Causes of the Christchurch Earthquakes
In September 1010, Christchurch was struck by an earthquake that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale. Although many buildings collapsed, no one was killed and very few were injured. A second serious earthquake struck Christchurch in February 2011, causing serious damage to buildings and took nearly two hundred lives.
Christians have made various suggestions about the cause of the earthquake. I will discuss these in light of the categories defined in
You will need to read these articles to understand what follows.
1. Sign of the Second Coming
One notion that we have to get out of the way first is the common idea that earthquakes are a sign that the second coming is near. This view, which is widespread among Christians, is based on Jesus big prophecy.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matt 24:7,8).
There are several reasons why the usual interpretation of this passage is wrong.
Jesus said there will be no signs for the second coming. No one knows in advance when Jesus will return.
Jesus big prophecy was a warning about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The disciples heard Jesus say that the stones in the temple would be cast down and had asked when this would happen. Jesus responded with a warning of events that would occur before the fall of Jerusalem. Earthquakes were one of these signs. The city of Pompeii was severely damaged by an earthquake in AD 63. Others took place in Crete, Smyrna Miletus, Laodicea, Colossae, Rome and Judea. Jesus prophecy has already been fulfilled, so it is not a reference to the second coming.
Earthquakes have occurred throughout history, so anyone assuming they are a sign of the second coming will be continually confused.
2. Judgment from God
Many Christians are suggesting that the earthquakes were a genuine act of God. This takes different forms but the most common view is that God has judged Christchurch and is punishing its wickedness.
There are two problems with this view.
God's judgments are always redemptive, so when he judges a nation or city, he warns in advance through a prophet. The prophet describes the sins that are upsetting God and explains their consequences. They prophet tells the people what they must do to avert the judgment, so they can change their behaviour. When Jonah prophesied to Nineveh, the people repented.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened (Jon 3:10).
No prophets warned Christchurch that earthquakes were coming. This event does not meet the criteria for a Judgment of God.
Christchurch has plenty of sin, but it does not seem to be any worse than many other cities and it is better than many others, so there is no reason why God should single it out.
If God caused the earthquake, it hard to explain why Christians died. They would be collateral damage, which seems an odd way for God to work.
3. God is Shaking Christchurch
A related view is that God is shaking the people of Christchurch to open hearts to the gospel. This view is wrong.
The destruction of the earthquake does not look like God's handiwork. He is a creator. The earthquake destroyed. Ascribing destruction to God is bizarre.
Traumatic events are an ineffective method for bringing people to faith. Disasters often push people further away from God. After the first earthquake, church attendance in Christchurch increased for a while but quickly returned to normal. The same happened in America after 9/11.
The Holy Spirit can convict people of sin far more effectively than an earthquake.
I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin (John 16:7,8).
The best way to change human lives is to reach into human hearts. The Holy Spirit is an expert on working in human hearts.
God sometimes uses events to shake the world, but this is only effective if his people are ready to move with the Holy Spirit and minister to those who are shaken. If the church is not ready, shaking a city does far more harm than good. The Church in Christchurch was not prepared to minister in a disaster. Some good stuff has been done by many churches, but Christians have been thin on the ground in the places where people are hurting. If God was going to shake Christchurch for the gospel, the timing was wrong for the church.
God cannot transform society by whacking it over and over with a big stick. Belting it harder and harder will not produce repentance. Repentance is a work of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit needs Christians to carry him in their hearts into the world.
When the harvest is ripe, God needs harvesters. Earthquakes cannot do what the harvesters are not ready to do (John 9:37).
The earthquake has released awful fear and terror among the people of Christchurch. Many will be emotionally crippled for years. This leaves them vulnerable to evil, and hardens their heart to the gospel. The earthquake might have produced as many new alcoholics as there are new Christians.
The Holy Spirit only intervenes where he is invited. The forces of evil have no such scruples. They push in uninvited whenever people are made vulnerable by shock and fear. This means that the forces of evil are often better placed than the Holy Spirit to take advantage of traumatic events.
Spirit of fear and terror have been able to make their home in our Christchurch. The earthquake has given these principalities and powers a stronghold and they will not leave until they are forced out of the city.
The earthquake has increased confidence in political power. The people of New Zealand have watched their political leaders declaring peace and calm on television and seen them rescuing those in trouble and promising to restore broken dreams. Faith in political power has been boosted. Fear of the future and faith in the state is a dangerous mix. When fear and dread are pervasive, and faith and trust in human government is widespread, the accumulation and concentration of political power is easy. These trends increase resistance to the Kingdom of God.
4. God is Shaking the Church
Some Christians have attributed the earthquake to God by suggesting that he is shaking the church. They draw attention to the name of the city and suggest that God is shaking Christ's church. There are a couple of problems with this view.
Hammering the entire city to speak to the church seems a bit unfair. I would challenge those who hold this view to tell the mother of three living in Aranui whose house has just been trashed that God did this to speak to his church.
God destroyed your home as a sign for the church.
God sent this earthquake to wake up his church throughout the world.
That seems too glib and does not sound like my God.
This view makes the people of the world suffer for the sake of the church. The gospel says it will be the other way round. Christians are supposed to suffer for the benefit of the world.
God does shake the church from time to time.
God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Heb 12:10).
When his church falls asleep, God shakes it awake. However, he has a very effective way to shake the church without hurting the people of the world. Throughout the New Testament, God sent persecution when he needed to shake and refine the church.
Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith (1 Pet 1:6,7).
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).
God uses persecution to strengthen and refine his church, not earthquakes. This allows him to purify the church without punishing those outside the church.
The Holy Spirit is also skilled at speaking. God sent him to lead his people into the truth. Millions of Christians are listening for the voice of the Spirit. Thousands of pastors and prophets listen for his voice each week to bring a message to his people. If the Holy Spirit wants to speak to the church, he is capable of speaking directly. He does not need to speak through an earthquake in a distant city named after a college at Oxford University.
This earthquake could produce a dangerous complacency amongst God's people. In a few years, the impact of the earthquake will be mostly gone. The worst affected will still feel the pain, but most people will have returned to life as usual. Many Christians will heave a sigh of relief and think,
I have come through the worst earthquake
to strike this country.
It was scary, but we survived.
We can cope with anything that life throws at us.
Having survived a serious earthquake, Christians could easily slip into a risky complacency about the future. This is not the time to be complacent. God is trying to get his people prepared in advance. He is trying to build a spiritual army of hard-core Christians, who can work together with the Holy Spirit to release his kingdom on earth. It would be sad if our experience during the earthquake lulled us into believing that things will be fine, if we carry on as we are.
5. An Act of Nature
A view taking hold among many Christians is that earthquakes are just an act of nature. "The earth is doing what the earth does. Twisting and shaking from time to time". This view makes me uneasy, for the following reasons.
The act of nature view is very close to the secular world view that is sweeping the western world. Everything that happens on earth is just cause and effect. God is not involved; nor is evil. If pushed to the extreme, this view leads to atheism.
The Living God is squeezed out of his creation and turned into the remote God of Deists. They said that God is like a watchmaker, who created a watch, wound it up and left it running on its own accord. The Deists believed that believed God created the world and left it to function according to cause and effect. God cannot do miracles or intervene to change the situation in the world. He just smiles, and loves us from a distance.
This Act of Nature approach does not reflect the biblical world view. The God of the scriptures is not distant and remote, but is actively involved in the world to answer prayers and accomplish his purposes.
This view implies that earthquakes and other natural events are outside God's scope of control. This would be true of the various Greek gods, but it is not true of the omnipotent God of the scriptures.
The idea that earthquake is just an act of nature introduces a huge element of luck and chance to life. If someone is harmed by an earthquake, it is just bad luck. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jesus rebuked the storm.
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still" (Mark 4:39)!
Speaking to an "act of nature" is a pointless waste of time. The storm obeyed Jesus, because there was a presence in the storm that was demonic.
At first glance, the act of nature view seems to absolve God of responsibility for unnecessary suffering, but it still begs the question. It does not explain why God created the world to function this way. There are two possibilities. This first is that he no longer has the power to intervene. That does not seem to be right, given that he created the world. The second possibility is that he has not chosen not to intervene. That leaves him morally responsible.
If God is strong enough to intervene, why did he not intervene to prevent it from happening? Why did he refuse to protect Christians? Why did God allow the founders of Christchurch build their city on a serious fault line? Why didn't he lead them to Timaru? Taking nature out of God's scope does not solve the problem.
In practice, many Christians lurch between different views. After the first earthquake when no one was killed and few were injured, Christians said it was a miracle and gave the credit to God. After the second earthquake, when nearly two hundred were killed, Christians are saying it was just an act of nature. We cannot have it both ways.
An act of nature has not a moral or spiritual event. It is just something that happens.
6. Work of the Devil
The broken roads and past smashed houses of Christchurch do not look like God's handiwork. The destruction looks much more like the deeds of a destroyer. More accurately, it looks like a destroyer lashing out violently, but being cramped up an unable to strike out with full force.
The signs of a destroyer is evident everywhere. The only destroyers in the scriptures are the devil and his evil spiritual forces.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).
In John's Revelation, the devil was called Destroyer.
They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon (Rev 9:11).
Abaddon and Apollyon both mean "Destroyer".
In one sense, all earthquakes are caused by the devil, because they are the consequence of the fall. The emergence of human sin had a huge, as it placed the earth under a curse.
Cursed is the ground because of you (Gen 3:17).
This curse gave the devil authority to mess with God's beautiful creation. He went to work with a vengeance and released terrible destruction on earth. The way it functions was totally changed. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, tsunamis, tornados and volcanoes appeared on earth for the first time. Animals, insects and plants changed into dangerous forms that had not existed when the world was good. Bacteria and viruses the cause sickness and disease emerged and began to spread. All these were the work of the devil.
The fall changed God's good earth into a place in which earthquakes, volcanoes, storms and droughts are normal. It became a dangerous place to live.
Paul describes the effect on creation in his letter to the Romans.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Rom 8:19-21).
Creation was subjected to futility by the horrendous effects of the fall, and up till the time of Paul was groaning under the strain. However, Paul has a message of hope for creation. The children of God revealed is not a reference to the second coming, but to those who are called by Jesus coming to faith in him.
As more and more people are born again, creation will be liberated from bondage to decay and brought into the same glorious freedom as those who follow Jesus. As increasing numbers of people submit to Jesus, the Holy Spirit is released to restore creation. As the authority of God on earth expands, the effects of the fall are pushed back and the decay of creation is reversed.
The opposite is also true. If the gospel goes backwards and the number of people obeying God declines, creation goes back under bondage to decay. If the Holy Spirit is squeezed out of society, the groaning of creation increases. Therefore, when a nation rejects God, the severity of earthquakes is like to increase.
The devil is not a deist. He did not mess up the world and then sit Back to watch what happens. Just as God is active to work all things for good, the devil is active in the world to work things for evil. He intervenes in the world to do harm whenever he gets the opportunity.
Our struggle is ...against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12).
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8).
The devil is always active, looking for ways to destroy God's people. He often uses other people, as when Saul attempted to kill David. At other times, he uses animals, as when a lion and a bear in attempt to destroy David as a boy. At other times he uses the forces of nature. The devil and his evil powers have far more power to work through nature than most Western Christians understand. The Bible does not highlight this fact, because the Holy Spirit does not want to give him glory, but there are hints for those who search carefully.
Pharaoh's magicians had power to manipulate nature. They were able to kill the fish in the rivers and make it smell. They made frogs come up out of the rivers and spread over the land (Ex 7:22; 8:6).
Satan caused Job's sheep and their shepherds to be destroyed when "The fire of God" that fell from the sky (Job 1:16). "Fire of God" is a figurative expression used to describe a calamity in the same way that we speak of an "Act of God". The sheep may have been struck by lightning, but given the scale of the losses, it is more likely that the sheep were killed by some kind of volcanic activity.
Satan caused a "mighty wind from the desert" that struck a house and killed Job's sons and daughters (Job 1:18). This event was not the wind doing what the wind does. What appeared to be an act of nature was actually the work of the devil
Jesus disciples were nearly killed twice by storms on the Sea of Galilee. One storm began when Jesus was asleep and less active in resisting evil. The meaning of words used in the gospel to describe this event is partly lost in translation. Mark describes it as a "great storm of wind" (Mark 4:37). Matthew says the boat was being "tormented" by the waves and that the wind was "hostile" (Matt 14:24) He used the word "shaking", which is also the word for earthquake. Luke used the word for a "hurricane" and says that their lives were in jeopardy and they were in danger of being "destroyed" (Luke 8:22). These were experienced sailors, but they were filled with terror. The extreme words suggest that this was not ordinary wind, but at terrible storm whipped up by the devil in order to kill Jesus and his embryonic church.
Paul was almost destroyed by a "violent battering storm" on the Mediterranean Ocean (Acts 27:18).
Many earthquakes are just the usual working of fallen creation. However sometimes the Devil releases an earthquake to do harm in a place that he hates. The evil spirits are not strong enough to create a huge earthquake, but they do have enough power to release and earthquake in fault where pressure has built up. They determine the timing and direction of the quake to do as much evil as possible.
Attack on Christchurch
The forces of evil hate Christchurch, and not just because of its name. The reason is that God is building his Kingdom and Christchurch has a special role in his plan. The kingdom of God will emerge in a unique way in this city and will shine as bright light for the nations.
Christchurch will be a centre from which the Kingdom of God is exported. The city will demonstrate a model of the kingdom that can be copied in other nations that turn Back to God. The revelation of the Kingdom that emerges in Christchurch will be copied all over the world, as nations see what God had done and want it for themselves. Christchurch will have a key role in displaying the glory of the kingdom. The devil would like to destroy Christchurch to prevent this from happening. He has not succeeded, but the earthquakes are a sign of what he would like to do.
7. A Warning Event
The Christchurch earthquakes were a Warning Event. The Christian influence in New Zealand has declined rapidly in recent years, so it is too late for a Shaking Judgment. God's authority has been squeezed out, so he has much less influence on what happens here. The earthquake was not sent by God, but it was a sign that we are now getting close to the tipping point. Those who can discern the times will understand that the forces of evil were showing off their recently gained authority.
The effects of the earthquake were constrained, because God still had sufficient authority in New Zealand to clip their wings. That is why no one was killed and few were seriously injured by the first earthquake. God limited its effects.
The number of deaths in the second earthquake was relative low given the huge damage to buildings. At 12.51pm when the quake struck, many city workers had gone out of their high rises to get their lunch.
Although many tourists were in the cathedral, before it collapsed, they all escaped. This is because God has more authority in the cathedral than elsewhere, due to the faith of the people controlling it and the many prayers offered there.
If Jesus were here, he would say that Christchurch is no more sinful than any other city in New Zealand, but if the people of this nation continue on the current path and do not turn Back to God, the influence of evil will continue to expand until we cross the tipping point. The earthquake is a sign of what the forces of evil could do, if they get sufficient authority to have a free hand.
New Zealand is in the process of forgetting God. It is not that people are hostile, but more that they have lost interest, because being a Christian no longer seems like a very attractive option. Unfortunately, this gradual forgetting has a serious consequence. This world is engulfed in a spiritual war. When a society ignores God, it loses his protection and become vulnerable to evil attack. We have casually allowed evil to make a home in our society and the cracks in our foundations are now being exposed.
As more and more people choose to ignore God, his ability to protect us is being diminished. As the number of people of faith declines, the evil has greater freedom to work. There may still be sufficient residual faith in Christchurch to restrain the worst of evil, but, if the decline in faith continues, the last restraints on evil will gradually fall away.
This should not seem strange. When the prodigal son left his father's house, he lost the provision of his father.
The younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything (Luke 15:13-16).
The prodigal son was in danger of starting to death, but he was not starving because his father was weak or bad. The father was still wealthy and he still loved his son, but he was powerless to help his son, because the son had freely chosen to leave his father's house and had wasted the money that the father had given to him. He was responsible for his situation and could not blame his father. In the same way, when a city that shuts out God, it eventually loses his protection. It is not that God has lost his power or stops caring. He just cannot protection people who have rejected him and placed themselves outside the scope of his protection.
A man involved organising disaster relief noted that people are shocked that it could happen here. He said that his staff working all round see disaster as normal and suggested that we need to start seeing the world the same way. That raises a question. Why is disaster normal in other countries, but abnormal here. If we are losing God's blessing and protection by rejecting him, then disaster could become normal here too. If that is the situation, we should be getting prepared.
Being predictable and uncreative, the forces of evil will do more of the same when they get the chance. Unless there is a change in our spiritual situation, we can expect to see serious earthquakes striking in the night in other parts of New Zealand. However, there will be a big difference. If we cross the tipping point, God will no longer be able to restrain the principalities and powers. Fuller freedom will allow them to wreak far greater death and destruction.
I do not know when this will happen. Spiritual climates change slowly, so it may be a number of years before we see this warning event fulfilled. Or the Church might rise up and cut off its fulfilment, by preaching the gospel in power. If the number of Christians increases significantly, God's authority in New Zealand will be expanded, and the principalities and powers will be squeezed out. That is one of the purposes of Warning Events. By overstepping the mark, the powers of evil often stir up the church to push back against them.
The second serious earthquake was a continuation of the previous warning event. The repetition of the earthquake is interesting. When interpreting warning dreams, Joseph said that the doubling of a dream means that its fulfilment is "certain and soon" (Gen 41:32). I presume that the same principle applies to Warning Events. The doubling of the earthquake emphasises the warning and confirms that we will be at the tipping point soon.
God's plan and purpose for Christchurch has not changed. The forces of evil are flexing their muscles in the city, because they hate God's purpose for the city and want to prevent them from being fulfilled. They will throw a few more economic tantrums, but they cannot prevent the Holy Spirit from fulfilling his plans for Christchurch.
The founders of Christchurch made many mistakes, but they gained a strong sense of God's purpose for the city. They aspired to build a society based on faith and obedience to God, where Christian civilisation could be preserved from the forces destroying their world.
The Canterbury Settlement appears likely to further the efforts already made to extend the blessed influence of the Redeemer's kingdom, not only throughout New Zealand, but also in the surrounding islands of the Pacific Ocean.
They believed that the city would leaven the whole mass of the earth with the light and glory of the gospel of the Kingdom.
This is God's destiny for Christchurch. He wants Christchurch to be a model to the nations of a city living under his government and being a light to the nations. As evil spreads, he is preparing people who can be a light shining in the darkness. He wants to give Christchurch his kingdom, so it can be copied in other nations and continents, as they turn Back to God. The Kingdom of God is central to God's purpose for Christchurch.
We must be careful not to let the earthquake set our agendas. Reacting to events is always limiting. Reacting to enemy's actions can be rally distracting. We should be actively led by the Spirit into all that God has planned for us. If we just respond to what the enemy is doing, we could miss our goal. All our plans should be checked against God's agenda for his kingdom.
The Lord is saying to the people of Christchurch,
Do not be distracted by the earthquake.
Do not be impressed by the earthquake.
Compared to the power of my Holy Spirit,
the power of the earthquake is nothing.
Do not let the earthquake set your agenda.
My plans and my purpose for Christchurch have not changed.
My people should be shaped by my word and my Spirit.
Commit yourself to obeying my will
and fulfilling my purposes
and you will see the Kingdom of God revealed.
Warning events are a sign that the spiritual climate is heating up. Herod responded to the wise men by killing all the baby boys living in Bethlehem. The enemy knew that Jesus was important, but did not understand how, so he lashed out wildly. The earthquake is a warning sign. It shows that the enemy is aware that God is up to something here, but does not understand what, so he is striking out with violence. He tried to destroy the central city and the large church buildings, because he assumed that is where God is working, but he is wrong.
God will use an Invisible Army to accomplish his purpose for Christchurch. Many have been called and equipping smaller groups of people all over the city. Most people do not see them, because they are looking in the wrong places. They are hidden to those without the eyes of the Spirit, but they will be ready when God decides to move. The earthquakes will make them stronger, so the enemy's plans have backfired.
The enemy has always been afraid of what God is doing in Christchurch. In the early days, he used deception and manipulation to fight back, but now he is really scared, because he senses the time of fulfilment is close. We do not need to be afraid, but should press into God's purposes, knowing that the time when the glory of the kingdom of god will fill the earth is near.
Postscript: One Year Later
Two things have happened in year since the earthquakes began.
Fear and worry have dragged some people down. The enemy has gained a stronger hold over many lives.
Many people who were previously ignoring God have cried out to him deliverance. God has heard these pleas for help.
A spiritual shift has taken place, which moves the balance of power Back towards God. This shift has constrained the power of the enemy and is preventing him from doing some of the harm that he had planned. At the same time, cries for help have freed the Holy Spirit to work more effectively in the city. We should expect to see him doing greater things for the glory of God.
Return to Christchurch.
Return to Discerning Seasons
See also Why Did Christians Die?
See also Christchurch Earthquake (Sept 2010)