Monday, March 14, 2011

Questions We Ask Following An Earthquake

Tsunami Wave Height From Sendai, Japan Through The Pacific Ocean
Following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake near Sendai, Japan, which moved the Honshu island 8 feet closer to the United States, shifting the earth's axis 4" and causing a tsunami affecting continents thousands of miles away, we are left in awe and with lots of questions.  When reading about the cataclysmic events in the Book of Revelation, I often wondered how it could happen.  Now with video feeds of tsunamis running 4 stories high and pushing homes, vehicles and debris 6 miles inland, the imagination is sadly sobered.

1.  Why Are There Earthquakes?

The geologist will tell you earthquakes happen because of shifting tectonic plates on the earth (if you get my "continental" drift).  The news media has done a superb job explaining the physics, history and effect of an earthquake.  But are there biblical or theological reasons for earthquakes?

There are around 20 references to earthquakes in the Scriptures:
  • At Mt. Sinai when God gave the Law to Moses (Ex 19:18; Ps 68:8) 
  • In the wilderness swallowing up Korah and his fellow rebels as punishment for defying Moses (Num 16:31-35) 
  • With the Philistines when Jonathan and his armor bearer fought them in faith (1 Sam 14:15) 
  • With Elijah when God was speaking to him in his depression (1 Kings 19:11) 
  • During King Uzziah’s reign (Amos 1:1) 
  • When Jesus died on the cross (Mt 27:51-54) 
  • When Jesus resurrected (Mt 28:2) 
  • At Philippi when Paul & Silas were delivered from jail (Acts 16:26) 
  • In connection with the “Day of the Lord” (Ezek 38:19; Zech 14:4-5) 
  • During the Tribulation period (Mt 24:7; Rev 6:12-24; 11:19; 16:18) 
  • Perhaps when Jesus returns (Hag 2:6-7)
Earthquakes were used to emphasize an "awe"some event (giving law, Jesus' death and resurrection) and were, at times, used in judgment (Korah, Tribulation).  But what biblical correlation can we ascribe to the recent earthquakes in China, Haiti and Japan?

Earthquakes and other natural calamities remind us that:

a.  The earth is cursed because of man's sin.  When Adam was cursed in Genesis 3:17, God tells him "cursed is the ground because of you."  The effect of man's sin affected creation.  Not only do we see the advent of thorns and thistles, but earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and tornados.

b.  As the earth groans because of corruption and longs for redemption in Christ, so should mankind (Romans 8:20-25).  As the earth is unwillingly subjected to futility and corruption (phthora – universe is running down and enslaved in an unending cycle), so is man.  John Stott uses four words to describe the corruption:  "decline, decay, death and decomposition" (Romans).  As this describes the state of the earth and the reason for its groaning, it also describes man and the reason why we should have that same objective of looking to the freedom (v. 21), redemption (v. 23) and resurrection through Christ.

c.  There are powers greater than us - fear God. We may be able to measure earthquakes, but we can't yet predict them. And we will never be able to prevent them. The earth is too powerful for us. Only the Creator has power over this created force. Fear Him!
  • Psalm 77:16-18  When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.  The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.  The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 
  • Psalm 114:6-7  O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.
2.  Why Do Natural Disasters Seem So Random?
  • With so much of life out of our control, we need to trust in God who is in control.
  • Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. 
Why Japan, why now?  Why New Orleans?  Why Indonesia?  Though God is sovereign, from man's perspective "time and chance happen to them all."  Whether you are swift like Lou Gehrig, strong like George Washington, wise like Solomon, or intelligent like Steve Jobs - we never know when we might be stricken with cancer, hit with a heart attack, totaled in a car accident or crushed by an earthquake.  The key is to trust God in what we can't control - ultimate matters of life, death and eternity.

3. Is God behind the earthquake?
  • God permits evil and its results to occur, but God never commits evil. 
  • Job 37:9-13  From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds.  10 By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.  11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  12 They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  13 Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.
Elihu's assessment of God's sovereignty and God's purpose (v. 13 correction, land, love) accentuates the truth that God is never out of control.  But the critic is quick to challenge that when it comes to natural disasters or evil, that either God is not loving enough to prevent them or not powerful enough.  We must be reminded that evil is the opposite of what is good and exists only because good exists - so there must be a standard of good.  It can be demonstrated that evil could only exist if God exists.  Without God, there is no ultimate objective moral standard.  Our "moral" decisions would only be a result of chemical reactions, electrical impulses in our synapsis or survival of the fittest.  But we know that evil is a natural result of freewill and that God will ultimately defeat evil (Col 2:13-15; Heb 2:14-15).  Sin and its effect is evil.  If that is true, then what could or who could overcome sin and death?  The God who became a man, died for us and resurrected unto life eternal.

4.  Does An Earthquake Mean God's Judgment?
  • Though God has used earthquakes in judgment, we cannot presume this is always the case.  But we are reminded that repentance protects us from ultimate death and judgment.
  • Luke 13:1-5  1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
There are a hand full of religious  pundits who say Indonesia, New Orleans and Haiti were recipients of natural calamities because of their rebellion before God.  How presumptuous and arrogant to make a statement like that!  Jesus tells us that Pilate's Galilean victims weren't necessarily worse than other Galileans (2) or that the 18 victims of the fallen tower of Siloam were any worse than others (4).  In fact, Job's 3 friends were rebuked for making a non-evidential judgment that Job was being punished for a grievous sin, when he was not.  Jesus clearly states that specific judgment was not involved in these 2 events (v. 5 "No, I tell you").  There is the random effect of man's fall that will effect mankind (cf. Eccl 9:11-12).  Jesus has a bigger solution knowing that we will all face death - naturally, unnaturally or supernaturally:  Repent or perish.

5. Does an increase of earthquake frequency and intensity mean that we are closer to the end times?

  • Statistics do not demonstrate a significant increase of earthquakes, but in the end times there will be. 
Though doomsday prophets say there is an increase of earthquakes, the scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey say "NO."  See  Are Earthquakes Really On The Increase? (USGS).  Long term records show a consistent pattern of 20,000 earthquakes (50/day), 17 major earthquakes (7.0 - 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) a year.  The difference is that there are more seismic stations (350 in 1931; 8.000 today) that are recording so many that we don't normally feel and that satellite and video technology that records these events are also abundant.  

There is probably more evidence of moral decay that we are closer to the end times than there is in earthquake evidence.  Jesus states in Matthew 24:3-8 that there will be plenty of earthquakes when it is time.  We're better off letting the Scriptures speak and science speak than making opinionated estimations

6. How can I be safe from earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters? 

  • Ultimate safety can’t be found in this world of sand, but in the bedrock of Jesus Christ.

  • Luke 6:46-49 46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
The local news ran an earthquake preparation story that says that the Big One will come one day and we are in greatest danger if we don't prepare for it (e.g. earthquake kit, knowledge of how to turn off the gas, food supply, know the safest place to go).  Just as we are all appointed to die, then be judged, we are at the greatest danger if we don't prepare for death.  Make sure we are right with our Creator, dependent upon Christ's death on the cross and His resurrection for our salvation, having put our faith in Him.  Christ is the bedrock in our "faulty" (pun intended) world.  Don't be "All Shook Up" when it comes to your faith.


  1. "There is probably more evidence of moral decay that we are closer to the end times than there is in earthquake evidence."

    Agree 100%. We witness this on a daily basis. An example I read earlier today. A body shop owner was murdered in Oceanside, by a customer, because restoration work on a classic car wasn't finished on time. A life for a car?!

    We should also look at the economic and political situations through out the globe, as the nations rage.


  2. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 would be pretty telltale of the moral decay.