Careful Words About the Year 2000

By Walter Lindsay
May 01, 1999

You may have heard that there's just not enough time for our society to avoid problems from Year-2000 bugs. You might also have heard that Year-2000 bugs might bring down civilization around us. Both are true, and before God we have responsibility to consider our response. However, the fact that "there's just not enough time" can gain a curious power over us that impairs our ability to think about Year-2000 issues. For many, "there's just not enough time" has become part of a sinful language of bondage and manipulation. "There's just not enough time" can be a false witness that manipulates hearers toward one conclusion about Year-2000 bugs and terminates thought about others.

James wrote this about the high standards God has for anyone who teaches: "Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth" (Jas. 3:3, 4). Thoughts can move men, organizations, and nations. Big thoughts produce big movement. Year-2000 bugs could produce the end of civilization. They are "fierce winds" that can drive a great ship.

But what is the "very small helm" that can turn a great ship? In James 3, the bit in the horse's mouth, and the helm that turns the ship, are words. With any issue, some words and phrases begin to be used more often and have more power than others. About Year-2000 issues, "there's just not enough time" and its cousins have become common and powerful. Let's discuss "there's just not enough time" in terms of the software essential to large corporations, since this is a key part of Year-2000 issues and consequences.

Corporations and Software
A corporation in many ways is like a human body. Just as a human body has a heart pumping blood and lungs exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide coordinated by a nervous system, a corporation has departments and divisions coordinated by flows of information. Increasingly in modern corporations, software facilitates the flow of information. Software that is essential to the heart, lung, or some other vital organ of a corporation is called a "mission-critical application." If a mision-critical application fails, all or part of the business activity of the corporation ceases.

Just as the organs of a human body have many cells, a mission-critical application has many parts. Let's call each of those parts a "line of code." Let's say that among the good lines of code are bad bacteria, which we'll equate with the Year-2000 bugs. When corporations began searching out and fixing Year-2000 bugs, their programmers had to examine each line of code individually to find the bugs. That was hard work, and very slow. Just as doctors have studied the human body and found useful antibiotics to combat bacteria, software programmers have developed tools that do much of the work of preparing an application for the year 2000. Some tools scan code line by line and make changes. Other tools assist in the monumental task of testing software systems that involve multiple mission-critical applications to verify they are Year-2000 compliant.

What about the surprises that will strike corporations due to Year-2000 bugs? Even if a corporation does an excellent job preparing its applications, it is still likely to see some Year-2000 bugs. And what about the many corporations that started too late or moved too slowly and thus will not prepare all their applications? Corporations that are well-prepared, and those that are not, need to develop contingency plans. If you go camping, you plan for the obvious challenges, such as mosquitos and the hot sun. You also anticipate a variety of possible contingencies, such as sprained ankles. In addition, a wise camper expects to respond and innovate to handle unanticipated situations. Corporations preparing for Year-2000 issues are doing the same things. The January 1999 issue of Computer magazine provides a fascinating statistic: in the first quarter of 1998, less than five percent of corporations were actively making contingency plans for Year-2000 application failures. In the second quarter, about 65% were doing contingency planning. In the third quarter, approximately 90% were making Year-2000 contingency plans for everything from power and telecommunications outages in rural areas to the failure of their own applications.

"There's just not enough time" in the context of software essential to large corporations is the assertion that mission-critical applications in many corporations will fail due to Year-2000 bugs, that the Year-2000 contingency plans will not handle the failures, that corporations will reel like drunken men, and thus we will experience severe society-wide problems and even collapse. If corporations fix the bugs, if corporations have adequate contingency plans to handle the failures and continue operations, or if corporations step away from parts of their operations without crippling society, then we avoid societal collapse.

Individuals, Families, Churches
Just as corporations have several levels of response to Year-2000 bugs, so do individuals, families and churches. Some profit from helping others fix Year-2000 problems and prepare for Year-2000 consequences. Some set up contingency plans for themselves. Others are reducing their vulnerability to drastic change by paying off debts, building up godly communities, and other wise actions. Godly teaching is an important part of these preparations, as the subject is vast and difficult. Not everyone has the time or ability to sort through the issues.

Godly teaching and conversation on Year-2000 issues are difficult. The relevant information changes quickly. Teaching on Year-2000 issues can involve an element of prediction, and oftentimes early predictions do not come true, which is important information. For example, the January 1999 Computer discusses the prediction that making a line of code Year-2000 compliant would cost US$3.50, but that the going rate is at present $0.22. The actions people take in response to teaching on Year-2000 issues have profound consequences. Teaching on the topic draws great power from its significance. James warns us that not many should become teachers, since they "shall receive the greater condemnation" (Jas. 3:1). False or misleading teaching on Year-2000 issues is especially dangerous for the teachers because the power of the topic creates a strong response in hearers.

Teaching on and discussion of Year-2000 issues is complicated by the fact that we know ahead of time about the possibility of the destruction of the world as we know it: Just as in 1832, "the greatest alarm spread over the continent of Europe, especially in Germany, lest the comet, whose appearance was then foretold by astronomers, should destroy the earth." In response to the news, "Many persons refrained from undertaking or concluding any business during that year, in consequence solely of their apprehension that this terrible comet would dash us and our world to atoms."1 Many "weak" believers can be led astray by Year-2000 teaching and discussion, so God requires that we speak carefully (1 Cor. 8:1-13). Many "weak" believers have had righteous thoughts and responses terminated by the conclusion that "there's just not enough time."

Year-2000 issues are not unique. Joseph faced the destruction of Egypt's technology base at a known time. They knew the famine was coming. A thousand years ago many used Scripture to predict the end of the world as they knew it since they believed "that the Son of Man would appear in the clouds to judge the godly and the ungodly."2 The end of the first millennium was guaranteed to arrive on time, the Year 2000 will arrive on time, the "rapture" has been predicted and as expected has not arrived, other issues have inexorably arisen at the expected time, and the people of the day had to prepare as best as they were able. That Year-2000 bugs can be predicted and that they might destroy the world as we know it is not in any sense unique.

The Opportunity
Year-2000 issues give godly men and women the opportunity to rise to their best, to be ambassadors for the Faith. "Our greatest strength is thus in what is termed 'perfection' [in Scripture] and which means maturity, an integrity in terms of God's purpose which gains God's blessing even amidst serious troubles. Maturity is the ability to grow in terms of our experiences and to use them to draw closer to God's purpose for us."3 We have the witness of those before us who have faced similar challenges. We have enough experience with Year-2000 issues to know that certain approaches to thinking and speaking about the topic deaden or manipulate men while others encourage wise action. We have God's word and leading in addressing the issues. We have no excuse for promoting possibilties as foregone conclusions. We have no justification for stealing effective responses from those around us because of manipulative speech that directs them away from part of the truth.

We today have the choice to be apprehensive and weak about Year-2000 issues, or to take godly action. Teachers, authors, and anyone involved in conversation about Year-2000 issues will be judged by God's high standards as to whether their words are good or evil, profitable or unprofitable, terminate godly thought or bring understanding. God will not reward evil teaching methodologies. The kingdom of God is built with true, not manipulative, words.


1. Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (New York, [1841] 1980), 258.

2. Ibid., 257.

3. R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (n.p., 1973), 630.

Topics: Business, Church, The, Culture , Economics, Family & Marriage, Government

Walter Lindsay

In addition to Walter's software engineering career and Megan's housewifing career, the Lindsays are assistant editors for the Chalcedon Report. They recently moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and are members of Emmanuel Covenant Church. They so far have been blessed with one daughter, Maggie, and another due to come in May.

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