The fire alarm went off in my apartment complex around 5:00 this morning. I normally wake up in a fog of gradual consciousness, but when the shrill siren first pierced the air, I jolted awake.
Moving quickly but calmly, I slipped my bare feet into tennis shoes, threw on a heavy coat, and grabbed my phone and keys. I exited into the hallway – locking my apartment door behind me – and walked down the outside stairwell to the first floor where I was surprised to see that I was the only one in my entire apartment complex (of about 800 tenants) who had evacuated.
I walked slowly around the complex, surveying it for smoke or fire. Down the hall from me, an alternate outside stairwell was flooded with water. The overhead sprinklers had been activated and created a fine mist that rose into the air in a way that looked like smoke at first glance.
Over the next thirty minutes, sleepy tenants slowly made their way out into the parking lot, grumpily conceding that they couldn’t just roll over and go back to sleep since the deafening alarm was still sounding a full half an hour later.
I was astonished at the laissez-faire attitude of my neighbors. I work at a major oil company where safety is such a huge part of our culture in the post-Macondo world that I want to gag every time someone even mentions the term “HSSE”. But this wasn’t just a fire drill. Water was gushing out of the building from the sprinkler system, and a fire truck pulled up minutes later, lights flashing. It’s still unclear what happened, but when I left for work two hours later, the piercing fire alarm was still going off, and the fire truck was still outside my building with red lights blazing in the dim light of early morning.
It seems to have been a non-event, but this could easily have been something significant. Have we as a culture gotten so desensitized to fire alarms that we don’t take them seriously anymore? Most of the people in my apartment complex would have suffocated or burned to death if it had been a real fire. Have our fire alarms cried wolf too many times, deafening our ears with their sirens such that we are unmoved in the event of an actual flame? Are people just too lazy to bother to leave their apartments? Or are they so sleep-deprived that they’re willing to risk the alarm signaling a real fire?
Living in a world of reality TV and virtual reality, have we developed invincibility complexes, thinking that nothing bad can really happen to us; that everything is a show for our entertainment? With the onslaught of negativity in the media, are we desensitized to all of the bad in the world – numb to pain, blind to evil, and apathetic to the possibility of personal injury?
This early morning experience brought to mind how much of the world headed for eternal fire is absolutely deaf to the warning signs all around them. People are too busy or indifferent or afraid of the truth to take the time to really evaluate who they are, why they are on this earth, and what is going to happen when they die. When I have asked people what they think happens when they die, 95% of the time, I get one of two answers:
- I’ll probably go to heaven because I’m a pretty good person, all things considered.
- I don’t know. It’s something I don’t really think about. I’ll deal with it when I’m older.
For anyone in Camp #1, there is no biblical basis for good works earning your way to heaven. Our sin separates us from the eternal, omnipotent Creator of all things because He cannot be around sin. But in addition to being all powerful, God is also unconditionally loving, and He loved us so much that – while we were still sinners – God’s Son Jesus went willingly to die to take the punishment we all deserve for our waywardness. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. After three days, He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death and the power of evil. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, not by any good works we have done. There is nothing I can do that would be good enough to make up for my sinfulness, but because God loves us all, He remedied our plight by giving everyone freely the opportunity to be reconciled to Him if they would simply believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
For those in Camp #2, I’ll just say this: You don’t know how much time you have left. You could die in a car wreck this afternoon, or you could die in a fire tonight because you inaccurately think the fire alarm is a false alarm. Don’t wait to think about these weighty topics. If they truly do have eternal significance, isn’t it worth taking an hour out of your day to think them through and wrestle with them? And don’t be afraid to think about what may be beyond the grave. Because there is Good News – God is for you, and He lovingly wants an eternal relationship with you.