Moral Earthquakes

By David Sutton

In 1989, an expectant crowd was listening to the national anthem at beautiful Park in San Francisco. The stadium was filled to capacity, and everyone was there to have a good time watching the Oakland As and the San Francisco Giants compete in game three of the World Series.

About halfway through the national anthem, the ground beneath the stadium began to shake furiously to the shock and dismay of the crowd. Thousands of crazed fans, fearing the stadium might collapse beneath them, stampeded from the stands. In the following moments, all around the San Francisco Bay area, bridges were falling, freeways were wobbling, homes toppling, and entire neighborhoods were set ablaze.

Many of us remember that day quite well. We were watching the game on television, and watched what happened in horror. Some of us had loved ones living in the area, and we were quite concerned as we realized what was happening and just how serious it was.

Earthquakes can be terrifying! I have been in two, and thankfully they were quite mild.  Others, however result in great devastation. Earthquakes are nothing new. They have been around for a while. The Bible speaks of them. When Jesus died on the cross, there was an earthquake. When He arose on the third day, there was another.

In 1976, China’s Tangshan Province was laid waste by an earthquake and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. In 1985, Mexico City was hit hard, leaving tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands homeless, and millions without electricity, water and food supplies. And in 1995, an earthquake in Japan left behind more than 5,000 casualties. The once magnificent city of Kobe was destroyed.

But as devastating as geological earthquakes are, moral earthquakes can be even more devastating. And while major geological disturbances are few and far between, moral disruptions have become quite common.

In recent decades, our nation has been shaken by a “moral earthquake” of monumental proportions. Author Talmadge Johnson refers to the current morality of the nation as a “cafeteria styled morality” where one goes down the line picking and choosing what he wants and does not want. But he reminds us that there is a cash register waiting at the end of the line, and one must pay for what he gets.

How right he is! The basic values of our nation are now persistently called into question. The fundamental shaking of our cultural foundations is essentially a “moral” earthquake, far more frightening than the geological ones.

And what about morality as it pertains to you and me? Have we witnessed any moral eruptions in our Free Will Baptist family? Is this something that demands our attention as individual Christians? The answers are yes and yes. We have experienced far too many moral earthquakes among our movement. (In fact, even one is one too many.) However, my focus is not on what has been, but rather on how we might prevent it from happening again. Three things about moral earthquakes demand our attention.

Moral earthquakes, like geological ones are preceded by secret faults.

Earthquakes don’t just happen. They are caused by elements beyond our sight, well beneath the surface of the planet. Geologists tell us that the earth’s crust is composed of a number of separately mobile, ever-shifting plates, and when and where the plates come together, a great deal of geological disruption results. As they scrape against one another, long lines of disturbances in the form of tremors, shifts, and cracks are likely to occur. These seams between the earth’s plates are called faults.

Usually, pressure along the fault lines remains stable, but over time, stress builds between the plates. When the tension finally exceeds the breaking strength of rock, a jolting rupture ensues.

Earthquakes don’t just happen. They are always preceded by a series of smaller seismic events, out of sight along the fault line. And so it is with moral earthquakes. Like geological ones, they are preceded by the pressures of hidden faults, and they erupt when those pressures finally expose the secret cracks that have developed in a person’s character. We should never convince ourselves that such fault lines are of no great consequence, or that they really don’t amount to anything. If we ignore their presence and fail to deal with them, when we and others least expect it, the pressures and temptations of life will expose those cracks we thought were hidden forever.

While we can’t do much about geological earthquakes, we can do something to prevent moral earthquakes. The secret faults or cracks that have developed in our character can be mended and adjusted by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Moral Earthquakes, like geological ones, are succeeded by sudden aftershocks.

In 1775, the great Portuguese city of Lisbon was struck by a tremendous earthquake. Though powerful, it appeared that the initial damage was minimal. Then, after a few moments of calm, an aftershock hit. It lasted two minutes and wrought terrible devastation.

In the wake of the second quake, most of the citizens breathed a sigh of relief. But it still wasn’t over. Suddenly a third aftershock rocked the city for nearly l0 minutes. This time, almost everything in sight was reduced to shambles. An estimated 70,000 died that day, most from the aftershocks that followed the earthquake. And so it is with moral earthquakes. The devastation doesn’t end with the initial quake.

In fact, there are always serious aftershocks, and some last for generations. Ask Samson, and ask King David. The consequences are generally long lasting and far reaching.

Moral earthquakes, like geological ones, must be corrected through a process of reconstruction.

Reconstruction costs following the San Francisco earthquake reached the billions. Reconstruction costs for moral earthquakes are even higher, but funds have already been appropriated. Jesus took care of that at the cross. He appropriated the funds when He shed His blood to redeem us from our sins.

Moral reconstruction need not be delayed. The fallen one must repent. This is a must. There is no other alternative. It’s not enough to be sorry that you got caught. The fallen one must call his sin just what it is and turn from it. The faithful ones must restore.

According to Galatians 6:1-2, those who are spiritual have a responsibility to those who have been overtaken in a fault. This part of the process is vitally important, and we often fail in this area. It is God’s will that the fallen one be helped, nurtured, and restored.

Our denomination, and every church in it, should have a plan whereby restoration can begin immediately. We ought to have a good plan, and then pray that we will never have to use it.

May each of us daily pray the prayer of Psalm 139:23. “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Adapted from Contact Magazine, October 1999.