Robert MorleyColumnist
The Next and Even Bigger Quake
March 2, 2010 | From
Geologists say it is impossible to predict earthquakes. But there is a far more important lesson for America.

Imagine seeing the mighty Mississippi River running backward—that is, uphill against the natural current.

Such a phenomenon would probably be enough to make you stop whatever you were doing and take stock of exactly what was going on.

This improbable event did happen. Over several weeks in 1811 and 1812, massive earthquakes struck New Madrid, Missouri. One startled boatman reported being pushed “four miles” upstream “at the speed of a fast horse.” Great upthrust faults created 10-foot waterfalls that gushed water in the wrong direction.

Massive, earthshaking events tend to get people’s attention—both physically and spiritually. At least for a short time.

Think about America. When was the last time the country as a whole was moved to examine and reevaluate its society and ways of life? It was the last time the nation was forced to confront the fragility of life—after Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans. And before that? The September 11 terrorist attacks.

As painful and as devastating as they are, great natural disasters can have a positive side. They can be a tool to teach lessons.

After experiencing an 8.5 magnitude earthquake in Chile almost 175 years ago, Charles Darwin, the famous evolutionist, conveyed the impression it left on him. “An earthquake like this at once destroys the oldest associations; the world, the very emblem of all that is solid, moves beneath our feet like a crust over a fluid,” he wrote. “[O]ne second of time conveys to the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would never create” (emphasis mine throughout).

Yes, when disaster strikes and your life hangs in the balance, it can be a very moving experience. Unfortunately, once the disaster is over, it is all too common to forget lessons learned, resolutions committed to, and promises made.

The tragedies of the recent quakes in Haiti and Chile should serve as both a reminder and a warning to America. Both quakes struck along tectonic plates that are remarkably close to the United States.

To the west, the 8.8 Richter quake that smashed Chile was an astounding 500 times stronger than the earthquake that devastated Haiti. It was the fifth-strongest quake in the history of the nation. Although the intensity of the quake is out of the ordinary for Chile, small earthquakes are fairly common there. The country is located in a region prone to tectonic instability called the Ring of Fire. California sits on this same ring, which runs all the way up from South America, through British Columbia and Alaska and around the Pacific.

The Haiti quake, however, was even closer to home. The fault lines separating the Caribbean and North American plates run right through Haiti. The magnitude 7 earthquake—the strongest to hit that region in 200 years—directly impacted the plate that America calls home.

Interestingly, it has also been almost 200 years since that massive quake in Missouri made the Mississippi run backward and caused church bells in New England to ring. Scientists say that if a similar quake were to hit the New Madrid fault zone today, the devastation would be massive. There are estimates that the quake was felt strongly over 50,000 square miles and moderately within a 2 million-square-mile area. For comparison, the historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake was felt moderately over only about 6,000 square miles.

Yet geologists will tell you not to worry about the historic-size quakes in Chile and Haiti. Geologically speaking, they are not related, they say.

Strictly scientifically speaking, these media commentators might be correct. But the reality is that there is more to it than that. The quakes in Chile and Haiti were inextricably related and predictable!

First, the frequency of earthquakes seems to be increasing. Several larger earthquakes experienced in Argentina, Venezuela, California, Illinois, Japan and Chile indicate a trend, and not a good one.

The United States Geologic Survey claims that in any given year you can expect 17 major quakes (7 on the Richter scale or higher) plus one great quake (8.0 or higher). Two months into 2010 we have already had one great quake and are on track to experience 42 major quakes.

“In other words, was there a moment in world history where we had so many large earthquakes within such a short period of time?” asked the San Francisco Chronicle on March 1. “As of this writing, there’s no documentation of such a frequency of quakes as the one the world has seen this year, with so many large quakes in a two-month period.”

This year’s earthquake activity is unprecedented in human history.

Second, earthquakes do not just come out of the blue. They can be anticipated and even predicted.

Geologically, scientists know certain areas of the Earth are prone to earthquakes. They even know the general frequency of occurrence. For example, looking back through thousands of years of geologic data, scientists have shown that Southern California’s San Andreas Fault lets loose a major earthquake every 100 years on average. Yet, “it’s been 300 years since the last big one there, so we give it a really high likelihood of going in the next 30 years,” says Mary Lou Zoback, a geophysicist and vice president of Earthquake Risk Management Solutions. In other words, corresponding to the time that the United States was first being settled, the really “big” earthquakes—the ones that completely destroy whole regions—mysteriously stopped in America’s Golden State.

The absence of the “big one” in California may be defying history. But eventually, history repeats.

This is why governments and universities around the world are working to create ways to predict earthquakes. Already projects are on the way to create networks of sensors that might give warnings that quakes have already struck and that shock waves are inbound. These systems might provide people with 10 or 20 seconds of warning.

Yet there is a far more important warning that people would do well to heed. And it is more sure and usable than a few seconds of warning siren.

The warning is in the earthquakes themselves. The Bible warns that earthquakes are one way that God tries to move people to seek Him. God uses natural disasters to get people’s attention so they can turn from their evils and live God’s way of life, which brings true happiness, peace and prosperity.

The Prophet Haggai prophesied about both a physical and spiritual shaking that would impact the world during the days preceding the return of Jesus Christ. That physical shaking encompasses far more than just physical earth movement; it includes economic and nuclear shaking as well.

But the point is that the shaking is specifically engineered and designed to get people’s attention.

“God shakes the nations—physically,” writes Gerald Flurry in the booklet Haggai—God Has Begun to Shake the Nations. “Though the primary shaking is physical, it also shakes all nations mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually—and it keeps intensifying right down to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”

The earthquakes in Chile and Haiti are a strong warning of much worse to come. Hopefully, some people will wake up and turn to the Almighty God before it is too late physically. God is sending ever greater warnings—but what will it take before people will wake up?

Robert Morley’s column appears every Tuesday.
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