What It Is and What It Is Not

On January 1, 2000, Thomas Clark of the Forest Preserve Bible Church will be in a wilderness hideaway with his hand mill for grinding grain into flour, his stored water, lots of food, and a major part of his assets. Jerry Falwell has predicted God's wrath on January 1, 2000. Books like The Millennium Bug, The Day the World Shut Down, and Count Down to Chaos are selling like hotcakes. The Christian Broadcasting Network's Y2K web site is getting 80,000 hits a month. The Y2K hysteria is making a lot of people rich, but most of what is going on is totally misdirected to say the least.

We were not planning to dignify this problem by spending space on it, but we are committed to trying to help our rational readers sort out things like this. I hope that the following points will be useful to you.

Y2K is a secular, not a religious problem.

I suspect that there are few people who do not understand the basic problem, but let us review it. When computers were first made publicly available, not too many years ago, the programmers decided to use two digit codes for dates instead of four digit codes. This means that 1999 in a computer would be recorded as 99. That is no problem until a date comes up that is duplicated. The years 1900 amd 2000 both have zero/zero endings so a duplication does occur and the computer will not be able to tell which date is intended.

Computers that were programmed with a four digit date, will have no problem. It is my understanding that Macintosh computers have a four digit date, so they will function without problem. The biggest problem is that the minicomputers that run VCRs, TVs, phones, video games, and the like, are two digit, and will not be functional as they are. Could this cause problems? Of course!

The major point here, however, is that this is all a technology problem. Someone living in a country with no electricity or electrical devices would never know it happened. How did people live in the 1940s and 1950s before we had all these marvelous tools? Did we have banks, grocery stores, restaurants, wells, and gardens? Of course.

What has muddied the waters is that people who have not understood that Jesus' "Kingdom is not of this world..." have attached spiritual significance to a secular problem. From a religious perspective, we may have already passed the millennium day. If Jesus was born in 4 B.C. (which most scholars believe), then the 2000 date passed in 1996.

Y2K is fixable.

In our community there are banks, insurance companies, and hospitals advertising that they have the Y2K bug fixed. In simple terms, all that is necessary is to replace your computer with one that has a four digit date code. For some that is easy, and for others, it is very difficult. There are hackers who are now advertising that they have written programs that will convert data banks to new banks with four digit codes. If the hackers can do it, the legitimate programmers can do it better. Will there be glitches? Of course! Anyone who uses a computer knows that there are glitches. Chips that run devices in our homes and businesses will have to be replaced. The problem is the number of chips that are out there, but most will be taken care of long before the date. There will be some surprises, but it will not rain airplanes, and skyscrapers will not fall. I am convinced the Lord will not come on that day just because to do so would vindicate the hysteria creators when Jesus said no one knows when He will return.

Y2K emphasizes the need to stay on spiritual matters.

The ultimate problem in the Y2K situation is our total obsession in this country with materialism. The world has caused Christians to forget the teachings of Jesus and make our total concern center around our bank accounts and the luxuries we enjoy. Jesus taught us that God knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8), and that He will provide our basic needs (Luke 12:29-31). How can we make our total concern whether our VCR works when we see all the needs and problems that surround us? There is a need to be prepared. We are even told that as we plan our daily activities, we are to keep in mind the fact that God is in control.

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:13-15).

The end of time is not a business collapse. When we read:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).

In 2 Peter 3:10, we are not reading about Y2K. Christians of all people should be the least concerned about the implications of the Y2K problem.

Christians should prepare.

This is not a contradiction to the last point. The key word in that point is "emphasis." It would be wise to have some financial resources available, some food and water stored, and a tank full of gas before January 1, 2000. This is also true if a hurricane is about to hit your town, or a blizzard is coming. God never taught us to be irresponsible. We are to look after our own (1 Timothy 5:8). What should be unique about Christians is that they should also look after the needs of others. There is no need to store a year's worth of food or to build a fort to fight off the hordes of people trying to get what we have. What is needed is a love for the lost of this world, a willingness to help others, and a focus on what the real needs of mankind are. If we have food and water and our neighbor does not, as Christians our responsibility is to share it--not to stand in our doorway with a gun defending what is "ours."

Perhaps the worst case scenario would be a good thing. If the whole system collapsed, maybe the god of materialism would die--or at least be severely wounded. I seriously doubt that those who control this world's goods will ever let that happen. The only thing that will destroy greed, materialism, selfishness, and obsession with selfgratification is the return of Jesus and the dissolving of the elements.

Here is a story from The Dick E. Bird News, January/February, 1999, which is not about the Y2K problem, but which illustrates our point.

In March, 1992, a man living in Newtown near Boston, Massachusetts, received a bill for his as-yet-unused credit card, stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away.

In April he received another and threw that one away too. The following month the credit card company sent him a very nasty note stating they were going to cancel his card if he didn't send them $0.00 by return post. He called and talked to them; they said it was a computer error and told him they'd take care of it.

The following month our hero decided that it was about time that he tried out the troublesome credit card, figuring that if there were purchases on his account it would put an end to his ridiculous predicament. However, in the first store that he produced his credit card in payment for his purchases he found that his card had been canceled.

He called the credit card company which apologized for the computer error once again and said that they would take care of it. The next day he got a bill for $0.00 stating that payment was now overdue. Assuming that, having spoken to the credit card company only the previous day, the latest bill was yet another mistake, he ignored it, trusting that the company would be as good as its word and sort the problem out.

The next month he got a bill for $0.00, stating that he had 10 days to pay his account or the company would have to take steps to recover the debt. Finally giving in, he thought he would play the company's game and mailed them a check for $0.00. The computer duly processed his account and returned a statement to the effect that he now owed the credit card company nothing at all. A week later, the man's bank called him asking what he was doing writing a check for $0.00. After a lengthy explanation the bank replied that the $0.00 check had caused their check-processing software to fail. The bank could not now process any checks from any of their customers that day because the check for $0.00 was causing the computer to crash.

The following month the man received a letter from the credit card company, claiming that his check had bounced and that he now owed them $0.00 and unless he sent a check by return post, they would be taking steps to recover the debt. The man, who had been considering buying his wife a computer for her birthday, bought her a typewriter instead.

This is the nature of the Y2K problem.

--John N. Clayton

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