Attentiveness: Earthquake and Eclipse - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Earthquake and Eclipse

“Did you feel the earthquake?” This was the topic of murmuring circulating the campus on April 10. An earthquake in New England is a rare, but not an unknown, occurrence. When we lived in California, earthquakes were more common, thus less worthy of news and chatter in the hallways.

Only two days earlier the discussion on the campus had centered around where people were going to “see” or experience the eclipse. This event doesn’t occur very often so there was discussion weeks in advance, along with sporadic preparations to optimize the eclipse-viewing experience. The next solar eclipse occurs in 2044, so we don’t experience either of these events often in New England. (I plan to be around to witness the next eclipse!)

With the conjunction of both an eclipse and an earthquake, Nancy and I heard (and read about) people saying things like, “The Lord is trying to tell us something.” Though earthquakes are mostly unpredictable, eclipses have been quite predictable since the time of the ancient Greeks in the sixth century BCE.[1] But, yes. The Bible is clear that the Lord is telling us something. He speaks all the time; there are times he uses a shout and other times, a whisper. Yet at all times we must be attentive, for God does speak through his creation:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2)

If we pay attention, we will hear God proclaim through his creation: “I am God. I have created all and there is no other.”

Sometimes God speaks with power:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

So we are without excuse, as Paul says. And this is true even more so now, since we can avail listening to God’s two “books”: creation and the Bible. When we do so we will remember that we are but dust:

For he knows we are but dust and that our days are few and brief, like grass, like flowers, blown by the wind and gone forever. (Psalm 103:14-16)

At any time, we can be taken away. That, I believe, is the gift of creation speaking. God is great and powerful. In fact, God is greater than we can imagine and occasionally we are reminded that we who are so small must accept God’s greatness and our own need.

The basic prayer of the Psalms, and for all humans, is a simple one: “Save me!” It is a plea from one who knows his or her need as well as God’s great power and love. The “book” of creation brings into high relief God’s great power. We see and feel it all around us in his creation. However, the second “book” of God, the Bible, interprets what creation cannot articulate, and that is the nature of God’s love. Christ, who is the Word, is the Love of God in creation.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:6,8,10,12)

Yes, God is trying to tell us something when we feel an earthquake or witness an eclipse. But He is speaking not only through creation, but with greater clarity and specificity through his Word. When there are earthquakes and eclipses, our response should be to humble ourselves, worship, and draw near to this powerful God of creation through the intimacy of his loving Word.

[1] The Jesuits had preserved such knowledge from the Arabs, who had learned it from ancient Christians, who had learned it from the ancient Greeks. In fact, the Jesuits brought back this long-forgotten information to Beijing, China in the sixteenth century.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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