The Character Crisis

Mt. St. Helens

The phone rang in the news room of the “Columbian”. A man on the line was so excited that his words seemed to stumble over one another. “I can see smoke and steam pouring out of Mount St. Helens, “ the caller fairly shouted. “Do you suppose it is going to erupt?”

Calls of this nature were not without precedent at the office of the daily newspaper in Vancouver, Washington. The answer was standard. Yes, St. Helens would no doubt erupt again; but no, what the caller had seen was not smoke or steam but most likely blowing snow or water vapor being whirled around by the wind.

The call this particular morning precipitated an article by Columbian writer Bob Beck in the Monday morning paper. After giving a brief history of the beautiful mountain, a brief scenario of events that would probably accompany any eruption, and a list of signs to watch for as indications of a possible future eruption, Bob finished his article with a statement by Doug Nosler, geology instructor at Clark College. In this statement he said that none of these signs had yet been evidenced, nor did he expect any. He went on to say, “We talk of 500 years as being a long time; but geologically speaking, it is not much. There is no reason to believe this mountain will erupt during our lifetime. The date—January 12, 1980.

Nearly two months later to the day, at 3:47 PM, the earth moved. It was an event so remote and so minor in nature that no one reported feeling it. Its presence was only known because scientists detected it with seismographic equipment. In an area where such minor earth movement is common, it scarcely rated comment. As a matter of fact, there was not even agreement as to where it was centered. The Newport Observatory placed its center 20 miles northeast of the mountain near the small town of Randle, while the Department of Emergency Services believe it was south of the mountain on the upper Lewis River. Over the next three days, however, a series of small earthquakes began that continued to increase in frequency. Though scientists were unwilling to commit themselves as to their significance, there was now official concern.

By April 8, officials indicated that the mountain appeared to be settling down. Yielding to the demands of local business, the road blocks that had been established were moved back closer to the mountain, allowing local communities to assume a more normal lifestyle. Don Mullineaux, spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, made a statement that his agency was considering reducing its staff of twenty government scientists who were presently monitoring the mountain. The question was raised as to the possibility that the curtain was about to fall on the latest performance by Mount St. Helens, and the U.S. Forest Service announced it was considering opening up additional viewing sites. Scientists speculated that the melting ice and snow that capped the mountain was having a cooling effect, controlling the behavior of the volcano.

So men speculated and people developed a more relaxed attitude. Business, as we would say, began to return to normal.

Over the next few days and weeks, however, rapidly developing events began to clearly indicate that an eruption was imminent. Five miles to the north of the mountain, a monitoring station was set up. At this particular station was a young scientist, David Johnson, tracking the mountain’s progress.  In an interview, he graphically described the events that could be expected to take place and the exact nature of the expected eruption. This interview is part of a video that can now be seen at the St. Helens volcano center in southwestern Washington State.

Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, dawned bright and clear. Suddenly, just after 8:30, the radio at the monitoring station in Longview burst to life with the words, “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” This was to the last transmission David Johnson ever made. As the mountain roared to life, it erupted with such violence that it sent a cloud of ash and gases to an altitude of 12 miles. The super-heated air, rolling like a great cloud, raced across the beautifully forested hills, vaporizing and destroying everything in its path in an area of some 70 square miles, covering landscape with ash and debris. In all, at least 60 people were killed, including David Johnson.

As I watched David Johnson describe the impending eruption with such accuracy, my mind wondered at the irony of it all. Here was a man who had a knowledge of an event believed to be imminent. He correctly understood the nature of what was about to take place; and yet, with all this knowledge, he lost his life in the very event he had described.

Mt. St. Helens

We have a knowledge of future events. We have been given all the information necessary to make preparation for these events. With all this knowledge, however, will we find that in the final analysis we will become, as it were, a statistic to the events toward which we have been looking with such eager anticipation?

Probation’s hour is rapidly closing when every case will be eternally decided. Satan knows that his time is short and he works with marvelous success to so arrange events that our thoughts are fully occupied with the here and now. As in a trance, we are oblivious to the realities of the unseen world while this present world holds our interest.

“Solemnly there come to us down through the centuries the warning words of our Lord from the Mount of Olives: "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares." "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." The Desire of Ages, 636

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