Summary: The first thing I learned about earthquakes in the New Testament is that they can be completely positive with no harmful effects. Our text is a case in point. Paul and Silas are delivered from prison by the violent earthquake that opened all the doors.
It was in Santa Clara, California, in the summer of 1988 that Lavonne and I experienced our one
and only earthquake. We were in a motel and the bed began to vibrate like it does when you put a
quarter in the machine at the side of the bed. It only lasted a few seconds, but even that made an
impression on us, and we felt a mild fear to be in the presence of such power. Psychologist say
earthquakes can be more destructive psychologically than natural disasters because quakes strike at
our most cherished belief-that the earth beneath us is solid and steady. Earthquakes shake the very
foundation of our security. We can imagine the awful fear that comes with a powerful earthquake,
like the one that hit that same area where we were.
Earthquakes are a part of this fallen world and they are going on all the time. Some like to
speculate that they are more frequent now than ever, but F. W. Boreham, writing in 1918, said,
"there is an earthquake on the average every quarter of an hour-or about thirty to forty thousand a
year. The earth is like a flea-bitten dog which is always shaking and twitching." Sometimes the
destruction is beyond belief, but experts say we have not seen the worst yet-the big one. But the
world has already seen some really big ones.
The greatest loss of life by an earthquake took place in 1556 in Central China when 830,000
people were killed. The second largest loss of life was in 1976 near Peking, China when 655,000
people died. There have been dozens of earthquakes with tens of thousand of lives lost. It is
estimated that about 13,000,000 people have lost their lives in earthquakes. So there have been big
ones in the past, and there will be bigger ones in the future.
The Bible tells us of the biggest one of all big ones. In Revelation 16:18 we read, "Then there
came flashes of lightening, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a severe earthquake. No earthquake
like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city
split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed." The implication is, the biggest big one
will not be affecting anyone nation only, but will be international. So the experts and the Bible
agree-we haven't seen anything yet.
But what we have seen is very disturbing to Christians and non-Christians alike. Anything as big
as a earthquake gets you into theology, for it goes beyond humanism. You have got to think about
God when you think about earthquakes. The problem is, earthquakes seldom stimulate good
thoughts about God. Paul said whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, what is admirable,
excellent, and praiseworthy-think about such things. These kinds of thoughts lead you to praise
God. But it is hard to maintain this level of positive thinking when the world is collapsing around
you, and you loose loved ones and all you possess.
Earthquakes force you to confront God from a different angle, and they make you tend to blame
God for all the evil that they bring. It is hard to avoid since we have already tried God and found
Him guilty. We call such tragedies acts of God, and so He is the one to blame. Coming to this
conclusion has never been a fortifying factor in people's faith. Earthquakes can wreck everything,
In 1755, on Nov. 1, the great Lisbon earthquake hit when the churches were full of people, and
over 50,000 were killed. It was devastating to faith, and Goethe made up his mind the earth was a
chaos that hopelessly out of control, and no longer in the hands of God. Many came to this
conclusion as their faith was shaken, and that is why we need to do some serious thinking about
earthquakes, and tragedy in general, to know just how God fits in, and whether is valid to get mad at
God, and blame Him for the tragedy.
The first thing I learned about earthquakes in the New Testament is that they can be completely
positive with no harmful effects. Our text is a case in point. Paul and Silas are delivered from
prison by the violent earthquake that opened all the doors. Nobody was hurt in this quake. There
was no judgment on the criminals there. Just the opposite, in fact. It was a day of salvation for the
Philippian jailer and his family. God used an earthquake to open the doors of the prison, and the
doors of the Kingdom of God, and a new family was taken into the family of God. This family
would be praising God for the rest of their lives, and for all eternity, for the night of the earthquake.