Do all of these recent large earthquakes mean that it’s the end of the world?
Plenty of religious and spiritual belief systems view earthquakes as a sign or warning to humanity. They are a bad omen. Many Biblical prophecies link an increase of earthquakes to the end of the world, which can put Christians on edge when there are large earthquakes in the news. Earthquakes are often quoted by spiritual and religious leaders/enthusiasts as being the result of God’s anger, or a spiritual call to renewal.
Matthew 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
Psalm 18: 7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
OK let’s talk science. In the past few weeks we have had several large earthquakes (a 7.4 off the coast of the Solomon Islands, a 6.6 in Nicaragua, and a 7.1 off the southwest coast of Papua New Guinea). Additionally, many large earthquakes with a magnitude 8.0 or greater have happened in recent years including an M9.0 in Japan in 2011, and many others (See this USGS page on recent significant earthquakes). Is there a trend?
Well, scientists would say yes. There has been a recent trend in large/significant earthquakes. I include significant because many smaller earthquakes happen in largely populated or low income areas and cause more damage and deaths than larger earthquakes elsewhere.
Is this increase in earthquakes unusual? Well, not necessarily. First of all, the overall increase of earthquakes (both large and small) we are detecting can be correlated with the increase of seismic instrumentation around the world. The more instruments we have, the more earthquakes we detect and record. This smaller sect of geology/seismology is a pretty new field, and the theory of plate tectonics has only been around for about 50 years. Seismic instrumentation was invented within the last 100 years, and a global network and number of seismic instruments have increased significantly in only the last 30 years. More instruments, more recorded earthquakes.
What about the increase of deaths and cost related to earthquake/tsunami damage? Well that has increased with the increase of our population. The more people on Earth, the more people at risk when an earthquake happens.
OK but what about all the big earthquakes? Even old records record those, seismic instruments or not. Good point. Within our limited worldwide earthquake historical record (see figure below) you can see a sort of “clustering” of larger earthquakes, both in recent times and also centering around the year 1960. Note that the record only shows through the year 2010, and many other large earthquakes are missing for years 2010-2014. Still, you can see that a similar trend to what is happening in recent years has happened in the somewhat recent past. Scientists are still struggling to understand the correlation of one large earthquake to another in these clustered events. If one earthquake is triggering another, why are the large events still many months or even years apart (as opposed to happening right when the seismic activity and seismic waves initially occur)? It’s interesting stuff.
Figure borrowed from Charles Ammon, after Ammon et al., SRL, 2010
Scientists may still be looking for reasons to explain the method by which these large earthquakes may or may not relate to each other, but it still allows for those of us who seek spiritual meaning to ponder it. Are these signs from God? Is it the end times? Does this mean Jesus is coming back soon? Is this perhaps the result of how we as humans have treated our planet, and is a punishment from the planet itself?
Maybe you believe there is an energy or other supernatural being that is aware of these things happening. This next segment holds my own spiritual interpretation, and maybe you have a different one you would like to share. My personal belief is that an all-knowing God sees in advance that these events will happen. If my God is all-knowing, He isn’t stupid. He is much smarter than you or me. Therefore these things do not surprise Him, and He understands the scientific mechanism by which it occurs. OK, He created it! I don’t think hurting people makes Him happy because I believe God is a loving God. We have made our own choices on this Earth as part of free will, and we suffer many things because of it. I don’t know if God causes them for this or that such reason because I’m not God.
One thing I do know is that whenever natural disasters affect us, people are reminded of the fragility of life. We are reminded of what is important. Those we love, the things we hold dear. And we think about death. People don’t like to think about death, but death is a very real part of being alive.. it is an inevitable event that none of us can escape. Maybe when earthquakes occur we can remind ourselves and each other that we love each other.
Whether or not earthquakes are a judgment or a sign, I think they are a reminder to us that we need to take the fragility of life seriously and live each day as if it were our last. That includes preparing ourselves to ponder what happens to us when we die.