The Maimas were an ancient tribe in Peru. Their custom was to run out of their houses and shout, “I’m here, I’m here!” each time an earthquake occurred. Maimas believed that earthquakes were caused by the footsteps of a god when he walked the earth to count the number of people on the earth, and they wanted to make the god’s task easier. Whether they knew it or not, this was a wise course of action, since their houses were frail and could potentially have collapsed upon them anytime had they stayed inside. The Japanese believed that a giant namazu, or catfish, lived in the mud under the earth. Although its destructive activities were kept in check by a god named Kashima, sometimes Kashima would be distracted and the catfish would be free for a while to move about and cause earthquakes. (Ironically, catfish are now considered to be good earthquake detectors.) Finally, the Hindus, who lived in India, believed that eight giant elephants gathered in a circle held the earth on their heads. An earthquake would happen when one of the elephants lowered its head out of weariness and shook it.
All these legends are quite different from each other. The Maimas considered earthquakes more or less favorable, since it meant that their god was visiting them. On the other hand, it was unfavorable for the Japanese, since for them, earthquakes meant that their god was not paying enough attention to his task of restraining the namazu. For the Hindu, it meant that one of the elephants that supported the earth was faltering- also a bad sign.
Although each of these legends is different, they are also similar in many ways. For example, both the Hindu and the Japanese believed that the earth rested on some sort of animal, and that seismic activities were directly caused by them. Also, all of these myths are either directly or indirectly involved with their religion. The Maimas’ explanation for earthquakes- belief that their god visited the earth to count the population- was obviously directly involved with their religion. The Japanese legend is also related closely to their religion, although their god prevented earthquakes instead. The legend that seems the least related to religion is the Hindu belief. However, this also can be traced back to their religion. The belief itself that the earth lay on the heads of elephants was part of their religion and philosophy.
There are other myths such as that told by the Gabrielino Indians of Southern
"Long ago, when most of the world was water, Great Spirit decided to make a beautiful land with lakes and rivers, that turtles carried on their backs. One day the turtles began to argue and three of the turtles began to swim east, while the other three swam west. The earth shook! It cracked with a loud noise. The turtles could not swim far, because the land on their backs was heavy. When they saw that they could not swim far away they stopped arguing and made up. But every once in a while, the turtles that hold up California argue again, and each time they do, the earth shakes."
Of course, all of these legends are wrong because they are based on belief systems that honor creation above the Creator even though the "stars declare the handiwork of God" (Ps. 19) and therefore, they are without excuse (Rom. 1).
What does the Bible say about the cause of earthquakes? It clearly speaks metaphorically in Isaiah 66:1, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” Even the Bible's oldest wisdom literature acknowledged that "He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing" (Job 26:7). Although there is no mention of plate tectonics in the Bible, believers did know enough to avoid crazy notions such as Mongolia's gigantic frog which occasionally twitched while holding the world on its back. Equally entertaining is the god named Tuli of Kamchatka, Siberia, Russia whose flea-infested dogs who smoothly pulled the earth on a sled until they stopped to scratch. (Reload this page to find out what happened!)
In reality, God has control over all earthquakes and all forces of nature. Sometimes God gives Satan permission to be destructive as he did in Job 1:16,19 when fire fell on Job's sheep and winds collapsed the party house of Job's sons. Other times He intervenes as when Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:39). Although these disasters often bring death, they may not be due to sin (e.g., the collapse of Siloam's Tower - Luke 13:4) or they may be due to sin (Sodom's destruction, Noah's flood, earthquakes- Num. 16). An excellent example of Romans 8:28, "He works all things together for them that love the Lord", is found in Acts 16:11-40 where an earthquake was used to release Paul and Silas from jail in Philippi. On that night, even the jailer and his family came to have peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today scientists understand the physical properties that lead up to natural disasters. Yet, those without faith have do not understand that God works even cataclysms such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions together for His ultimate good purpose toward those He loves. Even when they pass through the shadow of death, perfect love casts out all fear.
The 9.5 quake that shook Chile in 1960 was the strongest ever recorded in the world and claimed 5,700 lives. In 1964 a 9.2 quake hit Prince William Sound, Alaska killing 125. On January 23, 1556, the deadliest earthquake ever recorded happened in Shansi, China, which killed about 830,000 people. When Krakatau volcano exploded on August 27,1883, the tsunami killed about 36,000 people as it engulfed Java and Sumatra of the Indonesian islands.
Just before the 2005 new year, giant tsunamis were generated by a 9.0 quake from an epicenter about 100 miles off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island. With over 70,000 dead, the destruction was incredible. The international community quickly responded with assistance. For example, within hours of the news, the tiny country of Israel flew in nearly 100 tons of donated supplies, medical teams, and specialized search and rescue teams into the hardest hit areas such as Sri Lanka.
One thing is certain, earthquakes will continue until Christ returns to take his followers to Heaven. "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes." (Matthew 24:7)
TWENTIETH CENTURY EARTHQUAKES - CONFRONTING AN URBAN LEGEND
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