By Bob and Rose Weiner
Published November 1, 1989
Have God’s ways and methods of dealing with humanity really changed over time?
Some of the effects of the 1989 earthquake were observable in the behavior of San Francisco’s people. Walls came down which separated people who never spoke to one another on the streets. People were being kind to one another and helping one another in ways that before the earthquake were not imagined. Crime and looting were down instead of up.
There seems to be some connection between the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the events that are happening in America today. At the turn of the century, companies of people banded together to ask God for a revival. God used the San Francisco earthquake to bring conviction, to prepare people for such a revival.
Likewise, the prayer revival which preceded the 1988 elections began to gather momentum when three major prayer ministries called the nation to 40 days of fasting and prayer in light of the moral crisis which had reached epidemic proportions in our nation.
Is there a message from God in the earthquake or in the eye of a storm?
John Wesley, the great 18th century revivalist and founder of Methodism, commented on the meaning of earthquakes: “Of all the judgments which the righteous God inflicts on sinners here, the most dreadful and destructive is an earthquake.”
Most of the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area would agree at least in part with John Wesley’s statement. Various area residents echoed Wesley’s sentiment:
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through.” – “I was petrified.” – “I didn’t know if it was the end of the world.” – “I thought I was going to die.” – “In an earthquake there is no place to run.” – “I thought this was going to be it.” – “It scared me. Really scared me. Anyone who wasn’t must be brain dead.”
A visiting journalist for the World Series reflected, “Through it all, there prevails a sense of wonder about the powerful hand of nature. Think of all the technological improvements that have made daily life so much more comfortable in the last few decades. Yet nature can render them impotent so quickly through an earthquake, hurricane, forest fire or flood. In a heavyweight tussle between mankind and the natural world, it’ll never be hard to figure out who the unbeaten champion is. Tuesday produced another first-round knockout.“1
After all has been said and done, the science of earthquake predicting has not progressed a great deal. While the “big one,” anticipated along the San Andreas Fault toward the south, could occur sometime in the next 80 years, it could also happen tomorrow, or next year. The big one “could be in Southern California tomorrow or any time, “ said Peter Olson, a geophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.2
Besides the California Coast, other areas in the United States are particularly vulnerable – the Eastern Seaboard and cities like Chicago, Memphis, Buffalo, and New York. In fact, fault lines run through almost all of the states of the Union – except for Texas, Florida, and Louisiana – the states subject to the most hurricanes.
Unlike California, the majority of states are ill prepared for any kind of earthquake activity. Memphis, for example, is sitting on a major fault line which once caused such a big hole through quake activity that the Mississippi flowed backwards for one day to fill up what is now known as Reelfoot Lake. There are no building codes to speak of in Memphis and most buildings are constructed of brick. A big quake would make Memphis a virtual mud slide and produce a disaster equal to the Mexico City earthquake or worse.
Although the skyscrapers of San Francisco withstood this quake of 6.9 on the Richter scale without a broken glass, who is to say that the same buildings could withstand a blast of a greater magnitude? Chinatown, which was expected to collapse because of its masonry construction, stood while a portion of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, which was supposed to stand quakes of the highest magnitude, collapsed. But then we must always remember the Titanic. Man’s greatest efforts to make a structure which is immovable await the test.
A writer for USA Today entitled her column about the earthquake, “Heaven to Earth: This is God talking.” She observes, “Without tragedy, it makes you wonder how God can get our attention. Usually, we are busy pushing God away. Editorial writers argue it’s unconstitutional to pray before a football game but fail to criticize violent sports or the flasks of booze in the hip pockets of the fans. The churches are busier building bigger buildings than helping the poor. And in the schools, the Supreme Court has pushed God out. Now dope reigns supreme. Maybe only in the eye of a storm or at an epicenter of an earthquake do we understand that our happiness and security depends less on manpower than on the grace of God – the very Someone many of us ignore until the earth comes tumbling down.“3
With all of our sophisticated knowledge of science and nature and our supposed unbelief in a God who interacts in the affairs of man, there seems to be a primeval knowledge in the heart of mankind that tells us that this was more than a display of nature’s power. This was an act of God. And if it was an act of God, what does it mean? A voice within seems to cry out, “Search for the meaning!”
It seems, that many people received that message loud and clear. According to one Oakland resident, that is exactly what happened. She remarked, “Many people joined the church after the quake. They were trying to get saved.“4
A young man interviewed on the streets was asked why he was doing volunteer work. He responded, “Well, I was sitting in my apartment watching television and I thought that I couldn’t just sit there continuing my boring existence. I had to get out and risk my life helping others.”
Another woman remarked, “I had a lot of nice things, antiques, silver. But now those things don’t seem to matter like I thought they would. I’m just glad to be alive.” These are the kind of thoughts and actions that seem to surface when disaster awakens the soul of man to the eternal questions of life.
As the god of sports took a back seat, sports writer Hubert Mizell remarked that in light of the quake, “mere athletic events are as insignificant as an ant scaling an elephants back.”
What is the message from God in the earthquake and in the storm? Is it a coincidence that the Azusa Street Revival began shortly after the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906?
In Numbers 11:1, we see that when God began to judge sin in the camp of Israel, fire began to break out on the outskirts of the camp. As we close out the decade of the ’80s, the East Coast has been stricken with a hurricane, the destruction of which hasn’t been felt in a century; and the West Coast has been hit with an earthquake, the impact of which hasn’t been felt in this nation for almost a century, with the “big one” still hanging over all heads.
As in the days of Israel, God’s judgment is breaking out on the edge of the camp. His anger is arising as a result of the outcry of His people to judge sin and turn our nation back to God. He is moving through His judgment to bring conviction and a fear of the Lord. He is moving to make ready a people prepared for the Lord and an outpouring of the Spirit of God – destined to be perhaps the greatest revival the world has ever known.
In California’s earthquake, we can behold both the kindness and the severity of God. In the divine perspective of things, God timed the event to coincide with the World Series to get the attention of the entire nation at one time. In a stadium with concrete overhanging stands, 30,000 people could have been destroyed at once. The Nemmitz freeway could have been jammed with cars bumper to bumper, but most people had gotten off work early to either attend the World Series or watch it on TV. Cars were found, for the most part, at a distance of 60 feet apart. At the writing of this article, the death toll doesn’t seem to be as high as once thought because the freeway was not filled to its usual capacity.
Visiting journalists from all over the nation were in the Bay Area to cover the World Series. As a result, they were able to bring the impact of the quake back to their hometown papers. The nation, tuned in to major networks to watch the coverage of the World Series was an eyewitness to the quake. The emotion and trauma had an impact on the entire nation, bringing a sobering and a soul searching effect to many – otherwise known as the fear of God.
What does the decade of the ’90s hold? One earthquake specialist stated that while some of his colleagues have longer range projections as to when the “big one” could occur, it was his gut feeling that the ’90s would be full of earthquake activity. “Nine” in the Bible is a number that represents judgment. The 1990s, marked by the number 9, will most probably be a decade of judgment. The world will go shaking, rocking, and rolling into the 21st century, as God judges sin in the church, sin in the world, and moves to judge the principalities and powers in heavenly places, the rulers of the darkness of this world.
As this judgment occurs, multitudes of men, women and children are going to turn to the Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ the Lord, who came not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. This will most possibly begin to usher in the reign of Christ in which every nation, tongue, tribe and people will come to acknowledge His Lordship. “When God’s judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).
What is the place for the righteous during this time? God instructed Israel in just such times, “My people, go into your rooms. Shut your doors behind you. Hide in your rooms for a short time. Hide until God’s anger is finished.” Jesus completed by saying, “And when you pray, you should go into your room and close the door. Then pray to your Father who cannot be seen. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you. And when you pray, you should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, we pray that your name will always be kept holy. We pray that your kingdom will come. We pray that what You want will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.’”
The church of the ’90s must be a church that is bathed in prayer. For God will make known his manifold wisdom through the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:10-11). This means, in short, that God is going to use a praying people, to clear out the heavens of demonic hosts to release the multitudes for salvation. The manifold wisdom of God will be needed to do this. And this kind of knowledge will be revealed in prayer.
To avoid the judgments of God it is important for God’s people to stay in close fellowship with the Spirit of God so that when warnings of impending danger would be given, we might be in a place to receive that information. Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Christians were warned through prayer to escape the city. The majority who took heed to the warning escaped. Those who were left in the city fell in the judgment.
Many tragedies will be avoided as, out of a place of prayer, God’s people endeavor to be led by His Spirit. When a building on a street corner one block away crumbles, prayer can make all the difference.
Finally, as multitudes of people sit in the valley of decision, it is a praying people, sensitive to the Spirit of God, who will be able to go out with the power of God and the message of salvation. Religious hype, pharisaical attitudes, and pious platitudes will avail nothing. Human effort will not be able to do the job. The One who called and empowered those mighty revivalists who changed the world is getting ready to do it again!
We must be in a place to hear the voice of Him Who once walked on the shores of Galilee saying, “Children, have you caught anything? Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” And so they did and they were not able to draw in the net because of the multitude of fish.
1 Fred Roush, “For Having Survived, A New Appreciation,” Gainesville Sun, Gainesville, Florida, October. 19, 1989, p. 6A.
2 Albert Sehlstedt Jr., “But What About the Big One?” Gainesville Sun, Gainesville, Florida, October 19, 1989, p. 1A.
3 Barbara Reynolds, “Heaven to Earth: This is God talking,” USA Today, October 20, 1989, p. 13A. 4 Ibid.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved
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Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.
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Watch a clip from Martin Luther.
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