6 a.m. on Tuesday, February 9, 1971. The moon was setting in the west just as the sun was rising in the east. This was the day for the return of the astronauts from the moon with the proud boast of what man had once more accomplished. This was also the day for a complete moon eclipse visible in this entire area. But something quite different became the headlines in the news and occasion for concern for many.
Only a few people were stirring about at this hour. Most of southern California still lay enwrapped in quiet slumber. But their sleep was suddenly disrupted by a violent shaking and rolling of the earth. Actually the earthquake lasted only a minute, and yet in that one minute more than sixty people were killed, many hundreds injured, a hospital, homes and many other buildings were damaged or demolished, highways buckled, overpasses collapsed, bridges crumbled, water mains spouted water, gas mains spewed forth flames, and a break in a dam sent many thousands of evacuees to seek refuge wherever they could. Only a minute passed, and yet it took days to dig bodies out of the debris, and it will take an estimated three years and hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the damage. God has but to touch the earth with the very tip of His smallest finger, and puny man trembles in terror, for even now, two weeks and more than two hundred after-shocks later, every one wonders whether more destruction might still follow in its wake.
This was actually a minor quake compared to many others. The San Francisco earthquake took almost five hundred lives and destroyed nearly thirty thousand buildings. The Long Beach quake of 1932 left one hundred twenty dead, several thousand injured, and wrought forty million dollars damage. The more recent earthquake in southern Alaska took one hundred fourteen lives and caused seven million dollars damage. And then we are still only speaking of what happened within our fifty States. One in Chile in 1960 took six thousand lives. One in northern Iran in 1962 left ten thousand dead, while in 1963 in Yugoslavia slightly more than a thousand were killed.
What is significant is the fact that earthquakes are the outstanding sign of the speedy coming of the Lord. Jesus refers to this when He ties them in with famines and pestilences, and assures us that these are the beginning of sorrows. Matthew 24:7. Just take a look at that passage a moment. The word for sorrows actually means ‘birth pangs.’ Earthquakes are the first labor pains of a creation that looks forward in hope to the arrival of the new creation, in which righteousness will dwell. In a very special way, these are the groanings of which Paul speaks in Romans 8. Have you never heard the rumblings of the bowels of the earth which accompany an earthquake, especially painful to the sensitive ears of dogs, so that they whine in bitter anguish? Earthquakes are the labor pains that increase in intensity as the time of our deliverance approaches. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.” As you might conclude from Hebrews 11:40, we without them cannot be made perfect.
I can well remember when something like this was referred to by the world as “an act of God.” If I am not mistaken, insurance policies carried a clause about calamities of this sort as an act of God. True, I do not like the expression. We can only smile a bit when people speak of special calamities as an act of God, as if sunshine and rain, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, health and sickness, and everything else were not acts of God. It is of inestimable comfort to us at all times to know that these things come not by chance, but by God’s fatherly hand. Lord’s Day 10. But I do want to point out that as the world develops in wisdom there seem to be less “acts of God” than ever before. Modem scientists find natural causes for everything. Although it has eluded them thus far, they are working hard to be able to predict exactly when an earthquake will come. The more man finds natural causes, and the more glibly he can speak of freaks of nature, the less he fears the hand of the Almighty that brings judgments upon the earth. He likes to banish God from all his thoughts, in order to continue defiantly in his wickedness and exalt himself as god upon the earth. It becomes increasingly true: “And they repented not!” Revelation 16:11.
It only seems natural that our thoughts should turn to the cross of Calvary, where Christ triumphed over the powers of darkness. “When Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” The apostle John places this in a slightly different context in John 13:1, but it fits here also. Jesus had triumphantly cried with a cry that reechoed through the heavens, “It is finished.” Then, “when He had cried again with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened.” Matthew 27:50-52. Just think, at the moment when the Lord of Glory gave up the ghost the earth quaked. Rocks were rent. Graces were opened, soon to produce a sort of firstfruits of the resurrection. While children’s mouths were stopped in awe and horror, the very rocks cried out that Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father, triumphant over death.
And then there is that other familiar passage in the 28th chapter of Matthew, “In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, …there was great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.”
6 a.m. That was somewhere near the time when Lot had finally been led out of the city of Sodom, and “the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and all that which grew upon the ground.”
And it was also about 6 a.m. when the women went to the grave only to find that the grave was open and an angel awaited them to bring the glad tidings: The Lord is risen! Is risen indeed! Already then the voice from heaven proclaimed: “Behold, I make all things new!”
The old must pass away to make room for the new.
“For thus saith the Lord of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:6, 7.
To the world God says: I am God, and beside Me there is no other. But to His Church: Behold, I make all things new! To which we can respond in faith:
God is our Refuge and our Strength,
A Helper ever near us;
We will not fear tho’ earth be moved,
For God is night to cheer us.
Although the mountains quake
And earth’s foundations shake,
Tho’ angry billows roar
And break against the shore,
Our mighty God will hear us.