The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Earthquake theology

With today’s massive earthquake in Chile, and last month’s deadly tremor in Haiti, I have a few questions for your theological pondering:

  1. Are earthquakes part of God’s good creation, or did they commence with the human fall into sin?
  2. Are earthquakes good or evil? (or neutral?)
  3. Is God glorified in any way by earthquakes?
  4. Are earthquakes part of God’s judgment on sin?
  5. Will the new Earth have earthquakes?

I have my thoughts on these, but I’d be interested in some comments first.

Father, I pray for those in Chile who are suffering in many ways as a result of today’s earthquake. I pray that those who have lost loved ones would be comforted. I pray that those who are injured would get the necessary medical attention. I pray for rescuers to find those who need rescuing. I pray for a quick restoration of essential services, such as water and electricity. I pray for good leadership from the government at all levels. I pray for rich generosity from many people around the world. And I pray that there would be people who would turn from the uncertain things of this world to the savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace and Peace

February 27, 2010 - Posted by | Creation in the Bible, Geology, Natural Disasters | ,

6 Comments »

  1. Kevin,

    I’ve been a reader for a short time. I actually found your blog just when you were making the job transition and slowed the posts down, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of your old stuff. Great questions. Here’s my take.

    1. Since we have overwhelming evidence that earthquakes occurred before man came on the scene, they must be a part of God’s good creation.

    2. Morality only applies to spiritual beings (humans, angels, and God). So earthquakes have no moral value.

    3. Since it appears that earthquakes are part of God’s original creation, and they are essentially evidence of the processes that God used to create the earth’s crust, they must bring him glory like all creation.

    4. This is one of those questions that causes a lot of Christians to default to a young-earth view. From a young-earth perspective, it’s easy to place things like earthquakes into the “judgement on sin” box. But adopting a view that accepts the scientific consensus on the age of the earth requires old-earthers to ask difficult questions like this.

    My answer is simply, “I don’t know.” Clearly, God has the right to use natural disasters to bring about judgement, but I don’t buy the argument that one region of the world is more evil than another. The US may have been thoroughly evangelized, but the hypocrisy and moral degradation in our country is probably a more serious offense to God than people practicing VooDoo (as judging by Jesus’ assessment of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which he said the day of judgement would be more severe for religious hypocrites). So, when evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson say that these other regions are being judged through earthquakes or tsunamis, a chill goes down my spine. It is pretty clear, however, that there is biblical precedent for God using natural disasters for judgement, starting with the great flood.

    In discussing these disasters with people, I tend to focus on the great opportunity they provide for people to show the love of Christ. To use a cliche, we don’t understand God’s economy. Moments of great tragedy are opportunities for great charity. So, when it comes to natural disasters, I tend to avoid proclaiming that God has judged, and see them as an opportunity to point to God’s love as he brings about redemption in the aftermath.

    5. If the new earth has earthquakes, I doubt they will not be seen as “disasters.” Since there will be no pain or tears, I can conceive of a new earth where earthquakes are more akin to roller coaster rides…all the thrill with none of the risk. :)

    I appreciate your questions. Because of difficult issues like this, I find the young-earth view to be appealing from a theological perspective. But I find it totally untenable after an honest investigation of the facts. This struggle is something I call the Tension. I think it’s a real part of any honest and thoughtful Christian’s experience. I look forward to hearing your perspective.

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    Comment by James | March 1, 2010

  2. Kevin:

    I believe James had some excellent insights and I would like to add to his thoughts. The idea of natural disasters being bad depends largely on what the purpose of the universe and all of life really is. Our answer to this in some way dictates what we feel God owes us.

    Atheists usually posit that the only purpose for the universe is for us to have a happy place to live. With this being the only purpose they conclude that God should have made the universe and earth “perfect,” free of all hardships, pain and suffering. If he made the universe with painful things on purpose, then he must be evil. If he made it this way because it was the best he could do, then he must be incompetent.

    Christians often come to a similar conclusion, but with different motivation. They propose that the universe was made “perfect” and then we messed it up. This releases them from the idea that God could somehow be behind catastrophes. I have yet to find any scriptural backing for this. Isaiah 45 states that God creates disasters and in Job 38 God takes credit and glory from carnivorous activity. Christians often site Genesis 1:31 and say that the original creation was “perfect.” The word used, however, is “Mead tob.” It means “very good,” not perfect. This may be difficult to accept, but we need to remember that God’s ways are much higher than ours and we need to take God at his word even when we find it difficult to reconcile with our limited viewpoint.

    If the universe’s only purpose were to provide for us a nice place to live, then I would agree that there is a problem. But the Bible tells us that there are more purposes for the universe that just this. It also glorifies God in many ways; it declares His righteousness, reveals His justice, it teaches not only us but also the angles. Through it He will reveal the justice of his wrath. If we also consider our salvation, it showcases his Mercy. Not just now, but for all eternity (Eph 1). We tend to focus on how we feel about something today, but for believers, our lives will have the most significance eternally. Yet this is all anchored in what God is going right now. We grieve when hurtful things happen we cannot understand, but we need to be careful about judging God, or changing our theology to suit our feelings. We need to be aware that our perspective is very limited and God’s multiple purposes for the universe and us are far beyond our comprehension.

    We’re coming up upon tornado season where I live. If someone I love gets caught in one and killed, I will be devastated. But I won’t change how I interpret the bible based on how I feel. God’s love for me is not dependent on him being nice to me as I see it. But the measure of my love for Him is completely dependent on how I respond when he allows me to be hurt deeply.

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    Comment by Jim Stearns | March 1, 2010

  3. To answer the questions:

    1. Indirectly. They are the result of physical principles such as Newton’s third Law, the frictional force and tectonics. All these were created by God ex nihilo at the beginning.

    2. Neutral. Loss of life and devastation only occurs when humans are affected. This usually happens when they live in active seismic zones or areas affected by other earthquake caused hazards such as tsunamis and mass wasting (which are also the result of physical principles… created by God). For example, Canadians living on the Shield are probably a more irreligious and impious lot than the Catholic Chileans, but so far God hasn’t sent a massive earthquake to wipe them off the map, because the area is geologically stable. Chile and Haiti lie across major faults.

    3. In a purely technical sense, probably yes. In that He has created physical laws and principles that govern earthquake characteristics ie. the different refraction times of S, P-wave travel through rocks of different densities. By understanding these properties, geotechnical engineers can advise their structural and civil brethren on better building codes to reduce structural damage and resulting casualties.

    As for the great loss of life, God is glorified in the actions of rescuers, rebuilders, and ordinary people that band together to survive. This is a question that can be effortlessly twisted into something it should not mean. I know that I will be flayed alive in certain arenas for stating the above. I’m not trying to be callous whatsoever, just elaborating on what Job declares, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Lord”

    4. When specifically mentioned in the Bible, yes. Otherwise, we are arrogantly presumptuous to call it one way or the other.

    5. I don’t know. Depends on if God will order that world using the same physics as in this one. If He does, maybe he will locate plentiful resources for human subsistence in the middle of stable cratons and/or sedimentary basins.

    Gosh, these are good questions. But totally open to abuse by any one with an axe to grind: against Christianity ie. “How could a ‘good’ God allow ABC to happen…..?”

    OR… a response full of self righteous puffery, “God is judging those ‘sinners’ for their wickedness by sending event XYZ to make them suffer, while we sit here and pontificate about ‘how godly our nation state is'” etc. ad nauseum.

    The former statement is very hard for me to counter because I want to give the asker a response that will glorify God and plant a seed.

    Then second statement is easier to respond to:
    Matt 5:45 (ESV) “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

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    Comment by Tannen | March 3, 2010

  4. 1. Are earthquakes part of God’s good creation, or did they commence with the human fall into sin?

    Gods were invented by men to explain things like earthquakes in a time before scientific knowledge had become advanced enough to provide explanations based on physical principles.

    Earthquakes existed before mankind, so the actions of men had nothing to do with their genesis.

    2. Are earthquakes good or evil? (or neutral?)

    Earthquakes are a force of nature, not directed by sentient beings, and as such are neither good nor evil.

    On the similar question of whether they’re harmful or beneficial, it’s a bit of both. They’re extremely harmful when they cause the destruction of things we value. On the other hand, without the tectonic movement that gives rise to earthquakes, it’s doubtful that dry land would exist on earth, and without dry land it’s doubtful that there would be any human beings to ponder such questions. So I’m glad we have them, and trust we will learn better how to live with them as we grind on as a species.

    3. Is God glorified in any way by earthquakes?

    The people who glorify God seem to think everything that happens is for God’s glory. To those of us who don’t believe in such beings, the answer would be “no”.

    4. Are earthquakes part of God’s judgment on sin?

    Again, “no”. I don’t understand how anyone could argue otherwise, but the Falwells and the Robertsons certainly join certain Biblical prophets in claiming that they are, even though such calamities strike the righteous as well as the corrupt without any apparent discrimination. To my view, justice would require more discerning judgment.

    5. Will the new Earth have earthquakes?

    This world is all we have and all we are ever likely to have, but I’m fascinated by those who seem to reason thusly: God is all-good and all-powerful, and could have created a world without pain and suffering. But such a world would be boring and static. But he will create a perfect world without pain and suffering anyway, just not yet. And it won’t be boring and static, but joyful and glorious. Forever.

    I’m glad you’re working again, and I hope the job is satisfying professionally and financially.

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    Comment by lightsmith | March 7, 2010

  5. 1. Are earthquakes part of God’s good creation, or did they commence with the human fall into sin?

    Yes, they are part of God’s good creation. Man’s fall into sin only explains our fear of earthquakes; it does not explain earthquakes themselves.

    2. Are earthquakes good or evil? (or neutral?)

    They must be good as they are part of God’s creation. However, Satan has exploited them quite effectively, as evidenced by the misery and despair they cause in our race. The only effective response for our race at this point is to endure them and be quick and effective to help sufferers.

    3. Is God glorified in any way by earthquakes?

    Yes. He displays his power with them, and they reflect many attributes of God in a dim and imperfect way.

    4. Are earthquakes part of God’s judgment on sin?

    Absolutely. When the Father poured out his wrath on the Son, there was an earthquake at that moment. Therefore, they are definitely affiliated with judgment. Furthermore, the only possible comfort for any earthquake sufferer is to reflect on this ancient earthquake incident and seek a kind of solidarity with the Son. Other types of coping mechanisms are proximate and of little spiritual effectiveness compared to this.

    5. Will the new Earth have earthquakes?

    Probably, but with our glorified bodies they will not cause pain or tears. We could experience their awesomeness without any fear of death at that point.

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    Comment by Mairnéalach | March 8, 2010

  6. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Numbers 16 and Korah’s rebellious gang. Here we see God using an earthquake to swallow up folk who shouldn’t have challenged the authority invested in Moses and Aaron.

    I think it was pretty big deal at the time, The Sons of Korah obviously thought so as they wrote the odd Psalm.

    So in answer to question 2 – I’d be neutral. An earthquake is no more good or evil than a Palm Tree. It just happens to be part of creation.

    Question 3: Is God glorified by earthquakes – Certainly. He used one to restore reverence in Him and his name in Numbers 16. He uses believers to mop up in disaster zones, which in turn leads souls to Christ.

    Q4: Are earthquakes part of God’s judgement on sin. They certainly can be, although I think it’s difficult to say an earthquake in a region means that area is any better or worse than any other. Mind you Haiti as a nation once (I am told) made a pact with the devil, look where that ones gone….

    Q5: Why would there be earthquakes in the new earth/heaven?
    I can’t think of one reason why there might be. What would they achieve. Is there actually any “Terra Firma” in this location? I doubt it.

    Q1: How can we know – red herring that one.

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    Comment by snowgood | November 1, 2010


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