Sunday, April 11, 2010

Recent "Earthquakes" and the Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

The earth moves and it shakes, in different ways (because of different types of earthquakes), at different times, and in different places, affecting many different people according to our activities, our location, and our surroundings when the earthquake or its aftershocks hit. Recent evidence of this comes from the effects of quakes in Haiti, in Chili, in Central and South America, and now another large quake hit a populated area in the Solomon Islands. It is at times like these when some  religious persons consider the relationship between earthquakes and various "prophecies," such as those we find expressed in certain parts of the Bible.

The most popular or frequently referenced biblical accounts involving "earthquakes" come from the best historical records of the teachings of the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth. Without making any special claims, and following my pattern on Twitter, "DAY TEXT" translations based on my experience studying biblical and related texts, below I present what I believe accurately represents the meaning of Jesus' words about "earthquakes," according to the three New Testament accounts referenced.

In what follows I will present only those parts of the accounts which I believe are needed to have a reasonable appreciation for the context of Jesus' reference to "earthquakes" in each account, in his response to questions (Matthew 24:3) about dramatic events which were to occur in connection with the temple in Jerusalem and the "conclusion of the age" (with my underlining):
Matthew 24:6, 7

[Jesus said] "Make sure you are not afraid." ... "Because ... there will be ... earthquakes in different locations."

Mark 13:5-8

[Jesus said] "Look out so no one misleads you. Many will come in my name ... and they will mislead many. But whenever you hear of wars or reports of conflicts, do not be afraid. It is necessary for these things to take place, however, the end is not yet. Because a nation will rise up against a nation and a kingdom against a kingdom, there will be earthquakes in different locations, there will be famines. These things are just the start of the sufferings."

Luke 21:9, 11

[Jesus said] "Whenever you hear about wars or insurrections do not be frightened. It is necessary for these things to come first. But the end is not immediately after [these things]. ... There will be great earthquakes and famines and plagues in various places ..."

When you compare what Jesus taught above with what those who have proclaimed, "The end has drawn near!" (Luke 21:8) have also taught about the significance of "earthquakes" over the past 100 years, or since 1914, it is clear that there is good reason for concern about the message which some have attached to "earthquakes" and to Jesus' name, for example:

This is another part of the sign that [Jesus] gave: ‘There will be earthquakes in one place after another.’ Do you know what an earthquake is? It makes the ground shake under your feet. Houses fall down and people often get killed. Since the year 1914 there have been many more earthquakes every year than there were before.—“Jesus Gives a Sign,” The Watchtower, July 1, 1971, page 406.
The “time of the end” has come. The sign of the “last days” is visible evidence. Never before in history, prior to 1914, have all these things occurred at once upon one generation: ["Signs" and "Scripture Proof" are then listed, including:] Unusual number of earthquakes ... Matthew 24:7.—“Time of the End,” The Watchtower, December 1, 1954, page 712.
Jesus also mentioned famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8; Luke 21:6, 7, 10, 11) In many respects, such calamities have increased in scope and severity.—“Our Watchfulness Takes On Greater Urgency,” The Watchtower, December 15, 2003, page 14.

The effect of continuous presentations like these which associate "earthquakes" and other "signs" with "one generation" or with a date such as "1914" is revealed in part by the following:

[O]ur reviewing from time to time the Scriptural proof that we are living close to the end of this system will help us not to lose sight of the important truths regarding that coming end. It is also good to take note of unfolding world events that fulfill Bible prophecy. One brother in Germany wrote: “Every time I watch the news—the wars, the earthquakes, the violence, and the contamination of our planet—it drives home to me the nearness of the end.”—“‘Keep on the Watch’!” The Watchtower, January 1, 2003, par. 5, pages 18-19.

Christians do not need "earthquakes" to 'drive home the nearness of the end,' that is, if we are balanced in our outlook, in part, by not looking to such things for any kind of 'reminder.' For why should we or anyone else depend on an "earthquake" for our belief, that is, if our belief is both based on good reasons and if those good reasons make clear to us otherwise that each day we should be alert to the times in which we live, for no matter what "time" it is it is our time, at least for now.—Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Romans 2:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2, 15; Revelation 3:2-3.

Other than general, regular safety reminders and related good counsel, Christians should not be afraid of anything which occurs on this earth, or in the heavens, and we must try never to misuse such occurrences by, for example, proclaiming, "The end has drawn near!" in association with signs such as "earthquakes" or anything else, for Jesus of Nazareth warned us against those who would do these very things (Luke 21:8). Instead we should help others and do good in Jah's image, like Jesus of Nazareth, whether there are "great earthquakes," small ones,  or none at all.