Washington, Vancouver, Cuba, New Zealand and Japan – all within the last 2 weeks. Not to mention the epic disasters in Haiti and Japan over the past few years that we are still cleaning up from. According to the US Geological Survey there have been six tremblers of magnitude 5 or greater somewhere in the world in the last 24 hours alone! Sometimes it seems as though the earth just won’t stop shaking. For a real-time list of seismic activity go here:
It’s nothing new but natural disasters like this tend to bring out the worst in people’s imagination about God. Some crazy people are already starting to point to the increased frequency of these events as the harbingers of the apocalypse. Check out this video posted to YouTube just after the Japanese earthquake last spring;
Really? Come on now!
Let’s look at what Jesus actually said about earthquakes, wars and other natural disasters shall we?
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. [Matthew 24:4-7]
Did you catch it? One sentence tucked in the middle there that for me at least puts the whole earthquake and natural disaster thing into perspective. “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Stuff happens, get over it, sometimes and earthquake is just an earthquake and not a sign of anything.
What prompted Jesus to say this? The apostles asked him what would be the sign of the end of the age and his return. Jesus answers by giving a description of the apocalypse peppered with graphic images of war, famine and natural disasters. It’s scary stuff but he starts the description with a sentence that most people miss. “Watch out that no one deceives you.” [Matthew 24:4] and ends by reminding us that no one knows the time of his return so trying to predict it using these so call signs is pointless. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” [Matthew 24:36].
If you read Matthew 24 with those two bookending statements in mind you realize that the entire apocalyptic description is a warning about what NOT to look for. Jesus knows that we tend to look for big and fantastic evidence of God. We want the show. We expect the to earth to move when God does. And why shouldn’t it, God is God after all. He should be awesome and big and even a little bit scary right? But He isn’t, God is love, He comes like a thief in the night and speaks in a “still small voice.”
So what’s with all the earthquakes? I don’t know I’ll leave that to the seismologists to figure out. What I do know is that when God acts it isn’t very often in a way we expect, and just like with Elijah, God isn’t trying to say anything to us through them.
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”[1 Kings 19:11-13]
What are we doing here, indeed?