Japan as Collateral Damage

March 12, 2011

I wondered how long it would take.

A natural disaster strikes Japan.  Thousands are killed and a nation is devastated.

While the rest of the world looks on with empathy and sorrow, it was inevitable that someone would announce that this was all part of God’s plan. Before Pat Robertson could figure out what historic sin had caused God to punish Japan, Tim LaHaye was first out of the gate to let us all know what this means.

LaHaye, who has made a career out of misunderstanding Jewish apocalyptic literature, was in Hawaii to speak at two “prophecy conferences” when the waves hit the islands. The author of the Left Behind series had this to say:

“The Bible tells us in Matthew 24 that one of the signs of the last days – one of the birth pangs to occur – is an increase in earthquake activity and intensity … We’re seeing that happen here. It’s not just earthquakes, but hurricanes and all kinds of natural disasters.”

Now, to be fair, this is not on par with blaming the Haitian earthquake on the country’s pact with the devil (a la Pat Robertson). But something is terribly amiss when your reaction to massive human tragedy is not to empathize with the victims, but to rub your hands together and say, effectively, “Aha! See, I was right. This is all unfolding according to plan.”

I know what the mindset is like, because I once held it. If you believe that great natural disasters must occur before Christ’s return, it blunts your proper moral reaction to human tragedy. If you believe that a particular evil is a necessary evil, you tend to rationalize it. You slot it into the “sad but inevitable” category.

And I don’t mean inevitable because of the random shifting of tectonic plates. I mean inevitable because it’s part of God’s coming apocalyptic judgment on an evil age. It’s a mere “birth pang” – an unfortunate but necessary side effect on the way to something great. It’s collateral damage.

This is not the message that a hurting world needs to hear from the church. Rather, as Rachel Held Evans proposes, “Let us weep, Let us hurt, Let us pray, Let us help.”

By the way, here’s a graph showing the frequency of earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater over the past 20 years. If you see a trend, let me know.

HT: Unreasonable Faith


  1. I was wondering about this very thing today. Thanks for researching and writing about it!

  2. Yes, I once held this view as well, applying supernatural explanation to every horrible event. Not that long ago I would have been, not rubbing my hands together and saying this is all unfolding according to plan, but having a fear rise up in me as I looked to the clouds for Jesus’ return. Afraid for all the millions and billions of people who had rejected Christ.

    Now I can look at the natural disaster and recognize it for what it is. My heart goes out to all of those effected by this and other natural disasters. A feeling wells up inside me that makes me want to do something, organize something, help in some way. Prayer seems like so little and ineffectual. I hurt because they hurt.

  3. Couldn’t help but pass this along in my travels to add to the pile. Great graph and graphic to the expanding understanding of seismic activity in this age of human history. After looking through pages of data for quite a few minutes to offer a broader scope of time into which to pose the question so oft posed in the era of those waiting for Jesus’s mothership to whisk them away to fairer weather land, I settled on this graph as sufficient to say hmmm with those that do. It considers events in the last 100 or so years between magnitudes of 6.0 – 8.0 only and draws from an international database so I’d consider that quite credible…. unless… (kidding)


    On the issue of the supernatural side to such events… to glibly stand on the stance of ‘birth pangs’ does no justice to the reality of what happens in unseen realms when judgement passes. Woops! Did I say that? First of all to clear things up, judgement is not being passed on a nation of people. God loves the people, and those who are His, let alone those that are simply human(e)? will/are responding as they should and under the banner of heaven to reconcile the events and people. However, the aspect of things moving onward coldly like a mechanical device or something is too polarized and not correct. If one could be so bold to offer a comment as to what is taking place, and by now you must have guessed I will step out and offer it, is to first accept that a supernatural agenda MUST take place, and indeed they do on this scale the world round every day…. at their appointed times. We deal with a God that is both Just AND Loving, and while earthquakes don’t seem too loving, you must respect that the true ruler of the universe does have the right and correct use of force necessary at his disposal to a) dispose illegitemate spiritual rule, and b) displace them with His kingdom. He both empowers his children to function in this capacity (what does he not do without first revealing it to prophets)….(no real ones), as well as participate (Revelations reveals that end time judgements will be a result of the prayers of the saints…. well I’m pretty sure saints are praying, so why not judgements happening and God meeting nations as He works with the church and the angelic hosts to facilitate opening up areas closed to the gospel/preparing the way for the gospel/covering/equipping/releasing agents into said arena’s. It’s kinda like…. ummm… acts. or whatever. If you are still reading by now Your either screaming or laughing… anyhow bless you and your ministry. Love your blog.

    • I’m not sure where you got your graph, but I don’t believe it’s accurate. It cites as a source the USGS website, on which you will find the following explanation of an “earthquake myth”:
      Q: Why are we having so many earthquakes? Has earthquake activity been increasing? Does this mean a big one is going to hit? OR We haven’t had any earthquakes in a long time; does this mean that the pressure is building up?
      A: Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.

  4. Thanks for the graph. Pretty cool.

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