophe. Both physical and social scientists have increasingly grave doubts that man can save himself from nuclear destruction in a future war. Without the direct intervention of God, few among the serious-minded give man much hope.
“There’s a madness throughout the world,” laments Vice-President George Bush. A Spaniard was overheard by a Time correspondent to blurt out, “The world has gone mad.”
In 1982, President Antonio Guzman of the Dominican Republic gave up by taking his life with a pistol shot from his own hand. So did American Gus Patrick, who, standing to address a legislative body, stated plaintively, “There is no hope.” He pulled out a handgun from his pocket and promptly shot himself dead before the aghast gaze of those gathered.
Humanity’s option, reasoned Dwight D. Eisenhower, is “written in choice–the choices of her people.” Reduced to its basics, that means a choice between turning to God and destroying ourselves by nuclear annihilation. Eisenhower put it this way: “Unless we have a moral and spiritual regeneration throughout the world, one of these days we will wake up in the dust of a thermonuclear explosion.”
Is humanity about to shipwreck? Yes, unless man turns to God! Humans must realize that it is not our nuclear knowledge but knowing how to trust in God which is our only hope. As the Lord declared through Hosea, “I … will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen” (Hosea 1:7). Yes, God could use those means, all or any, or none of them, to save His people. But the crucial point is that salvation must come from the Lord, whatever means He chooses to implement His will.
The Lord may indeed have His people act in defense of their country or cause. Oliver Cromwell declared that the Puritans’ policy was, “Pray to God and keep your powder dry.” He was reaching back to Moses, who put this matter of national defense in perspective: “If ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppreseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies” (Numbers 10:9).
King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” was described in Scripture as a man of war. But it was by faith rather than by firepower that he subdued a bear and a lion. When he faced Goliath, he announced that, though he was underarmed and overpowered, God would deliver Goliath into his hand. Why? So that “all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47).
King David did not trust in his own arm or armaments (though he used both). Rather, he resolved, “I will not trust in my bow; neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us from our enemies” (Psalms 44:6-7). And again, “Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed; he will hear from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalms 20:6-7).
Always David leaned on the Lord for salvation when attacked by his enemies. In 1 Chronicles 11:14 we read of the raid of the “Philistines, and the Lord saved them by a great deliverance.”
The ancient Jewish people learned well the lesson that if they were to be saved from their enemies, they must be on God’s side, and not merely have God on their side. When Hezekiah was besieged by Sennacherib of Assyria, we read that he fell to his knees before the Lord in prayer. And “the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria … and guided them on every side” (2 Chronicles 32:22).
A celebrated network broadcaster said in the autumn of 1982 that the word “saved” was a theological no-no a few years ago–a word that you would see on a sandwich board, always in connection with hell, and being sirened on street corners on Saturday nights by wild-eyed Bible punchers to reluctant passersby. Today the word “saved” has come full circle, and it is what everybody who thinks deeply knows that man needs most.
Certainly no nation, humanly speaking, can save us today. The psalmist wrote, “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host” (Psalms 33:16). Jeremiah lamented, “Our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us” (Lamentations 4:17).
Nehemiah related how, when Israel disobeyed, they would inevitably be captured and abused. But when they sought the Lord, He sent them deliverers: “Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them; and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviors, who saved them out of the hands of their enemies” (Nehemiah 9:27).
The prophet Samuel pointed erring Israel to their saving God, remonstrating them for their disobedience and defiance of God’s will and ways: “And Samuel called the people together unto the Lord to Mizpeh, and said … the Lord God of Israel … delivered you out of the hand … of all kingdoms, and of all them that oppressed you; and ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations” (1 Samuel 10:17-19).
One of the most amazing of human frailties is man’s failure to respond to God’s saving grace. There is a very moving passage in Jeremiah 14:8-9 which reads, “O the hope of Israel, the savior thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aise to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonished, as a mighty man that cannot save? Yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not.” This passage was applicable to ancient Israel, and it is applicable to us today–to our world, to our nation, to each of us as individuals.
It is man and not God who is destroying the human race. The ancient prophet Hosea 13:9-10 recorded God’s call: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. I will be thy king: where is any other that [can] save thee?”
Human philosophy is as bankrupt as man’s technology is dangerous. Peter Jenkins wrote in the elitist Manchester Guardian, “We have moved into unknown territory. We have no vision before us of how to escape the trap we set for others, but in which we ourselves have been caught.” An eminent psychologist calculates that a man can live a lifetime without sex, 40 days without food, three days without water, but no days without hope.
One of the most plaintive cries conceivable from an intellectual was the conclusion of Helen Goodman’s treatise in the Boston Globe (Aug. 10, 1982), in which she pointed ominously to the nuclear sword of Damocles which hangs “over us like some apocalypse without promise of redemption.” In fact, the Bible gives us a clear promise of redemption.
Redemption! That was surely the specific theme of Jesus when He so precisely prophesied the current events of our time, including an approaching holocaust that would threaten to vaporize man from the earth. Included in Jesus’ forecast was that “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” When throughout the earth there is “distress of nations, with perplexity,” with “men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth … when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:24-28).
There is redemption for nations in Christ whenever they turn as a people to God in repentance and faith. Kathy Hochderffer writes in the Los Angeles Times (Sept. 29, 1981) that when she looks at the path “this country has followed for the last few years–the trend of permissiveness, the trend of the drug culture, the total disregard for life and property, the vast misuse of our freedoms … our years of riots and flag-burning, and little things like rising teenage suicide … I see a light at the end of the tunnel … a nation turning back to God for help.”
Many people think of Dr. Leonard Griffiths as Canada’s most able preacher. In the autumn of 1982 he appeared on network television to lament the national implosion–politically, economically, philosphically, and morally–but then he added, “Christianity is at its best when the world is at its worst.” He sees a definite moving of the Holy Spirit in Canada.
Yes, the world could be saved as a civilization if its people were to turn to the Lord. Dr. Frank Sommers, the eminent psychiatrist who chaired the World Futurist Conference in 1980, stated in a press release, “Hope for the world lies in enough people throughout the world being resolved to ‘undergo a personal conversion’.” I regret that Dr. Sommers was not referring to a conversion to Jesus Christ, but conversion to a nuclear freeze.
As far as it goes, that idea is good. But as a socialist prime minister of England once said, our problem is not the H-bomb, but the human heart. Carl Jung said the same, as did Carl Sagan in 1982. If enough people “undergo a personal conversion” spiritually, I believe that God would send us another spiritual springtime.
This brings us to Peter’s insistence: “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In an increasingly impersonal world, billions of people get lost in the shuffle and miss Christ.
God can save a nation. Today He is saving individuals. Each person must begin by realizing that he cannot save himself. In Judges 7:2 we read that none are to “vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” It is clear that man can no more save himself than he can save his world. Yet God’s plan for man is that he might be saved. “God our Savior,” wrote Paul to Timothy, “will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Taken from The Survivors by John Wesley White. Copyright (c) 1983. Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR 97402. Used by permission.

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