Spiritual lessons on the reality of earthquakes:
If you live in a place like California you are quite used to earthquakes and tremors. They happen quite often. So it is just a part of life in those areas. But Australia is different – we do not have very many earthquakes – certainly not real strong ones. So when a 6.0 magnitude quake strikes Victoria that certainly makes the headlines.
I and millions of others sure did feel this quake this morning. It was powerful enough to be felt as far away as Tasmania and NSW. Even our Prime Minister who is now in America spoke about it. Thankfully it seems no lives were lost nor were there any serious injuries, although buildings were damaged. Also it is said that a number of other earthquakes have taken place around the world today at roughly the same time. I will provide updates on this as further reports come to hand.
But all this is worth looking at further in terms of spiritual and biblical realities. I have mentioned before that a good part of my meditations and prayers, even well before the Covid outbreak, have been as follows: ‘Things cannot go on like this. Something has got to give. This is just not sustainable. God, please act.’ I had in mind the moral and spiritual free-fall of the West.
Things have been going downhill for so long, and that just cannot last. Either God must intervene or we are all toast. So many other Christians would have been thinking and praying the same thing. ‘Please God – do something. Please act. Please show yourself!’ So the virus may have been part of the answer to our prayers.
I have written often on the possibility of this virus being the judgment of God on a sinful and evil world. See here for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/06/28/corona-judgment-and-our-response/
And Scripture speaks often about the fact that God does indeed use things like fire and flood and famine and plague and the like as his tools of judgment. See some of the many biblical texts on this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/09/10/hurricane-irma-god-natural-disasters/
When many concerned Christians think and pray about the spiritual and moral wasteland that the West is becoming, they are reminded of passages that speak about God shaking things up. They see the need for a shake-up. They are praying that cracks will appear in the evil world system. A text like Hebrews 12:26-28 often comes to mind:
At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.
Whether a metaphorical or an actual shaking, sifting, and rocking of the boat, God can and does use various means to get our attention, to refocus our priorities, and to bring judgment on a recalcitrant people. So in the light of such spiritual realities, and given this morning’s earthquake, I just did a quick search of Scripture.
Using the ESV, I looked up four terms: quake, earthquake, shake, and tremble. Earthquake is found 19 times, and quake 17. Looking at all these passages it is clear that God does use such things for his purposes. As mentioned, sometimes there is figurative language being used. Sometimes metaphorical language is run with. But still, such verses reflect powerful realities. Consider a few of them as found in the psalms:
Psalm 18:7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
Psalm 60:2 You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open; repair its breaches, for it totters.
Psalm 68:8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.
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.
And the prophets use such language as well:
Isaiah 5:25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
Isaiah 64:3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
Jeremiah 10:10 But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.
Jeremiah 51:29 The land trembles and writhes in pain, for the Lord’s purposes against Babylon stand, to make the land of Babylon a desolation, without inhabitant.
Ezekiel 26:18 Now the coastlands tremble on the day of your fall, and the coastlands that are on the sea are dismayed at your passing.’
Ezekiel 31:16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below.
Joel 2:10 The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.
Haggai 2:21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth.
Moreover, God can and does use things like earthquakes to achieve his specific purposes. Recall what we find in Acts 16:25-27 for example:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
And of course when we read about the judgments of God in the book of Revelation, we find the same sorts of things, including earthquakes:
Revelation 6:12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,
Revelation 8:5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Revelation 11:13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
Revelation 11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
Revelation 16:18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.
There are many other such passages that could be listed here. As I say, sometimes the language being used is clearly metaphorical, but sometimes it is quite literal. And various themes emerge here: God is in full control of his creation; the nations, and the world itself, quakes at his presence; God can and does use things like earthquakes and other ‘natural calamities’ for various reasons, whether to wake us up or to judge us; and so on.
As always, I am not a prophet, and I make no specific claims about what took place here just hours ago. But God is in control of everything, including the forces of nature. It is hoped that something like this does cause people to slow down, reflect on things, and get their spiritual bearings.
Are the things we cling to really dependable? Are they going to last? Will our world come crumbling down around us? Are we building our lives on a faulty foundation? Do we need to see some major sifting and rearranging take place in our culture and in our own lives?
My first reaction to this morning’s earthquake was to thank God. I was thankful because while we may rightly believe that God is sovereign and in control, it gets more difficult to deal with when human choices are involved. If Covid is part of God’s judgment, are the draconian lockdowns as well? We may resign ourselves to God’s hand of judgment, but we can resist evil human actions – be it folks in Wuhan deliberately creating the virus, or governments abusing their power as they push fear-mongering and tyranny.
But most folks will see something like an earthquake as fully an act of nature – that is, an act of God (except for the climate alarmists who will argue that even this was somehow caused by human efforts, as in the global warming panic). Here we see God alone at work. It reminds me and millions of other Christians about the reality that this world is in God’s hands, and that at any moment it can come to an end, or be severely disrupted.
As I said, things cannot keep going as they have been. If it takes things like a powerful but rare earthquake centred east of Melbourne to shake us up and reveal the cracks in our fleshly foundations, then so be it. Bring it on Lord. Do more shaking. We need it.