By Josiah Espinoza | July 11th, 2019
On July 4th and 5th 2019, the city of Ridgecrest, CA experienced two significant earthquakes. The first earthquake struck around the mid afternoon with a 6.4 magnitude quake. The following day at 8 PM PT another earthquake hit measuring at a magnitude of 7.1. Since then at least 1,000 aftershocks measuring at a 2.5 magnitude have occurred and many sources say that these earthquakes may not be over.
What do they mean?
Since the onset of these earthquakes many people in California have wondered what the significance of these quakes are. What caused them? How much bigger are they going to get? What can we expect? How do we respond to larger more dangerous earthquakes? All of these questions are of a neutral nature. However, it is very common for people within the religious realm, including Christians, to associate natural disasters to some spiritual or “godlike” thing. But as Christians are we called to try to associate every natural disaster (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados/twisters, droughts, floods, etc.) to some spiritual reality? I don’t believe we are.
Natural Disasters in America
Since I was a child I have witnessed first hand, and on the news, many different kinds of natural disasters. Wild fires are very common in California, so common in fact, that it is easy to become indifferent to them and just assume that they will be taken care of. But what do they mean? Is it the wrath of God? If it is, what can we say about these wild fires when Churches and Christians are affected by them? What about the drought that took place in California for the last 8 years? Is there a spiritual significance to that? According to the National Integrated Drought Information System the drought officially started on December 27, 2011 and ended March 5th, 2019. What was the significance of that? To my knowledge no one died of thirst in California. To my recollection, everything went on as normal, strangely normal in fact. What about in 2011 when there was a “super outbreak” of tornadoes in the South-Eastern regions of the US. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information there were approximately 362 confirmed tornadoes, still 180 less tornadoes then May 2004, but still a significant amount. How are we to understand that? And what about the recent onslaught of hurricanes where, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7 destructive hurricanes in 2018 resulted in the loss of billions of dollars, in the death of hundreds and is still currently affecting the people of Puerto Rico, both Christians and non-Christians alike. What are we to say of that? See, when we try to associate every natural event to some spiritual move of God, we can drive ourselves mad and we can fall in some areas of danger associating “godly” things or “spiritual movements” to natural disasters.
Can natural phenomenon be a wake up call from God? Most certainly. Is it the wrath of God? Perhaps. Are they signs of coming revival? Who knows. Is it a sign of Jesus on the verge of returning? I think for the last 2000 years that has been the case (and I still passionately and patiently await his return). Is it a “spiritual shifting” when the earth quakes? Possibly. Is the fact that the earthquake happened in the city of Ridgecrest significant? Unlikely. When we begin to overspiritualize every natural disaster we can fall into a trap of assuming God’s intentions and purposes in these temporal realities and we, as Christians, are not called to do so.
What They Do Mean.
There are, however, several things we can conclude about these natural disasters:
1- God is Sovereign over natural disasters because he is sovereign over nature.
Job 9:5-8 says, ” He who removes mountains, and they know it not, when he overturns them in his anger,6 who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble, 7 who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars; 8 who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.
God and God alone knows why every single event in nature takes places. We are not responsible for knowing every reason why God does things. Though there are several instances in Scripture where natural occurrences are associated with God’s direct involvement (i.e. the flood, Egyptian Plagues, parting of the red sea, drought of Elijah, earthquake at Jesus’ death, etc.) we are not expected to interpret every single natural phenomenon, we are called simply to rely on the sovereignty of God and his will and purpose in all the natural disasters. We are to have confidence in him that he will do what is pleasing in his own sight according to his eternal decree, including natural disasters. (Is. 46:8-11)
2- Christians should not fear during natural disasters, even if we die.
Psalm 46:1-3- God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
Rest in the fact that God is our refuge and strength. Even if we perish during an earthquake, a fire, or a flood, the Lord is sovereign and he is good. As Christians we should not fear these things for we have confidence that we are in the hands of the Lord. If we live through an earthquake, we praise God for keeping us safe. If we perish, we praise God for bringing us home. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God, in all things he will be glorified. (Romans 8:31-39)
3- Natural disasters tell us that the word of God is true!
Matthew 24:6-8 says, ” 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
In these passages, Jesus is talking about the “last days” or the “end of the age”. The “last days”, the “last hour” and the “end of the age” are all phrases that define a specific period of time, namely, the time between Jesus’ first coming (death, resurrection and ascension) and his second coming (parousia/eschaton). The scenario that Jesus is explaining in Matthew 24:6-8 is an ongoing reality that began at his death (there was a massive earthquake according to Matthew 27:51) and will continue to take place until he returns. In fact, Jesus called it the “beginning of birth pangs”. “Beginning” in his time and continuing until his return, which means we are still experiencing these birth pangs. Romans 8:20-22 says, ” 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. ” So these natural phenomenon that are taking place in our time are the result of Jesus’ prophetic words 2000 years ago. They are signs that we are in the “last days”, we are in the “last hour” because these signs are still taking place and will continue to multiply until his return. So rejoice when you feel the earth quake, for your savior draws nearer!
Now, I write these things not for the sake of mockery, but rather as an encouragement. I think Christians try to associate these natural things to spiritual things because they want to try to have some sense of peace about these events. They want to try to understand what is happening because not knowing is fearful. So associating the natural catastrophe to some optimistic spiritual reality almost, in a sense, “redeems” these events and it can even grant some sort of “peace” to the Christian, especially when they are directly affected. But I think it is a false sense of peace because we can’t ever really know why God in his eternal wisdom allows such things to take place.
I have peace when natural disasters strike, not because I try to attach some spiritual reality to it but because I have peace with God and I have confidence in his sovereign will and purpose. I believe that God predestines all natural disasters to take place for his own glory according to his own will. These are not just random events of history that have no ultimate reason. God has reasons but I will never put myself in the place of God claiming to understand why God does what God does. I only rest in his infinite wisdom and therefore I have peace. Remember these three things next time you are confronted with an earthquake, perhaps you too will experience a peace that passes all wordly understanding.