Prayer is only effective if is is to a Being who has power over our lives. Yet how many brush aside what the Bible says about God's power on earth? How many people do not consider that earthquakes are an 'act of God'? Do we have the faith to move mountains?
Earthquakes in divers places
While writing about the L'Aquila earthquake another quake making international news occurred in China (9 July, 2009). Then after writing the article, another quake occurred, in a place diverse from the others: New Zealand. The New Zealand quake of 15 July 2009 made the USGS largest and deadliest quakes list (with no fatalities) as it was 7.8 on the Richter scale, moving New Zealand's mountains 30cm (1ft) closer to Australia and causing a tsunami [1m (3ft) to West Coast of New Zealand and 30cm (1ft) to the East Coast of Australia]. It was the biggest quake since 1931 in New Zealand. The 3 quakes in diverse places (Italy, China, New Zealand) had one thing in common, all involved mountains moving. At the time we heard about the July 15 quake we read,
Fear ye not me? says the LORD: will you not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves of it toss themselves, yet can they not prevail? (Jeremiah 5:22)
Jeremiah was sure his God controlled the boundary of sea and earth, where tsunamis may wash over shores but the water doesn't prevail. This implies God controls the height of the mountains of the earth, and therefore the movement of the earth. This caused me to re-think what I believed about earthquakes (see L'Aquila Earthquake). The following is the result a personal journey of prayer and study, examining every reference to earthquake in the Bible. A journey with meaning as I, like many, have experinced a deadly earthquake.
Does God control all Earthquakes? Or how powerful is God?
There is a vital ingredient in true and deep faith: absolute certainty in the existence and power of God. Yet few people really ponder the power of their God. Secular science defines God out of natural events. But Newton who set the scientific example did not define out God, saying instead
I scruple not to propose the principles of motion..., they being of very general extent, and leave their causes to be found out.... For it became him who created them to set them in order. And if he did so, it's unphilosophical to seek for any other origin of the world, or to pretend that it might arise out of a chaos by the mere laws of nature; Optics
Secular science as quoted by Wikipedia says regarding the earthquake, that,
it is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves
But what causes the forces that create the sudden release? According to the United States Geographical Survey, it's a mystery.
Even today there is still a certain amount of mystery surrounding ...earthquakes ...are caused by fundamental, powerful geological processes that are far beyond our control. http://science.howstuffworks.com/earthquake7.htm
In the last 50 years theories of plate movement have been developed. But these are like investigating a car crash by the mechanism of the damage of the car in the crash, while ignoring the driver's statement. Theories of plate moment don't ask why the plates are moving. What does the Bible say? On the third day of creation,
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. (Genesis 1:9)
Right at the beginning there must have been massive earth movements caused by God. At one point it is all water, then all the land masses are pushed up to appear out of the water.
Moses said of his God that all He has to do is hold out his 'hand' and the earth opens up (in modern terms an earth rupture)
You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them. (Exodus 15:12) (see also numbers 16:33 where the earth swallows Korah)
It is possible, through a misunderstanding of what was shown to Elijah, for us to mentally downgrade God's control, because God was not “in” the earthquake.
And he (God) said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: (1Kings 19:11)
But we can be quite sure of one thing, the wind and earthquake were caused by God!. Though God was not “in” the quake, he caused it. Elijah had asked why no-one but himself served God. Elijah was then shown that though God had power over great forces these were not how he convinced people to believe in him. A great earthquake does not cause people to understand and rightly serve God, only a “still small voice” will do that. And we do indeed find that very rarely are great shows of power used by God, rather he sends prophets who speak words.
But there are a few times God uses an earthquake.
The earthquake for a specific purpose
One quake is recorded was specifically targeted in the way it shook the earth to do a specific job.
At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard 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 every one's bands were loosed. (Acts 16:25-26)
Note the quake was felt as an ordinary quake, but very specific things happened to the building and to the chains on the people.
The earthquake as God's weapon in battle
When the Israelites leave Egypt, the Egyptian army is destroyed by water (Exodus14). Going into the land, Jericho's walls fall in a controlled demolition (Joshua 6). Deborah and Barak are helped in battle by a flood (Judges 5:21). But the first use of by God of earthquake is when Jonathan, the son of Saul king of Israel, is given victory in a battle against a vastly superior Philistine force of over 100,000 including chariots. Jonathan is helped with a specifically located earthquake (1Samuel 14:15).
David, Jonathan's friend, might have been thinking of this victory when he wrote,
In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven moved and shook, because he was wroth. (2Samuel 22:7-8 also Psalm 18:7)
You have made the earth to tremble; you have broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shakes (Psalm 60:2)
There is to be another day in the future when God again uses an earthquake in battle, when the nations come in war against Jerusalem.
You shall be visited of the LORD of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire. And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel (Jerusalem- see context), even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. (Isaiah 29:6-7)
The same future event is prophesied by Joel, who associates an earthquake with the army of God on the earth,
The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executes his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it? (Joel 2:10-11)
As in the day of Jonathan, it is not said this act is in anger, rather this is to achieve an end, “to execute his word” with the controlled destruction of a human army hostile to God. Does the commander of an army send out his forces in anger? No, he uses cool logic and strategy as he is doing a job. However the reason for the job of destruction is God's wrath (after long-suffering or restrained forbearance). Unlike us, God is slow to anger. (Exodus 34:6).
Though introduced as the burden of Nineveh, the first chapter of Nahum speaks of the end of all conquering nations. Nineveh was utterly destroyed and razed to the ground in 612 BC (with many unburied bodies left amongst the rubble), so it appears not to be due to earthquake but the armies of the Medes. But Nahum wrote this destruction is like that which is due to God's earthquake in the future,
The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea, and makes it dry...The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. (Nahum 1:3-6)
Nahum says that at the LORD's mere presence on the earth it quakes. Zechariah says when the LORD's feet will stand on the earth in the future to face the armies of those nations, who despise God, the earth will 'cleave' (an earth rupture).
Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. (Zechariah 14:3-5)
The earthquake of Uzziah's day was where God gave direct and obvious help to the armies of Israel in battle with the Philistines by an earthquake. It so greatly affected all the nations around they brought tribute to Uzziah. See Uzziah
The earthquake as signifier of God's presence
A close examination shows the earth will quake due to God's visible presence walking on the earth. The reason why he will do so is his anger with the nations who hate his word. God doesn't just wilfully send earthquakes in judgement. In every case the quake is associated with God's presence. God, when he judges the nations, gives warning before, so people may repent. God has given his warning. He gave us the Bible. He caused it to be translated into the language of nearly every person on the planet. He sent Jews to every nation on earth with his book. Humans have not seen evidence of God's miraculous power on earth for 2000 years. Isaiah says when God's presence shakes the earth again it will quake, and liquefy the earth.
Oh that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might flow down at your presence, As when the melting fire burns, the fire causes the waters to boil, to make your name known to your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When you did terrible things which we didn't look for, you came down, the mountains flowed down at your presence. For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither has the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he has prepared for him that waits for him. (Isaiah 64:1-4)
This is consistent with the earthquake that signified God's presence at the giving of the law to the Israelites.
And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. (Exodus 19:18)
The earthquake as a sign
Jesus said that earthquakes occuring "in diverse places" is a sign,
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. (Matt 24:5-7, Mark 13:8 Luke 21:11)
There was in the Apostle's days famine and pestilences, clearly sent by God, and at least a few earthquakes.
Jesus signified, or gave signs to his servants in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:1) and as a book of symbol the 5 earthquakes recorded there are all symbolic of great changes to people's lives, including political earthquakes such as revolutions.
the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; (Rev 6:12)
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. (Rev 8:5)
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were in fear, and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Rev 11:13)
And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail. (Rev 11:19)
And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. (Rev 16:18-19)
From Jesus' view point quakes, even great political changes, are caused by God as a sign to his servants. This is worthy of pondering.
In accord with science
The best brains, after 120 years of critical science in observation and at least 50 years of using extremely sensitive and powerful instrumentation to measure and monitor the earth, can only come up with the phrase “a certain amount of mystery” to explain why earthquakes occur. This is not in conflict with what the Bible says (the Bible speaks of the mechanism of quakes also). Job who spoke to God, is in no doubt that God causes all types of earthquakes.
Then Job answered and said, I know it is so of a truth: but how should man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who has hardened himself against him, and has prospered? Which removes the mountains, and they know not: which overturns them in his anger. Which shakes the earth out of her place, and the supports thereof tremble. Which commands the sun, and it rises not; and seals up the stars. Which alone spreads out the heavens, and treads upon the waves of the sea. (Job 9:1-8)
Job says the moving of mountains and the shaking of the earth is in the present tense. It was an ongoing work by God in Job's day. The psalmist endorses this as continuing in his day
O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all:.. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts...These wait all upon thee; that thou may give them their meat in due season. That thou give them they gather: thou open thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hide thy face, they are troubled: thou take away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. You send forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renew the face of the earth. The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works. He looks on the earth, and it trembles: he touches the hills, and they smoke. (Psalm 104:24-32)
It is when the LORD looks at the earth it trembles. Superstition? In the days of the Psalmist they, like Job, spoke to God so they may happen to know how God moves the earth. That the earth quakes when God looks at it matches the idea that a quake may be a sign of the presence of God. And so even the servants of God are to tremble at God's presence,
Thus says the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that you build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things has mine hand made, and all those things have been, says the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)
The inextricable link of salvation and earthquakes
Any Christian in the whole world, must accept that their salvation is dependent on the truth of the account of the death and resurrection of Jesus in the Bible, in every particular. For no one would believe half-true evidence, due to the fact we can never know which bit is true, and so half truth is whole lie. When Jesus died God caused a massive earthquake.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the spirit. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; (Matt. 27:50-51)
Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. (Matt. 27:54)
This earthquake was part of the evidence that convinced the centurion. His belief should help us believe today. This earthquake was a “sign”. But if it is not enough that the earthquake occurred directly at the moment of death, another massive quake occurs to announce the resurrection
In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. (Matt 28:1-4)
The whole account of the resurrection hinges on this second earthquake. If the stone was not rolled back then the other evidence is not true. If a Christian thinks they are saved, a Christian must also believe with all their heart that God made the earthquakes.
That God raised up the earth out of the water in Genesis stands on the same testimony that states that God raised up Jesus.
The Test of Faith
In addition Jesus gives us a test of faith. The disciples had wondered at how Jesus had withered the fig tree and Jesus, as a result, gives us a definition for measuring faith.
Verily I say unto you, If you have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this to the fig tree, but also if you shall say unto this mountain,'Be you removed, and be you cast into the sea'; it shall be done. (Matt 21:21)
Moving mountains causes earthquakes, therefore the definition of faith is that we would trust, that when God desires, we will be able to move a mountain towards the sea and cause an earthquake. We can't escape that it is a literal mountain, as the fig tree was literal. It is a matter of faith to know God moved the earth in the past and will move it in the future. It is inconsistent to have faith in God's past and future acts, but not in the idea that God moves the earth now.
It's possibly even foolish to believe God has power to work in our lives and give good things to us (which is complicated by our wills), but not believe God has total control over something, such as the earth movement, that may kill us. If we have any faith at all, we have faith God controls the forces of the earth, that he has power over his creation.
So when earthquakes occur in diverse places we should think, 'is God looking at something there, is he touching the earth there, or does he have a purpose there, or is it a sign for the servants of God?' At the very least God is reminding humans that they don't and can't control their lives.
For many years people have been willing to divide their thinking, their beliefs regarding science contradicting their religious beliefs. As Elijah pointed out to Israel, “How long will you halt between two opinions?”(1 Kings 18:21). If the God of the Bible is powerful, he always has, and always will, control the movement of the earth, just as he did on the 3rd day of creation.
For more on the power of God and science Doing things in Space