The word hangs like an awful omen in our heads.
Mentally, we picture brutal, grotesque images. Cow’s ribs and hips protrude. Babies’ eyes are hollow. Bloated stomachs growl angrily. Skin stretches across faces tight as a trampoline. The outline of the skull slowly emerges. Joints swell. Grim, despairing stares replace smiles. Hope is gone . . . life is reduced to a harsh existence as famine takes its toll. Those who have seen it cannot forget it. Those who haven’t cannot imagine it.
We are told famine is coming. “It’s only a matter of time,” declare the experts. There was a time when such predictions appeared only in science fiction books, but no longer. Prophets of doom are now well-educated economists, university professors, and official spokesmen for our culture, not to mention various authors who interpret our times as “threatening” and “terminal.” Of greatest concern is the enormous, ever-expanding population explosion. The undeniable statistics tell their own tale.
Our world reached one billion back in 1825. One hundred years later we had doubled in population—two billion. By 1975, we doubled again—four billion. Today we are nearing seven billion. The supply of food required to feed seven or more billion people is unbelievable. Worse than that, it’s unattainable in light of our current agricultural system. We’re told the gaunt shells of humanity that now populate parts of North Africa will someday be typical in the West also. One reputable authority predicts that there will come a time when the inhabitants of the world’s big cities will be living on pork scratchings, fruit in a tube, recycled foods, protein pills and cakes, and reconstituted water.
For us who are well fed, the idea of famine is foreign—virtually unimaginable. It’s what plagues India or Ethiopia . . . never us! Fear of famine doesn’t compute in a country where streets are lined with McDonalds, ice cream vendors, and restaurants by the hundreds.
My first rude awakening to the reality of hunger occurred early in 1958 when our troop ship full of U.S. Marines pulled into the harbour of Yokohama, Japan. We were so thrilled to see land, having been at sea for seventeen days, we were initially unaware of the barges full of Japanese men and women that were soon tethered to our ship. I later learned that this was a common occurrence. They had come to paint the ship’s hull while we were at the dock for three days. Their pay in return? The scraps from our tables! The thought stunned me.
Another kind of famine exists that is equally tragic . . . but far more subtle. God spoke of it through the prophet Amos. Read his words very carefully:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the Lord.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11–12)
We may find physical famine almost impossible to believe, but how about a spiritual famine? You don’t have to wait another century for that! Take a trip across Europe. Or pick any country or continent. Talk about a famine! It’s easy to misread the words of Amos. He didn’t predict a lack of churches or chapels, temples or tabernacles, seminars or Sunday church services. He spoke of “a famine . . . for hearing the words of the Lord.” Remember, a famine does not mean an absence of something . . . but a shortage of it . . . a scarcity that creates a starvation scene.
In our enlightened, progressive, postmodern age, an ancient, dusty prophecy is fulfilled. Hearing the unadulterated truth of God is a rare experience. How easy to forget that! We have come upon hard times when those who declare and hear the Word of God are the exception.
How easy to be spoiled . . . presumptuous . . . proud . . . ungrateful . . . when our spiritual stomachs are full! Funny thing—those who are full usually want more. We belch out increased demands rather than humble gratitude to God for our horn o’ plenty.
Tell me, when was the last time you thanked God for the sheer privilege of hearing more of His Word than you could ever digest? And when did you last share just a crumb from your table?
That’s why there’s a famine.