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Whence and why?

Finding meaning in the earthquake in Turkey

Issue: "Turkey: A terrible toll," Sept. 4, 1999

Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). When love has wept and worked, it must have some answers. Not all the answers, but some. So we turn to the Word of God for help.

No earthquakes in the Bible are attributed to Satan. Many are attributed to God. This is because God is Lord of heaven and earth. "He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him" (Luke 8:25). "He sends forth His command to the earth ... He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? ... He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow" (Psalm 147:15-18). "He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke" (Psalm 104:32). "[He] shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble" (Job 9:6).

And if the devils try to intrude on his control, "He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him" (Mark 1:27).

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Earthquakes are ultimately from God. Nature does not have a will of its own. And God owes Satan no freedom. What havoc demons wreak, they wreak with God's permission. That's the point of Job 1-2 and Luke 22:31-32.

God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose. "He also is wise and will bring disaster" (Isaiah 31:2). "The Lord is good" (Psalm 100:5).

Therefore, God had good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedy in Turkey that took thousands of lives on Aug. 17, 1999. Indeed he had hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?" (Romans 11:33-34). "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Yet there are possible purposes revealed in the Bible that we may pray will come to pass.

First, the end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation are meant as calls to repentance to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16).

Second, the end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as "the beginning of the birth pangs." That is, they are a wake-up call to this oblivious world that God's kingdom will soon be born; so be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ. God's unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21).

Third, the message for all the world is that life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to Him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to His own will and owes us nothing. He has a right to children (2 Samuel 12:15) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner rather than defraud Him till it is too late.

Fourth, the power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). Most of the world does not fear the Lord and therefore lacks saving wisdom.

Finally, when the earth shakes under your feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? Answer: God.

May the Lord fulfill two other purposes for this painful catastrophe: That Christians repent of worldliness. "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). That Christians, around the world, step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father's judgment.
John Piper is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

John Piper
John Piper

John is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.

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