This article was written after the September 2010 earthquake in Christichuch. A fuller version, written after the second earthquake can be found at Causes of the Christchurch Quake .
In the early hours of Saturday 4 September 2010, Christchurch was struck by a severe earthquake. No one was killed, but the damage to buildings is serious. The Christian websites have already been busy and many are linking the earthquake and the name of the city to get a spiritual message about "shaking Christ's church".
Prophesying After the Event
Prophecy is not just prediction. Genuine prophets do warn of future events, but that is a small part of their role. Their more important task is to explain the reason for these events and describe the response that God wants. The prophet's advance explanation of the events of history helped people to understand what God is doing. The prophets also explained what he wanted them to do, or stop doing.
The biblical prophets warned of future events and the fulfilment of their prophecies gave credibility to the rest of their message. The accuracy of their forecasts demonstrated that they had heard from God and confirmed the truth of their explanations. The fulfilment of their prophecies authenticated the ministries of true prophets. They were taken seriously when they explained historical events, because they had "called" them in advance.
Prophesying after the event is easy, but it does not have much credibility. Anyone can say what a traumatic event means and many will have opinions. I am more inclined to listen to someone who has prophesied an event than to those commentating after the fact.
I am not aware of any Christian prophesying an earthquake for Christchurch. Therefore, I am cautious about accepting the event as a message from God.
Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing
without revealing his plan
to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
The prophets did not warn of this event, so we should be careful about saying that it was an act of God.
Funny Way to Speak
A common theme is the earthquake is a sign that God is going to shake his church throughout the world. However, if God is telling his church that he plans to shake it up, then sending an earthquake to a southern city seems an odd way to do it. When I meet friends who have had their homes demolished by the quake, I could not look them in the eye and say,
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 to me. It does not sound like my God.
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.
I wonder if some of those who see the earthquake is a sign believe that they have heard from God and are frustrated that their words are not being heard. Frustration is risky because it can sometimes lead to hardness of spirit.
The earthquake wrought terrible destruction. Many roads and buildings were smashed and are broken, but it is not just human constructions that have been destroyed, the land itself was slashed and gouged. God loves the earth he created, so he does not like to see it being destroyed. On the other hand, there is another who enjoys destroying.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).
Jesus was warning about the evil one, who loves to take, kill and destroy.
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". Christians should never forget that the devil's middle name is Destroyer.
As I travelled to work along broken roads and past smashed houses, it did not look like God's handiwork to me. What I saw looked much more like the deeds of the spiritual forces evil. Actually, it looks like restrained forces of evil. They were lashing out violently, but were cramped up an unable to strike out with full force.
Christians should be very careful about attributing the works of the devil to God. Blaming him for things he has not done is an insult to his character. Misrepresenting God to the world harms the gospel.
Earthquakes and Salvation
Another common theme is that God is shaking the people of Christchurch, so they will turn Back to him. I am not sure how this is meant to work. People have responded to the earthquake in various ways. Some are working hard to clean up the mess. Most are helping their family and friends. A few have complained and moaned. Many are expecting the government to help. I doubt that many are saying, "I need to sort out my relationship with God" or "I want to know more about God". Modern people just do not think that way. Despite the crisis, most people are not even thinking about God. If someone came without a shovel to share the gospel, they would be seen as a nuisance.
There is not a lot of evidence of the Holy Spirit working in Christchurch at the moment. There is a reason for this. The Holy Spirit can only function where he has been given authority to act and he has been slowly squeezed out of Christchurch over the past few years, as less and less people trust in God and few Christians are actively praying. I imagine that only a small proportion of the people in Christchurch have a Christian friend actively praying for them, so it is not surprising that the Holy Spirit has been free to act.
The spirit that has been really active in the city is the spirit of fear. Many voices are making us afraid, so thousands of spirits of fear have been able to make their home in our midst. The earthquake has given these principalities and powers a power base in Christchurch and they will not leave until they are forced out of the city.
A few people may have come to faith in God during the earthquake, but another god has done far better. The earthquake built up faith in government. People in the modern world tend to assume that the government will come to their assistance and rescue them from every catastrophe. Their experience during the recent crisis has strengthened that trust.
God sometimes uses traumatic events to shake people loose, so he can draw them Back to him, but he does not do this just for fun. He will only send judgement, if he has a remnant faithful to him, who are equipped to serve those who are shaken and get them back on to the right way. If the remnant is not prepared to demonstrate the love of God during the crisis, it is wasted and evil benefits. A crisis can open people's hearts, but if no one is there to pour oil on their wounds, the scars will harden their hearts to the gospel.
An earthquake cannot preach the gospel. This was true in Paul's day. The Philippians jailor became a Christian after the earthquake that opened the gates of his jail.
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:29-30).
This was not a spontaneous response to the earthquake. What made the difference was seeing the faith and joy of two men who had been "stripped and beaten" "severely flogged" with "their feet fastened in stocks".
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).
The jailor became a Christian, because he had seen two wounded and bound men praising and worshipping God in the middle of the night. The jailor was a hard, tough man. His heart was blown open, because he saw the Holy Spirit working in the lives of Paul and Silas during their time of crisis.
If his earthquake had struck on any other night of the year, the jailor would not have become a Christian. He would have cursed and beaten the prisoners and carried on with life. The living faith of Paul and Silas made the difference.
Carrying this forward to the earthquake in Christchurch, most people just felt an earthquake, and it did not preach the gospel. They have seen Church leaders calling on the government to rebuild their collapsed church buildings, but only a few have seen the faith and love of the Christian remnant.
My view is that God has had to put his plans for shaking New Zealand on hold. He has had no choice, because his remnant is not prepared. Without a ready remnant, any judgment would be wasted and become pointless evil. God is not in the business of supporting evil, so an earthquake was not on God's plan for Christchurch.
Do Not Be Distracted
I believe 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 be shaped by my word and my Spirit
Commit yourself to obeying my will
and fulfilling my purposes
and you will see a great harvest.
Christians who assume that the earthquake will make their commission easy will be disappointed. Jesus sent his disciples out in power pairs to heal the sick and proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Paul and Barnabas were beaten and bound in prison, because they heeded this call, but that is what will bring in the harvest
Reading the Signs
Jesus rebuked the people of Jerusalem because they could read weather signs, but they could not discern the times in which they were living. They knew that when the south wind blew, the weather would be hot, but they did not understand what was happening in their own city (Luke 12:55-56).
This strange comment roused their curiosity, so some of those present asked Jesus about two recent events. In the first, some Galileans had been killed by Pilate and their blood mingled with Roman sacrifice. In the second, eighteen people had been killed when the Tower of Siloam had fallen on them. He explained that these events were an indicator of their spiritual status.
Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them-do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:2-5).
Jesus was clear that the sins of the people killed in these tragedies were no worse than those of other Galileans, or other people living in Jerusalem, but he warned that unless they all repented, everyone would perish.
The city of Jerusalem was hardening its heart against Jesus, whom God had sent as their messiah. As they rejected him, their protection from evil began to slip away and the devil began to flex his muscles. He is no respecter of persons, so he does not limit his attacks to sinful people. He used any freedom he gains to have a go at anyone in the way. The men killed by the Romans and those struck by the stone were no worse than anyone else in Israel. They just happened to be in the way when evil got busy.
The message for Israel was clear. If they continued down their current path, evil would gain greater freedom in their county and worse destruction would follow. If they pursued their opposition to Jesus right to the end, they would completely lose God's protection and be totally exposed to evil. This is what happened. The Jews crucified Jesus and persecuted his followers. These actions totally eliminated God's protection. In AD 70, the Roman army besieged Jerusalem, smashed down its walls and slaughtered those who survived. The blood of many people was used in Roman sacrifices.
When people forget about God, he sometimes warns them through his prophets. On other occasions, minor occurrences of evil are a warning of more serious perils that will follow, if people do not get back under the protection of God. Being abnormal and unusual, these events are noticed by everyone. Because they reveal the mind of the devil, these small scale evils are a type of what he will do if he is given a free hand to wreak worse evil.
Christchurch is no worse than any other city. If the earthquake is a sign of anything, it is a reminder that we too are at risk of losing the protection of God.
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 people ignore God, they lose 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 must still be sufficient residual faith in Christchurch to restrain the worst of evil, as no one was killed by the quake. However, if the decline in faith continues, the last restraints on evil will gradually fall away.
Faith declines when the Church does not do its job. If this city has lost God's protection then his Church is responsible. The earthquake should be a wake up call for all followers of Jesus.
In the longer term, this earthquake might produce complacency amongst God's people. We have just come through a serious financial crisis in quite good shape. Most Christians heaved a sigh of relief and thought:
If this is the worst depression
since the 1930s,
its not too bad
I can cope.
Things are tight,
but I am alright.
In a couple of years, the impact of the earthquake will be mostly gone. The streets will be restored and houses repaired. Condemned houses will be gone and the owners in new homes. The worst affected will still feel the pain, but most people will have returned to life as usual. The economy might even have had a bit of boost from the inflow of insurance settlements.
Many Christians will heave a sigh of relief and think,
I have come through the worst earthquake
since the one that struck Napier in 1931.
It was scary,
but we survived.
We can cope with anything
that life throws at us.
Having survived the worst economic depression and earthquake in eighty years, Christians could easily fall 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.
Times of Distress
The world is moving towards a time of distress. This season is a short one, because it is a time of transition that opens the way for the emergence of the Kingdom of God. This season will culminate with human governments accruing enormous powers. It will climax with political power being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, while being dramatically expanded in scope
Whereas previous empires gained power by force, the people of the world will welcome these human messiahs, because they promise to deliver them from trouble and tribulation.
The time of distress will be cut short when human governments collapse under the weight of their failed programs and broken promises. Their rise to power will be grand, but their collapse will be spectacular. It will be so spectacular that faith in human government and political power will be destroyed forever.
When human governments fail, people who trusted in political power will be so disappointed and disillusioned that they will be desperate for a better saviour who can be trusted to keep his promises. They will rush to put their faith in Jesus, allowing the kingdom of God to emerge on earth
In the meantime, the principalities and powers have used the earthquake to soften Christchurch up for the Times of Distress. They have achieved to important objectives.
Fear that now has a strong hold in Christchurch that will not be defeated easily. Thousands of spirits of fear have been able to make their home in Christichurch.
As the people of New Zealand have watched the 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 inhuman government is widespread, the accumulation and concentration of political power is easy.
Return to Christchurch.