April 18, 2015
It was a wake-up call, at 5:12a…
On April 18th, 1906 – 110 years ago this morning – the 400,000 residents of San Francisco had another hour before sun-up, but their dark world got darker as the earth shook for over a minute. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake – and the fires that raged afterward – killed 3000, left half the city homeless, and imprinted the city for a century as memories of the devastation survive beyond the survivors.
American regions known for fires, floods, tornados and hurricanes often note their choice of their local risks over the presumed inevitability of earthquakes in California. Statistical probabilities of death or destruction by various types of tragedy do nothing to alleviate human fear: there is something primal about the anguish of feeling the earth move and then seeing great constructs become great collapses.
It’s not just a history lesson, from 40,177 days ago: world news from the last week rose above the Hillary/Bernie/Donald/Ted/John version of Survivor. People in Ecuador, Japan, Vanuatu, Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Bihar, Pakistan and Afghanistan are reeling in the aftermath of earthquakes.
The question is coming up these days: is all of this geological insecurity just coincidence, or is our planet in some kind of quake mode that has some deeper meaning?
During the last week of Jesus’ human life – between the Triumphal Entry (into the Jerusalem) and the Triumphal Exit (from Joseph’s tomb), some far-reaching conversations were captured for the biblical record: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains…” (Matthew 24:3-8)
Our generation has staked a claim on progress, on so many fronts. Beating disease, expanding net access, commercializing space travel, communicating late-breaking events to everyone, everywhere on mobile devices, performing surgeries – robotically – with hundreds of miles between doctor and patient. We do it all. If a breakthrough can be perceived, the outcome can be achieved… or, so it seems.
Except with earthquakes.
Without warning, without invitation: the structures that house families and tech companies and art collections and classrooms and cancer wards and legislatures and retail inventories and sports venues and animal shelters and freeway overpasses shake and detach and crumble and collapse. All that man can build – and, everything man can put inside – cannot stand against the uncontrolled and unpredicted moving of the ground. Who pulls those strings?
Fifty years ago – last week – Time magazine ran the infamous cover story: “Is God Dead?” In 2008, the Los Angeles Times named that “one of the 10 magazine covers that shook the world.”
Magazine covers don’t “shake the world” like earthquakes do. Maybe the One whose very existence was questioned by Time is the One who really shakes the world, literally…
Across the timeline of biblical history, earthquakes were never a device used by the Divine to express affirmation and encouragement: they are always a warning – or, a judgment – expressed toward humans who are at odds with the Almighty.
I wonder how He’s feeling about things right now…
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