Floods and Earthquakes

Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

We have been inundated with news of the flooding of the Mississippi River and its tributaries the past several months. We have seen the pictures, over and over again, of homes washed away, of possessions destroyed, of croplands covered with water. We are told that, as far as damage is concerned, this flood has been the most costly disaster in the history of our country. It is said that, this is the kind of flood that might strike once every 500 years. Some have described it as a “flood of Biblical proportions.”

Not long ago we were hearing reports of the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. Of that storm it was said that it was the most costly disaster in the history of our country. The claim was made that it was a once-in-a- century storm (and I believe there were three such storms that struck various parts of the world in this same year).

One asks: what is going on in this creation? We are supplied answers: devastating storms happen in cycles – we expect one “bad” storm or disaster perhaps every century. We are told that the floods and terrible storms are the result of a warming of the -Pacific – the El Nino current is the cause. We are reminded of, terrible storms of the past centuries, where literally hundreds of thousands died. So: “What’s new?”

Scripture speaks of earthquakes. In Amos 1:1 and inZechariah 14:5 we read of great, earthquakes that occurred in the days of Jeroboam and, later in the days of Uzziah. Time was measured in relation to the occurrence of those earthquakes.

Floods too are mentioned in Scripture. And who does not know of that great flood in the days of Noah when the whole earth was- covered with water and only eight souls survived?

One can examine history books and find that there have been many disastrous events in this earth. I point out a few. Rome was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 476. Antic& had some 250,000 people die in an earthquake in 526. In 1556 in Northern China 830,000 people died. In 1707 200,000 people were killed in an earthquake in Tokyo. Floods likewise killed many through the centuries. .In 1887, at Henan, China 900,000 died. In 1889 at Johnstown, PA 2,200 died in a flood when a dam broke. Six thousand died in 1900 in a Galveston, TX flood after a hurricane. A million people died in North China in 1938 when dikes were blown up, with resulting flooding. In 1970 some 200,000 people lost their lives in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) as a result of a flood generated by a cyclone.

By comparison, the flooding of the Mississippi basin appears minor.

We can dismiss the disasters of which we hear as a “quirk of nature.” We can tell ourselves that these things have always happened. We might be able to find scientific explanations for what has been taking place. But is this the answer? Christ, in Matthew 24, speaks of those signs that precede His return on the clouds of glory. In verse 7 He reminds His disciples of the coming of “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” He reminds us further, in verse 8, that these “are the beginning of sorrows (the beginning of the birth pangs).” This tells us that such “disasters” have always been taking place. This is as the birth-pangs of a woman. But the pain becomes increasingly more intense as the time for deliverance approaches. So we can expect earthquakes, floods, winds throughout all of history. Still, as the end approaches, we will become more aware of these signs- and recognize in their intensity that Christ’s coming is at hand.

That unusual things are happening, even the general population is beginning to realize. In a cartoon in the Grand Rapids Press, a Congressional budget committee is pictured around a conference table. Behind them is a chart listing “disaster cost.” On the chart, with the line of costs rapidly rising, there is listed: “Hugo, earthquake, drought, tornadoes, Andrew, Hawaii, Miss. flood.” One congressman intones, “Please help us not to have any more disasters . . . at least not in this fiscal year!” Designed to be somewhat humorous, and certainly not pious, the cartoon nevertheless speaks to the increasing burdens upon the country because of unusual disasters.

The U.S. News & World Report, July 26, 1993, reports on the Mississippi flood. It contained this interesting observation: “While the floods were certainly unexpected, the United States has had unexpectedly large disasters – droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes, riots – every year since 1989.” This surely appears to be an acknowledgment by the news media that something unusual is taking place that will have an increasingly significant effect upon our country and its prosperity. This throws the proverbial “monkey wrench” into the efforts of government to gain control of run-away deficit spending.

The situation within the realm of creation is recognizably changing. Thought many speak of “cycles,” or emphasize that these things have always been occurring throughout history, there is a difference.

The first, obvious difference is the way today’s media make all peoples aware of what is taking place. Who has not seen pictures of houses floating down the Mississippi? Who has not seen the spread of flood waters over vast areas of farmland? Who has not observed the weeping people as they behold their houses inundated by water and mud? Not only have these disasters of recent years been unusually devastating, but the nation and world have been made aware of all of this by way of media reports.

We are also to regard the signs in creation in conjunction with all of the other signs about us. Each sign is as it were a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. One piece does not make the picture. But when each piece is fit together, the puzzle is complete. So we recognize that when wars and rumors of wars fit in with the whole of the puzzle, when plagues and divers diseases also can be fit in, when man’s rapidly expanding knowledge and amazing inventions are placed in this puzzle — the picture is almost complete.

So what does the future hold for us? Certainly we can expect additional disasters. We are being warned repeatedly that major earthquakes can be expected in places like California — with its large population and potential for many deaths. We are told how easily a new and deadly virus could appear — destroying masses of people through disease. We read of the “greenhouse effect” that will likely cause far more turbulent weather conditions — including more hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, etc.

But we, children of God, expect many of these things to occur (probably in our lifetimes) because Scripture tells of them. Christ Himself presented them to us inMatthew 24 as signs that must precede His return. The clear testimony of all the events taking place about us and in light of Christ’s instruction is this: the return of Christ is at hand.

What does all of this demand of the church and its members? Surely the basic requirement is watchfulness. The events of our age affect us, affect our thinking and actions as well. It is but a short step between observing and imitating. The world’s attitudes and explanations soon are adopted also by those with in the churches. If the churches refuse to heed Christ’s Word, and we rely rather on man’s explanations, then the events we notice about us will mean nothing to us. He who watches will also believe what Christ has said concerning the end of the age.

Watchfulness requires also a thorough knowledge of the Word of God. The world (and the devil) has made every effort to divert attention from the Word. With its many forms of entertainment, the world has sought to give even the Christian but little time to study the Word of God. He who watches does so with the Word in his hand. The Word warns of the evils that arise. The Word encourages and strengthens. We ought to remember that well when we attend church each Sabbath Day. We ought to study carefully in society in order that there too we may increase in knowledge. The Word is the Sword of the Spirit.

Watchfulness demands prayer. We know that our strength can not preserve us in the evil day. Only God’s power and grace are sufficient. Therefore we come in prayer for strength. And God does provide.

Look up! The coming of the Lord is at hand. Our response must be, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!