A Christian Response To The Y2K Problem

November/December 1999
Volume 34, Number 6

Awareness of the impending computer glitch, when computers might shut down because they don’t know how to calculate the year 2000–is becoming increasingly noticeable as more and more people talk about stockpiling food and water and the basic staples of life. While the apocalypse may not materialize on January 1, 2000–neither is the so-called “millennium bug” entirely a false alarm. Many responsible persons are acknowledging that we should expect at least a scattering of annoyances during the next several months.

It does seem: that the hoopla surrounding the publishing of books with titles like, The Year 2000: Countdown to Chaos; and Y2K: The Day the World Shut Down–is just an attempt to create a sense of hysteria to sell books, make money, and unduly alarm people.

The Assemblies of God denomination issued what many of us consider a wise call to its members, admonishing them not adopt a secular approach to Y2K. The statement said, “We encourage our people to not engage in activities such as hoarding food, withdrawing money from banks, believing doomsday scenarios, or expecting the economic, political, and social collapse of Western civilization when the clock strikes January 1, 2000.” (The information is found Christianity Today, January 11, 1999.)

Instead of being enthralled with sensationalism, it is our hope that sincere Christians will keep calm and acknowledge that the true and living God is the sovereign Being who is in absolute control. (He is called “the living and true God,” in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, and is declared to work “all things according to the counsel of His will,” in Ephesians 1:11.) The Second Coming of Jesus to set things right on earth, will occur. And if He who is our hope returns at the turn of the millennium–that will be a time of victory and glory for those who have submitted to God’s call for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Constant eternity readiness is far superior to Y2K readiness, and it is worry free. C. S. Lewis wrote that for Christians, all that matters when Jesus returns, is that He should find us faithfully at our posts of duty–whether it is leading a crusade against slavery, telling the story of Jesus, or tending the pigs.

People in many parts of the world live daily with the inconveniences that we might face for a brief time when we enter the new year. Perhaps the Y2K bug is a call for us to reexamine our lifestyles in the face of God’s continual call for repentance. All of us should seek to practice simple living, as Donald Durnbaugh says, so that others may simply live. If Y2K leads us to examine our priorities, to comfort our neighbor, and to more fully trust God, it will indeed be a season for spiritual renewal.

Readers of the BRF Witness will want to open their Bibles to Genesis 41 and discover the truths lifted up by Robert D. Kettering in the article which follows.

–Harold S. Martin

What Is A Christian Response To The Y2K Problem?

By Robert D. Kettering

Several requests have come recently, as the result of a survey, to have a sermon on the theme, “What is Christian Response to the Y2K Problem?”

First of all, what is Y2K? The Twentieth Century has produced an avalanche of acronyms which have become part and parcel of our everyday vocabulary. These include the CIA, the IRS, the COB, etc. And then there is “V-8.” V-8 can be either a vegetable drink or an eight cylinder engine. And now we have Y2Kwith the letter “Y” meaning year, and the letter “K” standing for the number 1000 (in the metric system of measurement). And so Y2K literally means “the year 2000.”

Our society in the last twenty years has become more and more dependent upon computers-from airplane flight control systems to computerized checkout counters at the local grocery store. Computers now run our utility company machinery; they control transactions in our banking systems; they guide surgeons in complicated medical procedures. They have become pivotal in telecommunications processing and desktop publishing. A growing number of homes are able to receive e-mail and are tied in with the internet.

Our society has become more and more dependent upon computer technology for its everyday existence. Computers have permeated nearly every aspect of life, from dating services to food services. Computers have created a whole new vocabulary and have rendered a host of objects obsolete–including the typewriter and the slide rule. Businesses have sent multitudes of people back to school to learn about computers–including auto mechanics, hotel reservationists, teachers and pastors, bankers and bakers, and probably even candlestick makers!

Historians and social scientists have labeled the technological times in which we live as “The Computer Age.” What sounds “all so awesome” is becoming “oh so awful” because of a technological glitch which some say could bring our whole world to a standstill on January 1, 2000-and some predict the problem could hurl us back into the dark ages.

In case you have not heard the facts which led up to this uncertain situation, it is helpful to know that computers use only two digits rather than four digits to indicate any given year. For example, 1998 is recorded simply as “98.” So when the year 2000 arrives, the year designation will read “00.” That is the Y2K problem. The computers may assume that “00” means 1900, and could start generating incorrect information.

Some computers at that point may reject any new data, believing it to be old. Still others may “freeze up,” and stop operating altogether. Computer glitches related to the date changeover on January 1, 2000 could create disruptions, record keeping chaos, bank disorders, and even power shortages.

The problem is a basic one that computer programmers did not give much thought to a decade or more ago. It is relatively easy to correct on a computer, but the magnitude of changing every computer is what is overwhelming, and time is rapidly marching on toward the year 2000. Everyone agrees that not every computer in the world will have corrected this glitch, and because our computers are so interconnected, one minor computer breakdown could affect (and literally infect) a whole computer network, and bring our society to the verge of a crisis.

It also seems like the remaking of the Tower of Babel epic with a Twenty-First Century cast of characters. We, like the people of Babel, have built a supposed superior society through the tenacity of our technology. And now we are confronted with our finiteness and frailties. We are beginning to note the limits of our labors.

As we face the potential Y2K problem, what are we as Christians to do? Some Christian leaders have sided with survivalist groups and right wing political activists who are stockpiling several years of supplies–food, generators, water, and even ammunition and armaments to protect what they have amassed. Some actually see the Y2K problem as the catalyst which will usher in the second coming of Christ. Other Christian leaders see the Y2K problem as nothing serious at all, and pay no attention to the possible consequences of a global crisis on January 1, 2000. Most Christians are somewhere between these two extremes.

In order for us to fully address this issue, and to formulate a meaningful Christian response, we need first to go to the Scriptures for insight and instruction. We want to look at the account of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream which we find recorded in Genesis 41.

While Joseph had no idea what a computer glitch might be, nor was he concerned about a coming millennium-nevertheless, there are some lessons to be learned from this text–lessons related to the Y2K problem. That is what we will focus on in this message.


As the account in Genesis 41 unfolds before us, we find Pharaoh fearful due to a dream he had, which he was unable to interpret, Pharaoh sent for his magicians and wise men, but none of his technocrats could be of any help in interpreting his dream, or in addressing the potential consequences of an impending crisis which lay in the future. Pharaoh and all his cohorts could not adequately address the situation at hand.

Pharaoh was led to consult Joseph by the official cupbearer who had gotten to know Joseph in prison. Joseph, man of God, son of Jacob, stood before Pharaoh–not in fear but in faith. Joseph was not scared of the possible impending crisis which the dream projected. Notice how Joseph addressed the interpretation. He said to Pharaoh in Genesis 41:16, “it is not I; (but) God (who) will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (NRSV).

The answer to an uncertain future lies in the absolute assurance of the sovereignty of God. You have heard it stated often: “I know not what the future holds. but I know Who holds the future.

Sometimes our fears and phobias can run away with us, and drown out the faith which God

wants to instill within us. One preacher told the story of a businessman who was invited to have lunch with President Reagan in the presidential plane, “Air Force One.” As the two were conversing, suddenly the red phone next to the President rang. The businessman felt a sudden rush of blood. What impending crisis might he witness now? What momentous occasion might this call signify? President Reagan picked up the phone, and he said,’il see…okay, I understand…what are my options?” After a few moments of pause, President Reagan replied on the phone, “I’ll have iced tea.”

Sometimes even Christians are more driven by fear than faith, when they think about the future–and create ideas of things to come that are far more dismal than demanded.

The year was 1979. Three Mile Island was threatening to become a nuclear nightmare, as a potential meltdown loomed before us. It was Sunday morning. I was pastoring the Florin Church of the Brethren in Mount Joy, PA–not too many miles from TMI. The Civil Defense official came to our Sunday morning worship service. and instructed me to inform our congregation that an almost certain evacuation of the area would be called for within 24 hours. We realized that this could be the last time we would ever gather as a church; it could be the last time we would live in our homes. In planning the worship service before the problem arose at Three Mile Island, I had chosen the last hymn, which was already listed in the bulletin: “Be not disymayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you.”

I will always think of that moment whenever I hear the words: “Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you. Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you. Through days of toil when heart doth fail, God will take care of you. When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you. All you may need He will provide, God will take care of you. Nothing you ask will be denied. God will take care of you. No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you. Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

Whether it is a famine in Egypt, a nuclear crisis at Three Mile Island, combat in Kosovo, or Y2K-Don’t be scared-God can turn the millstones of fear into milestones of faith.


While we should not live in fear, neither should we live in fantasy, taking no precaution for potential crisis.

We look again at the account in Genesis 41. The plan of action which Joseph proposed to – Pharaoh, found in verses 34-36, involved a basic stockpiling of essential food to carry them through the potential crisis of famine.

I view the Y2K problem like I would receive news about a potential snowstorm or hurricane. If I know that a snowstorm may be tracking to our area, I will make some basic preparations. We will see that candles are available, and wood is carried in for the fireplace in case of an electrical outage. We will get a supply of bread and milk and toilet paper and other staples of life. We will be sure the snow shovel, boots, and other items for dealing with the snow are standing ready.

The storm may come full force, or it may blow out to the ocean. In any case, based upon the possibility for a storm, I will have made every effort to be prepared. The same with Y2K. As January 1, 2000 approaches–make plans to fill the pantry; fill your fuel tanks; keep a month of income in cash; don’t book an air flight over January 1; have a plan to move in with someone should there be some power shortages. Just like an impending winter storm–we will have some advance notice of Y2K and how it is working, as the new millennium begins in Asia and moves westward. I intend to keep alert to the time changes in Europe and the impact of Y2K. Plan ahead. It is the part of wisdom to plan ahead.


We notice that Genesis 41:56-57 tells how the storehouses of grain were opened during the famine so that Egypt had food. And note verse 57: “All the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world.”

Did you ever notice how friendly and helpful people are during snowstorms? Christians, of all people, should be looking out (or our neighbor’s good. If a crisis hits, we should be the most generous of all people. Any stockpiling we may do, should be used to take care of ourselves, and to help others in need. A Y2K crisis could be a tremendous opportunity to serve others.

One man was quoted in Newsweek magazine as saying, “if people start moving out of cities, they could wind up looking around. I don’t want to hear anybody saying,’Hey, that guy’s got food.”‘ He plans to head for a national forest with a rifle and same basic survival skills. But surely such a survivalist mentality is not a Christian morality. First John 3:17 says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has this world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need, and yet refuses (to) help?” Share your blessings.


The whole Y2K issue can be an opportunity to declare our faith in Christ. Amidst the uncertainty and unsettledness of our times, as we approach the year 2000–what a wonderful opportunity to heed the words of 1 Peter 3:15, which reads, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” If you don’t have Christ in your heart and at the center of your life, you have reason to fear the future. You have reason to despair. But when you know Christ, and love Him and serve Him, you have a wonderful hope that will carry you through the crises and conflicts of life.

Earlier in this message, we noted the sentence, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” Now, notice a rephrasing of those words: “You may not know what the future holds, but do you know Who holds you?” Make the new millennium a milestone in your life. Don’t be scared. Do be prepared. Let your resources be shared. And let your faith be declared.

There is only one certainty that will see us through the struggles of life, be it today, January 1, 2000, or beyond–and that is by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only saves (through faith in the work He accomplished on the Cross), but He sustains in our daily journey. If you have never made that commitment, or if you need to make a recommitment to Christ–today is your opportunity to do it. When facing Y2K, or whatever the problem may be–how wonderful to know we need not face it alone. Jesus wants to be there for us. Come to Him; make a commitment to follow Him.

Robert D. Kettering is pastor of the Lititz Church of the Brethren in the Atlantic Northeast District. This message was delivered at the Lititz Church of the Brethren on June 13, 1999.