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How Should A Christian Think About Earthquakes?
by Dr. Andrew Corbett 31st March 2011

Recent large earthquakes in both New Zealand, Japan, Chile, and Borneo have led many Christians to speculate about what God might be possibly saying through these catastrophes. Other Christians are struggling with interpreting these same events from the perspective of trying to understand how a God of love and power could allow such massive destruction and loss of human life?

WHEN IS AN EARTHQUAKE THE JUDGMENT OF GOD?

The Bible reveals that God uses phenomena such as earthquakes to speak, discipline and even punish. This is deduced from how earthquakes are referred to through out the Bible. For example, there was an earthquake –

  • coinciding with the death of Christ (Matt. 27:54);
  • causing the release of Paul and Silas from prison (Acts 16:26)
  • resulting in the destruction of the temple in AD70 (Rev. 6:12)

Some people speculate that it was an earthquake which destroyed the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), which would make this particular account the first reference to an earthquake in the Bible, but it is more than probable that it was not an earthquake – for reasons which should be clearer shortly.

God declares through various prophets that He would use earthquakes as an instrument of His correction upon His people (Isaiah 29:6; Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5). But this is no small point: the only Biblical references to God using earthquakes in this way was to teach His people something (not Gentiles).

Ah, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped!
Add year to year;
let the feasts run their round…
you will be visited by the LORD of hosts
with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.

Isaiah 29:1, 6

But the Bible doesn’t just describe earthquakes as divine instruments of direct communication (whether that be judgment, punishment or correction). They are part of the natural order which God has ordained to sustain life on earth (earthquakes partly release a build up of tension in the earth tectonic plates). God actually says that not every natural disaster or disturbance is Him speaking or directly acting. For example-

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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

ABOUT NATIONAL JUDGMENTS

It appears Biblically that the only nation God held accountable under the Older Covenant was Israel (and later Judah). All of God’s disciplinary earthquakes during the Older Covenant were used to correct or discipline His people. Some have pointed to the possibility that when Jonah arrived in Nineveh, their willingness to receive his message was partly due to them experiencing a massive earthquake and solar eclipse just prior to his arrival. This may be the case, but notice that the actual result of this event. It served as a sign and wonder to the people of Nineveh to confirm to them Jonah’s preaching. It was not referred to in the Book of Jonah and neither did Jonah threaten that God would send another as His way of punishing them for their sin and wickedness (although he probably wished that he could have!).

God only dealt with nations during the Old Covenant period in a way which had a bearing on His covenant with Israel. That is, if a foreign nation oppressed, attacked, or exiled His people, God would occasionally intervene. We only have to think of God’s dealings with Egypt in rescuing His people in the Exodus to see this. But notice that God’s punitive dealings with a nation was only because they touched His people. Generally, God only consistently dealt in a punitive or disciplinary way with one nation under the Old Covenant: Israel.

In the New Testament times we read of Christ foretelling that there would be earthquakes leading up to the destruction of the Temple and the doing away with of the Old Covenant elements (Temple, priesthood, sacrifices).

There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
Luke 21:11

The Jewish historian who lived during this time of which Christ foretold, wrote-

(286) for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. (287) These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and anyone would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.
Josephus, Flavius, The Works of Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4 Chapter 4

Outside of Israel, we read of God using an earthquake to coincide with Paul and Silas’s release from a Philippian jail (Acts 16:26). But again notice the redemptive pattern continuing into the New Covenant era – God used an earthquake as a sign and a wonder to point people to Christ through the preaching of His servants. As a result of this earthquake a jailer and his family were saved and a church was planted! Yet, at no time did Paul claim that this was God “punishing” the people of Macedonia.

  • Therefore, we see Biblically that-
  • Earthquakes today may be a sign and wonder to point people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
  • Earthquakes are a part of the natural order designed by God to sustain life on our planet.
  • Earthquakes may also be a part of the “groaning” of nature referred to Romans 8 which result in “natural disasters” that cause human groaning.
  • Earthquakes can be used by God to bring about great good even from the midst of terrible tragedy (such as was probably the case in Nineveh during the time of Jonah).

 

HISTORICALLY

Arguably, the earthquake of 614AD, which destroyed parts of Ephesus, was the fulfilment of a warning Christ gave the church there (recorded in Revelation 2). At that time, that church in Ephesus could trace its roots back to the Apostle Paul and later the Apostle John, but the earthquake ended this Ephesian church (shortly after this time Ephesus became an Islamic stronghold).

This possibly raises two issues about how God may intend for earthquakes to be interpreted today. Firstly, they were warned. This is no small point either.

“For the Lord GOD does nothing
without revealing his secret
to his servants the prophets.”

Amos 3:7

If we take Christ’s warning to the Ephesian Church that he would come and remove their candle stick as a warning that there would be consequences for not living out an appropriate corporate witness, then we see the principle of Amos 3:7 enacted. Prophetic warning of judgment through natural means is an established pattern in the Old Testament. It would hardly be less so under the New Covenant.

Secondly, this possible example of how God may have used an earthquake to discipline, was for the preservation of His New Covenant people: the Church. When churches cease to be an appropriate witness for Christ He still uses whatever means necessary to “remove their candlestick.” Individually, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that, “some had fallen asleep” because they had failed to discern the Lord’s Body. Not all church closures are a bad thing, they may even be “a God thing.”

In Luke 13 Jesus is quizzed about the disaster which resulted from the Tower of Siloam falling on 18 worshipers. Human nature tends to interpret such events as “karma” – you get what you deserve. When Christ was asked about this, He corrected these assumptions and stated that if this was God judging “sinners” then we would all have to be judged in a similar way! Us modern-day Pharisees would do well to remember that it’s not just the victims of natural disasters who are sinners – we all are! It’s only God’s prevenient (generally available, as distinct from electing) grace that enables any of us to even be alive!

It should not take a disaster for people to consider their spiritual condition before God and their subsequent eternal destiny, but it is often such disasters which do result in this.

It is not natural disasters which reveal how God feels about sin and wickedness – it’s the Cross!

One of the sad aspects to human nature is our self-deceit about our own invincibility. It is perhaps this unfortunate trait which leads us to build heavily populated cities on earthquake-likely fault-lines, monsoon corridors, bush-fire fuel zones, and cyclically flooding riverside plains – places that God may have never meant for us to settle. When these God-ordained dynamic parts of the world do what God has destined for them to do, people usually die. The wisdom, or lack of, this practice needs to be seriously challenged. In the meantime, the Christian response to those unfortunate souls affected by such disasters is not one of finger-wagging judgment, but one of outstretched arms of compassion.

©  Dr Andrew Corbett, 31st March 2011, Legana Tasmania

[Printable Edition]

Impossible Faith

Some people find faith in God to be impossible. These people have reasons for their impossible faith. Their objections may be intellectual, moral, or emotional. There are three well-known figures who each exemplify each of these objections to faith in God. Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy and Bob Hawke each respectively held these particular objections to Christianity.

The Reliability of The Bible and How Best To Interpret It

The Bible is the most influential book of all time. It’s contents have changed the course of history. It’s story has formed the pattern for all the great literary classics. It also makes the astounding claim that it is the uniquely authoritative revelation from God and therefore has the authority to command our moral behaviour. But if the Bible is not reliable, then its claims are indefensible and Christianity is without foundation! Yet despite this glaring vulnerability, the Bible has withstood rigorous scrutiny and repeated attempts to refute it. Here’s why it is indeed reliable.

What Is Heaven Like?

I honestly used to think that Christianity was all about having the assurance of going to Heaven. But as I learned more about the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth I became curious about the relative scarcity of references to Heaven in the Bible. Yet, while my understanding of the place of Heaven in my Gospel proclamation has been refined, some God-Channel evangelists have headed in the other direction and made Heaven central to their Gospel. Some of these evangelists now even claim to have the spiritual power to make repeated visits there!

Presumably God, the Supreme Being, has a supremely beautiful home, in a supremely magnificent neighbourhood. Amazingly, God invites mankind to move into His neighbourhood- for eternity! But what is Heaven like? Is it possible, as some are now claiming, that we can visit Heaven? While I am going to lead readers to conclude that Heaven is not the Gospel’s focus, if it is the only reason someone is motivated to convert to Christ, then we should rejoice!

The Tragedy of Suicide – And How We Can Help

Suicide hurts. It is motivated by pain, but causes much greater pain. For those affected by suicide the guilt and anguish it produces is almost unbearable. But since suicide is in the Bible, how can we know that it is wrong? How should we regard the sinfulness of suicide? Is it unforgiveable? How can we help avoid suicide? What should those affected by it know after its happened?

The funeral celebrant rang me to warn me. He was used to dealing with sensitive situations but this one had a few extra layers of complexity. He decided to get me involved. He outlined the story to me and then told me the purpose of his call. When a loved one dies there is often a measure of guilt for those left behind. But when the death is caused by suicide that guilt is compounded. Suicide hurts. The funeral celebrant told me that a young man with a diagnosed mental illness, who had professed Christianity, had taken his own life and his devout mother (who we will call “Betty”) was devastated. The celebrant told me that Betty would ring because her guilt was beyond his expertise due to her Biblical understanding of suicide.

How To Handle A Crisis

The definition of a crisis is a calamity or event which disrupts a person’s sense of well- being and lifestyle. It is generally short term and requires immediate action in order to restore balance and control in the person’s life.  The results of crisis are: anxiety, bewilderment, confusion, desperation, anger, helplessness and even apathy. There is an increased sense of dependency upon others, a sense of urgency, and decreased efficiency in decision making and performance. The account of Judah being sieged by the Assyrians in Second Chronicles 32, involves all the aspects of a crisis. The major distinctive is that it involves a nation of people rather than just one person. The “helper” in this instance was their leader – King Hezekiah.

Roman Catholicism Compared With Christianity

Any discussion about religious wars, clergy violations, or child abuse, and it won’t be long before the The Roman Catholic Church unfortunately features. But I want to have a different discussion. And unlike most of the ‘discussions’ of this nature, I’m not on a mission to attack, ridicule, or mock anyone. Rather, I want to look at what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches and asserts and compare it with the Bible’s teaching.

I’ve been a denominational minister for over two decades, so I know that it is possible to be a part of an organisation with which you disagree on some points.  I understand that this is certainly the case with the Roman Catholic Church as there are many priests who do agree with all that their Church asserts. For the purposes of this discussion, I have chosen to take the official Catholic positions on the matters I am comparing with the Biblical data. It is my hope that my Roman Catholic audience will acknowledge that I have represented their views fairly – but it is also my hope that I can appropriately demonstrate how these core views compare with the Biblical prescriptions.

Soli Deo Gloria

The final statement in The Five Pillars of Biblical Christianity is Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone! The reason we are saved is so that we can glorify God. In one sense it is true that reason Christ died for us was to save us from our sins and the just wrath of God for our sin. But the main reason Christ died to redeem us was for the glory of God.

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
John 5:44

The glory that comes from God is when we give God glory. One of Christ’s last prayers was that His disciples would see His glory (John 17:24). Therefore God’s glory, His radiant magnificence, is visible and apprehendable. God’s glory is described several times in Scripture. In this sense, God’s glory is a visible reality (a noun). God’s glory is variously described as being like a cloud (Exodus 16:10), a devouring and consuming fire (Exodus 24:17), fire and smoke-like cloud (2Chronicles 7:1), and a brightly glowing cloud (Ezekiel 10:4).

Where Are The Dead?

Sitting across from me in my office was an older middle-aged man who had just read my draft commentary on the Book of Revelation. He had come from Queensland to visit friends in Tasmania and while in the neighbourhood, dropped in to see me to have chat and get a later edition of my book. He asked a lot of theoretical questions and we discussed the implications of what we discussed. Not until he returned to Queensland did I get an email regarding the chapter on the Resurrection. It was at this point that he confided in me that he was in the advanced stages of cancer and that his query was far more than theoretical.
The ancients believed that death was merely a change of location for the soul of a person. The place of the dead was called “Sheol”. When Jacob thought his son Joseph was dead: “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” (Gen. 37:35 ). When the judgment of God came upon Korah and his rebellion.

TULIP, The Essence of The Reformation

Jesus Christ taught that following Him was only possible through the miracle of conversion. He taught that for someone to authentically claim to be a Christian they needed a spiritual encounter that changed their heart and mind. Without such a miracle, known Biblically as ‘regeneration’, no one could merely decide to be a Christian.
It’s important to appreciate the geo-socio-politico conditions at the time of the Reformation. This was the time when John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and others dared to defend the Biblical revelation against a militant Papal Church which had previously executed similar voices (Wyclif, Tyndale, Savonarola, to name a few) for daring to defy the teaching of the Papacy. One of the central claims of the Papacy was “Universalism”, the doctrine which taught that Christ’s sacrificial death was repeated over and over through the celebration of the Mass and was effective in saving all those in communion with the Roman Catholic Church (thus, universal salvation was activated by works). Since Salvation was universal (everyone is automatically saved), the Papal Church was more concerned about administering this salvation through having people in communion with it, or alternatively, disfellowshipping (or, ex-communicating) those who it disliked. Calvin on the other hand saw that Scripture did not teach universalism, but conversely- that not everyone would be saved.

Leadership Lessons From Shackleton

Sometimes when the going gets tough, you just have to keep going. In fact, success in life – no matter how you define it – can only be achieved with endurance. Surely one of the greatest examples of endurance (if not the greatest) is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his expedition to the Antarctic on the ship: The Endurance. While we ordinary mortals may never have a death defying adventure like Shackleton and his 28 men, we are already in the midst of our own great adventure called life!

Some people want to live their lives by seeking their maximum comfort and avoiding all risks. But this is not the Believer’s lot. We are called to follow Christ- who even though He is entirely consistent in character, is somewhat unpredictable in his plans for His followers. The New Testament calls this “walking by faith” (2Corinthians 5:7). This is why for the Believer, Life is the Greatest Adventure.

When was the last time you did something for Christ that required “great faith” (Matthew 15:28)?

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h J R
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- April 20, 2018, 5:24 am

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- April 18, 2018, 6:15 pm

How can there be a good, loving, all-powerful God if there are natural disasters which kill thousands of innocent v… https://t.co/8tQVr0XS49
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Dr. Andrew Corbett

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