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EARTHQUAKES

What does the Bible say about earthquakes? Not a lot, actually. The Bible knows about earthquakes, but the land of Israel is not located on a major fault-line between tectonic plates, so suffers only relatively minor earthquakes or tremors. The major fault line in the Middle East occurs further North, running, more or less, East and West on the border between Turkey and Syria, just where the latest terrible earthquake has struck.

As to the origin of earthquakes, the Bible is silent. The first mention of an earthquake is in the story of Elijah fleeing from the Lord to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19.11-12). The Lord passes by the Mount; there is a hurricane, then an earthquake, then a fire, “but the Lord was not in the earthquake” (or the wind or the fire). Then God speaks “in a still, small voice”, or in a whisper, and tells Elijah what to do. The earthquake is just another one of the great forces of nature, reminding us of the awesome power of God.

We can speculate about why the Earth moves in this way, or indeed why there are any of these destructive forces in Nature. The first and greatest natural disaster of which the Bible speaks is of course Noah’s Flood. There are indeed hints, in this story, of the crust of the Earth breaking up. Children’s story books tell of the rain, falling for forty days and forty nights, but miss the beginning of the calamity: “On that day all the springs of the deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. (Genesis 7.11). In other words, the crust of the Earth broke up, releasing vast quantities of water from below, not just rain from above. Is this the beginning of the crust of the Earth breaking up and moving?

However that may be, the Bible does not comment further on the nature or purpose of earthquakes, but they go on occurring. There was a notable one in the days of Uzziah the king. (Amos 1.1 and Zechariah 14.5.) Strangely, Matthew mentions earth tremors in the stories of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, without commenting further on them. (Matthew 27.51-54, 28.2.) Otherwise, earthquakes are simply included in the lists of natural disasters that will affect the earth in the last days. (Matthew 24.7, Revelation 6.12, 16.18.)

Perhaps what we need to hear in the face of the present Turkish disaster is the word about the earthquake in the story of Elijah on Mount Horeb: ‘but the Lord was not in the earthquake.’ (1 Kings 19.11.) In other words, God is not saying anything to us in particular about the present earthquake, any more than he was speaking to Elijah about it in his. But the Lord is still speaking to us, in ‘a still, small voice’. It is the same still, small voice in which he is always speaking to us, if we will listen to it. It is a word reminding us that we are not immortal, that our lives can be cut short at any time by all sorts of natural events, great and small: diseases, earthquakes, famines, accidents of all sorts, everyday happenings as much as world-shaking ones.


That word is simply, “Prepare to meet your God.”

_____

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