BOOK REVIEW: "WHEN THE
". . . AND EARTHQUAKES, IN DIVERS PLACES"
by Doug Ward
MARCH 2006---Over the last two years, major earthquakes, hurricanes, and typhoons have hit various portions of the globe. Not surprisingly, there has been much speculation about what particular messages God might be trying to convey to the world through these disasters. For example, Hurricane Katrina has been linked in some conservative Christian circles to such things as the sin and debauchery of
The recent string of disasters has also been seen by a number of prophets, both religious and secular, as a portent of a more monumental cataclysm to come. Some Christian prophecy enthusiasts suggest that an increase in natural disasters is an indicator that Christ will return very soon, while some environmental prognosticators see the disasters as a warning that catastrophic global climate change lies ahead.
What neither the prophecy preachers nor the global warming alarmists have been able to produce, as far as I know, is evidence that the overall frequency of natural disasters is actually on the rise. As journalist Richard Abanes documents in his book End-Time Visions (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998), hurricanes and earthquakes, famine, disease, and war have been a constant feature of life on earth throughout recorded history, with no clear pattern in their occurrence.
In his Olivet prophecy, Jesus mentioned such events as characteristic of this age but not in themselves a sign that the end is imminent:
"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. All these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matt. 24:6-8, KJV).
The continuing calamities listed in these verses do send a message to us. They are reminders that we live in a fallen world still awaiting a final redemption (see Rom. 8:19-23), a world in which there are always people who need our help. They are invitations to pray, to seek God in repentance and in intercession for others. But they are not reliable predictors of the timing of the end of the world.
Blasts from the Past
One way to gain some helpful perspective on today's natural disasters is to learn more about such events from the past. There are a number of recent books on this subject. (Although there has been no demonstrable increase in the occurrence of natural disasters, there seems to be a proliferation of books about them.) For example, Erik Larson's book Isaac's Storm (Crown Publishers, 1999) tells the story of the 1900
One of my favorites among the new "disaster books"
is Jay Feldman's When the Mississippi Ran Backwards (Free Press, 2005),
which chronicles the most powerful series of earthquakes in
Fortunately the region most affected was sparsely populated,
so that the number of casualties was small (probably around a hundred). New
Although not many people died in the quakes, the geography
of the region was noticeably altered. During the strongest tremors large chunks
of land and many trees fell into the
Messages from God?
Feldman describes two striking coincidences related to the New Madrid earthquakes. One involves Lilburne Lewis, a nephew of Thomas Jefferson who lived in
Hoping to destroy the evidence of his crime, Lewis had George's body chopped into pieces and thrown into a fire in the fireplace of his kitchen cabin. But later that night the first of the New Madrid earthquakes hit, collapsing the chimney and putting out the fire. So on December 16, Lewis had the rest of his slaves rebuild the chimney, incorporating George's remains into the masonry.
Lilburne Lewis's cover up proved to be unsuccessful, however. The February 7 quake brought down the rebuilt chimney, releasing some body parts once again. Before the damage could be repaired, a dog ran away with George's head. A few weeks later, a neighbor who noticed the dog chewing on the head rescued the evidence and took it to the local authorities. Lewis was charged with murder, with the trial scheduled for June. But before the trial could be held, Lewis shot himself on April 10. The shaking of the earth, which had continued through March and into April, finally stopped a few days later.
After reading the story of Lilburne Lewis, I can't help but
think of a phrase from Num. 32:23: "and be sure your sin will find you
out." I am also reminded of the biblical metaphor of the
In 1811 the great American Indian leader Tecumseh traveled
around the western frontier, rallying support for an alliance of tribes in
opposition to the
On December 16 Tecumseh did not happen to be in
Recovery and Revival
The disaster books show us how little has changed over the years; it is easy to detect parallels between recent disasters and ones from the past. One example: After the 2005 hurricanes, government relief efforts have been inefficient and marred by fraud and corruption. The same was certainly true, only more so, after the New Madrid earthquakes. In February 1815, three years after the earthquakes, Congress passed the New Madrid Relief Act, the first federal disaster relief measure. It allowed
Unfortunately, people in the New Madrid area did not hear
about the relief act for months. In the meantime, land speculators from
Disasters also tend to promote religious revival. In 1812,
many Americans were convinced that the end of the world was near, and revival
meetings were well attended. The Western Conference of the
File translated from
On 02 Mar 2006, 11:13.