One week ago today, Isaac McCord found a soaking, burned page from a Bible under a bench at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The theme park is less than ten miles from Gatlinburg, where a fire destroyed hundreds of buildings and killed nearly fifteen people. What did this page say?
“The day of the LORD is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be! … To you, LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the pastures in the wilderness and flames have burned up all the trees of the field. Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness. … Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord comes, for it is nigh at hand.” (Joel 1:15, 18-20, 2:1)*
McCord, who works at Dollywood as a human resources training coordinator, said that he isn’t a religious man. He still burst into tears and prayed.
Some people rightly saw this discovery “as an ominous sign of end times.” Others, however, considered it “a sign of hope.” Seriously? Throughout the Bible, the “day of the Lord” refers to divine judgment. Just as ancient Israel suffered drought and fire, so the South – especially Appalachia – has experienced drought, fire, and famine. The only right response is to “turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God” (Joel 2:12-13).
Gatlinburg is a well-known “playground” in northeast Tennessee. Ocoee, which staged all whitewater competitions during the 1996 Olympics, is another one, albeit in the southeast corner of the state. On the morning of Tuesday, November 30, an EF-3 tornado struck the area. Two people died. Ocoee’s post office and fire station were destroyed. Senior citizens at the church I attend on Wednesday nights praised God that their county received no tornadoes or deaths. No one even thought to pray for the victims in Ocoee and Gatlinburg. Instead, they sang songs about being “blessed.” News flash: divine blessing doesn’t mean that nothing bad will happen. A divine curse on the life of an individual, family, or nation doesn’t mean that nothing good will happen either. Temporary “good’ can lead to eternal evil, and vice-versa.
So why was my county spared? I firmly believe that it’s been reserved for greater judgment, an event that will shock the world. This county has 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Most churchgoers take pride in denominational ties and past blessings, which is idolatry. Instead of holiness, they seek wealth and honor from their fellow men. Guess what? God can use “stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). Even now, “the ax is laid unto the root of the trees” (3:10). Trees that don’t produce “good fruit” will be “hewn down and cast into the fire” (3:10).
What I say to my county I say to all of Tennessee, Appalachia, and the American South: judgment is coming.
* Bible: All verses are from the King James Version (KJV). Archaic spellings have been modernized.