Saturday, September 04, 2010

On the subject of earthquakes

A few comments Nick will be making before his sermon tomorrow while the question of the earthquake is still fresh in everyone's mind:


Today at 4:35 am I was woken by Lynn who felt the beginnings of the first quake which had its epicentre in Christchurch. The initial quake is estimated at 7.2 on the richter scale, and has been followed by many aftershocks, some as high as 5.3. Damage is thought to be over 1 billion dollars, but any thought to what has been suffered in terms of work flow, houses, infrastructure, injuries, etc. There is so much trauma. 5% of the buildings in the inner city are damaged, and a large aftershock is still expected. (

The website claims that there are 500 000 earthquakes every year. The pertinent question to be asked is what does the Bible say about earthquakes, and what is God’s involvement with them?

Since the earthquake in King Uzziah’s time mentioned in the Bible in Amos 1:1 and Zech 14:5, earthquakes have usually been a symbol of God’s wrath. When God was pouring out His wrath against sin upon His own Son there was an earthquake (Matt 27:54). When Jesus was prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the signs of the end of the age, He spoke of various earthquakes as the beginning of the birth pains (Mark 13:8) “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” And in the book of Revelation when the final end of time comes, an earthquake unequalled is the sign of its arrival (Rev 11:13, 16:18).

What do we make then of the 7.2 on the 4th of September 2010? Was it a judgment from God? Is Christchurch a city deserving of an earthquake, and Timaru not? Let me remind you of some of Christ's words in Luke 13:1-5 (ESV) “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.” Jesus does not get into the reasons why. However He does intimate that we are no less deserving. Jesus allows this present calamity to remind us of the worst calamity that can befall a human being: to stand in the presence of a holy God to give an account of your sins. Jesus tells them that they must allow the reality of that catastrophe, and the question of their sinfulness to drive us to search our own hearts and make sure that we are ready to meet our maker. Jesus turns the tables for us, that instead of us putting God in the docks, He makes sure that we never squirm from the limelight.

However let's try to answer some questions about this. Was God judging them? I don’t know, is the short answer. Let me tell you what I do know: God is good, He is wise, He never acts foolishly or unjustly. I don’t know what God was doing in Christchurch, but I do know something general of His ways from His word. I know that sometimes when His people sinned He used a foreign nation to wage war against them and drive them out of the land (Assyria and Babylon); not only did He use other humans to inflict His righteous judgments on sin, He also used natural catastrophes. We see the locusts of Joel, and the 10 plagues in Egypt.

However, lest we think that God is reigning His fire of judgment on us every time something bad happens to us let us also remind ourselves of other reasons. God refines us and makes stronger people out of us in trials (Romans 5:2-5). God uses difficulty to teach us contentment, and to find our treasure in Him (Psalm 73). He uses our suffering as part of the spiritual battle and His purposes for the devil (Eph 3:10, Job). Suffering weans us from this world and fits us with a greater longing for heaven (Romans 8:18-21). Our suffering equips us to minister to others and bring healing to them (2 Cor 1:6), to teach us not to rely on ourselves but on Him (2 Cor 1:9), testifies to the reality of our faith, etc, etc. In other words, I don’t know what God is doing exactly in Christchurch; He may have as many purposes as there are people there, but I do know that He is working out His purposes to perfection. Our response is not one of accusation, but heeding the message of Jesus, we must repent. We do not accuse Him by the reckoning of our judgment, but rather we trust to His. We do not doubt His character but welcome His refining of ours. And in this token judgment we are reminded that one day there will be a final judgment where we all stand before God. We will either be dressed in the deeds we have done or the righteousness of Christ. All who put off their own lives of sin, and accept the free gift of righteousness that Jesus won for us will have nothing to fear. Others will be begging for the mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of God. The terror we feel in those moments of catastrophe when our guard is down and our frailty is thrust upon us, is merely a taste of worse to come for all who have not sought their refuge in Christ as their Ark.


Catherine said...

OK, so I only "know" you from your blog, but I immediately thought about your family and prayed for you when I heard about the earthquake. I'm very glad to read that you are all OK.

You are very right that these moments of natural disaster (like any other tragedy of life) should drive us to Jesus. I hope the cleanup goes well. And that you can avoid any other earth-shattering (literally) disasters!


Hazel Beckett said...

Thanks Nick, for sharing those insights re God and 'natural disasters'.