Moving vehicles quickly came to a halt. It was a strange mix to see worrisome faces of adult drivers and curious faces of teenage passengers all locked inside the same vehicle. Several building alarms went off in the nearby warehouses, items fell off the shelves in the shops. People were busy calling their loved ones. This was in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.
And this experience was only a couple of days after another severe 5.7 magnitude tremor that rocked the office building I was in. The whole building was rattling and I even felt it swaying side to side! One office worker near the window jumped out of her seat and got into the "Drop, Cover and Hold" position.
Thankfully, the shaking stopped momentarily. These two big quakes have come and gone but a series of aftershocks have continued ever since.
As I was writing this article, another 5.4-magnitude quake struck overnight. More quakes hit the Wellington region in the past few weeks than in the previous 10 years.
100 Hiroshima Bombs
Scientists reported that the quake was bigger than Christchurch's devastating earthquake in 2011 and released energy equivalent to 100 "Hiroshima" nuclear bombs. Remarkably, the powerful quake had not caused tremendous damage and there was no loss of lives. How was this possible?
One seismologist said: "Wellingtonians could count their blessings it wasn't centred closer to the capital. If it had been under the city, it would have been devastating." The quakes were centred in the middle of Cook Strait and the South Island town of Seddon, some distance away from the capital. The force of gravity was reduced when the quakes reached the shore.
However, there had been some clear damages too. A 15 square metre of sea wall and road had slumped into the sea, about 30 buildings damaged, dozens of windows broken, ceiling panels fell down and water pipes had burst. Some buildings have been evacuated. Many people rushed into supermarkets to buy emergency supplies such as bottled water. Accident and medical clinics had a rapid increase in patients for several days and more than 2000 insurance claims have been submitted to date.
Several people commented: "These quakes made me realise that some things are just outside our control." Indeed an earthquake is a sobering reminder that there are things operating beyond human strength and willpower. Some people say that Mother Nature is unpredictable, but I would say that Father God is all-loving. Can this be true even in the middle of an earthquake?
God, Where Art Thou?
There is nothing like an earthquake to get people's attention. Earthquakes often accompanied major events in the Bible. The death of Jesus was followed by an earthquake (Matthew 27 verse 54) and His resurrection was preceded by another 'violent' earthquake (Matthew 28 verse 2). The Bible says that there would be more earthquakes in the last days, signifying the beginning of the birth pains. There seems to be a strong connection between spiritual events and earthquakes.
Is the earthquake an "act of God" then? Is God saying something through it? Is God judging people for their sins? How could all-loving God allow such destruction? If natural disasters strike, is God to blame? Let's face the truth. Most of us are unable to answer all these questions.
But in times like this, perhaps a good question to ask is: God, Where Art Thou? Seeking Him with all our heart, not out of fear, but out of humble longing to find the way, the truth and the life, may be the first step in knowing at least some of the answers.
Wellington lies within the collision zone between two of the Earth's great tectonic plates. This earthquake-generating zone sits on top of an active geological fault called the Wellington fault. This major fault line runs right through the heart of the city. In addition, there are several hundred more minor fault lines in the greater Wellington area. The city has shaky foundations because of its geographic location. It is not within the reach of human power to change the foundations. The best we can do is to mitigate the impact of the earthquake.
When it comes to our own lives, we often have more control on which to build our foundation. We should take time to find the right foundation and to build with care. No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3 verse 10).
What we build on this foundation will one day be revealed and tested for quality. Let's pray that God gives us wisdom to choose the right materials to build on the right foundation.
Daniel Jang is a Graduate Diploma in Theology (GradDipTh) student at Laidlaw Bible College in New Zealand.
Daniel Jang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-jang.html