Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:6-12)
Last week, on February 1st, Chicago endured one of the worst snowstorms on record. Over 20 inches of snow fell in less than 24 hours. Winds gusted at 50 miles per hour or more. Buildings collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow.
The blizzard hit in the early afternoon, just as the forecasters said it would. Of course, this meant that people who were working downtown when the snow started all decided to head home early. Traffic was snarled to start with, and the weather of course made things worse. And then traffic on Lake Shore Drive stopped completely.
If you're not from Chicago, Lake Shore Drive is a section of US Highway 41 that runs from Hollywood Avenue on the north side of Chicago to Marquette Drive on the south side. As the name suggests, it runs for about 20 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan. On most days, it's a beautiful drive, with the Lake to the east and the downtown skyline to the west. On February 1st, it was not a beautiful drive.
The weather forecasters had been warning that the strong gusts of winds would likely kick up 25-foot waves on Lake Michigan, which could break onto Lake Shore. They warned about the lack of visibility in the howling wind and snow. But, understandably enough, people wanted to get home and felt sure they could make it. So, when traffic on Lake Shore stopped completely, somewhere between 900 and 1500 cars got stuck. Some drivers were stuck for twelve hours, as emergency workers on rented snowmobiles tried to get to them. All told, when the storm subsided the city had to tow hundreds of abandoned, snow-bound cars off Lake Shore. It was closed for nearly two days while they cleaned up the mess.
Fortunately, the stranded drivers eventually got to safety. But, while most people seemed to think the city of Chicago did a pretty good job coping with all that snow, some of the drivers stuck on Lake Shore were pretty critical. They felt that the city maybe should have closed the Drive earlier, before things got so bad. If I was stuck that long, I would probably be critical too.
But, I have to say – they warned us. The weather forecasters, city officials, they all said Lake Shore might be particularly difficult to navigate during the storm. And all those drivers still chose to get on the Drive at that time, in those conditions.
I know why. I really do get it. Some just didn't hear the warnings. Some heard them, and then didn't give them a second thought. Some, probably most, heard them and chose to take the risk. After all, you can't just take a full day off from work every time the weather's bad. And you have to get home. And, really, what are the odds of getting stuck?
Truth be told, most of us aren't that good with warnings, are we? Sometimes we just don't hear. We're too busy, too consumed with getting from Point A to Point B that it just doesn't register when someone hoists a warning flag. It's hard to hear the warnings that you're losing your family when you're so caught up in work. It's hard to hear the warnings that your spiritual life is dying when you're busy with other things. Sometimes when the warnings come, we just aren't paying attention.
Sometimes we hear the warnings, but we don't think they apply to us. Other people lose everything to an addiction, but I can handle it. Other people destroy their marriages with flirtations, but not me. Other people's shady business dealings get exposed, but not mine. Other people torpedo their futures with heavy debt, but I won't. Sometimes we think the warnings apply to everyone but us.
And then, maybe most often, we just choose to take the risk. We know what we're doing is dangerous, the line we're walking is thin. We know we're out on the edge. We know what's at stake: our marriages, our spiritual lives, our kids, our jobs, our reputations, our health. But the potential payoff is just too good. We hear the warnings, we know what's at stake, and we roll the dice anyway.
Eventually, though, the odds catch up with us.
One of the most interesting things about the Lake Shore Drive debacle is that this isn't the first time it's happened. In 1967, a similar blizzard stranded hundreds of cars on the Drive. Amazingly enough, the Chicago Tribune ran pictures of those stuck vehicles just a day or two before the February 1st blizzard hit. The pictures they ran the day after the storm, except for the changes in automobile styling, looked identical.
We aren't good with warnings. But God loves us too much to leave us unwarned. Throughout the Bible, throughout the stories of his relationship with human beings, God warns us. The catastrophes that earlier generations endured are supposed to act as a warning for us. When we see the snapshots of Israel's wandering in the desert, or David's disaster with Bathsheeba, or Peter's denial of Christ, we're supposed to see ourselves. We're supposed to recognize the warnings and take steps to avoid making the same mistakes.
There might be some warnings you need to listen to: the fearful look in your child's eyes after your last temper tantrum, the cold silence of your spouse, the fading of your prayer life, the collection notices, the more frequent trips to liquor stores and taverns. You know what could happen. You need to listen to the warnings, because it could happen to you. And when it does, you will not think that what you gained was worth the price you paid.
Listen to the warnings of a loving God. In Christ, “the fulfillment of the ages has come.” God warns us because he cares, not because he wants to write us off. He warns us so that we'll turn back to him, and away from danger. He warns us so that we'll come to him for grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
So we can be whiter than...well, you know.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.