I was driving down the freeway when suddenly the car started to shake as if it were in a blender. Outside, I noticed the telephone poles swaying wildly back and forth. Back home, my wife watched helplessly as my sleeping daughter was tossed about the bed like a rag doll.
This was back in 1985, when a large earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter scale, rocked Santiago, Chile. Tragically, 178 people perished, and many thousands were left homeless.
In 2010, 25 years later, an even larger earthquake shook Chile, killing close to a thousand people and leaving more than a million homes severely damaged. A tsunami also engulfed several coastal villages. At 8.8 on the Richter scale, it was 500 times stronger than the quake that, six weeks before, had devastated Haiti—that one having caused more than 220,000 fatalities.
And this year, 2011, saw a monstrous 9.0 earthquake—the one that rocked northern Japan and produced a deadly tsunami, bringing Japan to its knees economically. The Japanese have reported more than 18,000 dead or missing and are still dealing with the aftermath of very dangerous nuclear power plant damage.
Just why does the world suffer earthquakes? And will we live with them forever?
People have long called the earth "terra firma," Latin for "solid ground," yet in recent times more major earthquakes have struck the globe than had been recorded in the past couple hundred years. If we compare the 12 strongest earthquakes registered in the world since scientists started to measure them some 300 years ago, five, or almost half of the list, have occurred within the last seven years.
"Relative to the 20-year period from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s," notes Stephen Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science and Technology, "the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years. We still do not know the reason for this yet. It could simply be the natural temporal variation of the stress field in the earth's lithosphere" ("Chile Earthquake Shows Earth More Active in the Last 15 Years: Scientist," FoxNews.com, Feb. 28, 2010).
Fractured surfaces on both earth and moon
Why are there earthquakes? Geologists explain that the earth's surface resembles a cracked eggshell. There are seven major "cracks" and 12 smaller ones around the earth, resulting in surface segments called tectonic plates. These plates slip, slide and buckle, causing the majority of the world's earthquakes.
It's interesting to note that just as the earth's surface is fractured, so is the moon's. It was evidently pelted in the past by so many meteors that it's lost some of its luminosity. Apparently, the moon was originally far brighter than today, shining reflected light from the sun on the earth as a silvery mirror.
It seems the beautiful refracted glass that covered most of the moon's surface was dispersed or buried. As lunar photographer C.D. Courter explains, "The surface of the moon is covered with small glassy particles that can serve as wonderful retro-reflectors" ("How Bright is Moonlight?" Lunar Light Photography, 2003, p. 1). The meteors cracked open the lunar surface to the point that about 17 percent of it became covered with now-frozen dark lava flows called maria or "seas."
Geologists consider that the earth was also bombarded by similar meteors in its past, but the majority of the craters are now buried deep underneath the planet's surface or have been worn down through erosion. As one geologist noted, "Even though preserved craters are rare on Earth, there is no reason to suspect that Earth has been bombarded any less intensively than the Moon (which has millions of impact craters), and thus the vast majority of Earth's impact features must have been erased" (World of Earth Science, 2003, p. 1).
Angelic rebellion, a devastated earth, and creation renewed
The Bible describes the breathtaking initial creation of the earth by God in Genesis 1:1. It tells us in Job 38:4-7 that the angels shouted with joy when they saw the beauty and perfection of the original creation.
Yet, in Genesis 1:2, we read that the earth, as the New International Version of the Bible says in its margin, "became" tohu and bohu—the Hebrew words for something chaotic and empty. What happened to its initial beauty?
Again, God's original creation of the earth was so perfect and beautiful that the angels shouted with joy. Everything our Creator does is organized and well planned. But somehow the earth had become chaotic and empty such that God had to restore and refashion it to make it a suitable home for mankind.
The Bible does not give us the details of how this happened, but we do later read of an angelic rebellion, when the archangel Lucifer ascended with a third of the angels to try to oust God from heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19). The Bible tells us that a battle ensued and that Lucifer, now called Satan, was cast down with his angelic cohorts (or demons) to the earth (Luke 10:18), where they still dwell and hold sway until their coming time of judgment.
We also read about God "renewing" the face of the planet in Psalm 104:30. This harmonizes with the rest of Genesis 1, which describes how in six days God raised the land from the sea and then populated both land and sea with vegetation and animals, as we still see around us. As His crowning achievement God created humankind.
The curse on man's world and its future lifting
Later, we read in Genesis 3 that the earth was subjected to a curse because of man's sin. It would now become a world of toil, sweat, pain and death (some of it caused by geologic and atmospheric calamities). This is the present flawed and imperfect world we live in. Deadly earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes will continue to occur and intensify until Christ returns to the earth (Matthew 24:7-8).
When Christ reigns, God has promised He is going to renew and heal the earth to its former pristine beauty (Acts 3:19-21). There will no longer be earthquakes and other catastrophes to worry about. Everything will be beautiful, peaceful and joyous under the reign of the coming Kingdom of God (Isaiah 11:6-9). We look forward to that wonderful world to come, in which there will be no more devastating earthquakes to lament!