Does Earth Abide?

This weekend I finished reading a classic science fiction story from 1949 called Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. It gets rave reviews from many who have read and reread it. It’s said to be one of the most memorable sci fi stories ever written and has provided inspiration for a number of other stories.

It is indeed very good, though I wouldn’t say it’s the best I’ve ever read, as some have said. Maybe I’m jaded.

The story starts with Ish, the main character, coming out of a two week trip to the mountains in California to find that nearly everyone on Earth has died from a mysterious virus. As the story progresses, he takes a wife and becomes the unintentional leader of a small community of about 36 people, including children born into the families.

Over the span of the tale, some 50 years or so, Ish prods those around him to rebuild and do new things. Instead, they scavenge and live off what’s left of the old society. Ish becomes as a god to them. Americans are as ancient people.

Almost no one born into the post apocalyptic world learns to read. At one point Ish gives up on teaching school to the children. He shows them how to make a bow and arrow. By the end of the story, when Ish is near death, he finds the new society uses arrows tipped with metal heads made from the abundant supply of coins.

Of course, I’ve left out much here for the sake of brevity. The appeal of the book is Ish’s many and wide ranging reflections. Some are over small things. Others over greater issues. Ish was perhaps a little better than average. He found himself loosely shepherding average people. Thus, society never reached the potential he thought it should or could.

At one point of the book, Ish reflects on Jesus’ words to the crowds. He thinks them to be irrelevant because they apply to a society that had past. Yet there are other places in Scripture where he finds encouragement and wisdom.

Is this how we are? Have we been pampered and prospered to the point that we can’t–or won’t–ever do great things again? Do we think Jesus Christ is irrelevant?

At the very end of Earth Abides, Ish is dying. He’s not satisfied with how things have gone. Nevertheless, he believes people will come and go, but Earth abides.

Such science fiction stories are wonderful for the ideas contemplated. It’s one reason I’m a fan–at least of selected sci fi. But is Ish’s last sentiment the truth?

2 Peter 3:3-14

3. Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4. And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
5. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6. Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7. But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
8. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
11. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
12. Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
13. Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
14. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.

1 John 2:17
17. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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