Few people are familiar with Isaac Gonzales, a man who lived in Boston at the turn of the 20th century. Gonzales was a man tormented. He worked for a company that stored molasses next to the Boston harbor. Ships unloaded the molasses into a massive metal tank that, when filled, contained over 2 million gallons of the liquid.
Isaac noticed that the tank was leaking in numerous places. He heard the metal plates groan under the weight of the molasses. When he inspected the empty tank from the inside, flakes of metal would fall into his hair and on his clothes. Every time the tank was filled, he was terrified that it would collapse and kill the people around it.
He had horrible nightmares and thrashed around in his sleep. He would awaken in the middle of the night and run from his home to the tank to make sure it was still standing. He would sometimes sleep in his office so that he could warn people if the catastrophe occurred, and even contemplated sleeping next to the tank itself. He went to numerous supervisors and people in authority to tell them of his fears. His bosses told him that if he caused any more problems with his complaints, he would lose his job. They reminded him that the molasses was used in the making of ammunition (who knew that trivia?!), which was vital for the war effort in Europe and thus for national security. His wife threatened to divorce him over what she called his ridiculous obsession. She told him there was nothing he could do about it, anyway.
On January 15, 1919, it happened. The tank was completely full and collapsed. A flood of molasses filled the streets and knocked down buildings. Twenty-one people died and 150 were injured. The molasses destroyed an elevated railroad track, and without the quick thinking of an engineer, the death toll would have been even higher. Many animals, including horses, died in the flood as well.
When I think of this story, I wonder about Isaac Gonzales. He was able to see what was coming. But nobody would listen to him. It haunted him, and he was not able to get it out of his mind. I wonder if I would have reacted the same way. Maybe I would have rationalized that if the tank did break, maybe only one part would collapse, and it wouldn’t be that bad. Maybe it would break down when it was empty or barely filled. Maybe I would say, as Isaac’s wife had said, that I had done all I could do and couldn’t do anymore. I had fulfilled my responsibility and I could rest easy at night. People weren’t interested in my warning, so the blame was on them.
It also occurs to me that in certain ways believers today are like Isaac Gonzales. Disaster is coming to our world. The Lord spoke of a coming Tribulation that will impact the entire earth (Matt 24–25). If Isaac was 80% sure a disaster was coming, we are 100% sure. We are called to warn those around us, knowing that most will not listen to what we say.
In the Bible, when God’s people knew trouble was coming, there were godly people who acted as Isaac did. Jeremiah saw the destruction coming upon his nation from the Babylonians and famously became known as the “Weeping Prophet.” I am sure his sleep was affected. He constantly warned those around him; he was even imprisoned for his words.
The words of the scroll revealing Earth’s coming Tribulation made John sick to his stomach (Rev 10:10). John was thrilled that the Lord is returning, but the thought of the destruction that will precede His coming was frightening.
We could add the Lord to these examples. When He realized what would happen to Jerusalem because of its rejection of Him, as willful as that rejection was, He wept over the city (Luke 19:41-44).
How about us? We rightfully desire the Lord’s soon return, but are we concerned about those who will be washed away by the coming judgments? As Free Grace people, we certainly have the message that will deliver them from such destruction. I know that the vast majority of folks are not going to listen, but I must admit: Sometimes, when I consider the gravity of the situation, I wish I were a little more like Isaac Gonzales.