It was December 3rd 1990, and my friend Mark found himself on an excursion for his 19th birthday, sitting in a Chicago hotel room watching mayhem unfold on his television screen. Freshly united Germany was devastated by a cataclysmic nuclear meltdown, sending deadly radiation cascading throughout Europe. Islamic terrorists had seized stolen nuclear weapons and threatened California in retaliation for the US invasion of Iraq. And closest to home, at least for Missouri boys like us, the New Madrid fault line had unleashed a debilitating earthquake, exactly according to the uncanny prediction of climatologist Dr. Iben Browning, leveling St. Louis, and leaving untold destruction throughout the Midwest.
Perhaps you don’t remember these events. There would be good cause for that, because it was actually September 14th 1990 that he dreamed of calamitous events taking place weeks later. When he relayed this nightmarish vision to me, it rattled me enough to document it in my journal. For the next two and a half months, we watched and wondered if our world was about to shake itself apart. Thankfully, none of these catastrophes played out, and Dr. Browning died a disgraced doomsayer not long afterwards.
As it happened, it would be another 10 years before I had a personal encounter with plate tectonics – and not along the New Madrid fault line. As I mention in the May 15th broadcast of Spotlight on the Sound, my first experience with an earthquake was the Nisqually quake of February 28th 2001. I was on the top floor of a five-story business complex when it struck, and my first thought was that a construction crew had begun an unannounced demolition project. Irritation swiftly turned to panic when it dawned on me what was actually happening. I remember coworkers bracing themselves against walls, and looking out as buildings swayed. Seconds drew on, and I frantically prayed for protection, still mulling my incredulity that something this significant hadn’t been known in advance. The quaking soon died down, and amazingly, only one casualty is known from that 6.8 quake – a man who suffered a fatal heart-attack, though there was widespread structural damage and hundreds were injured. As momentous as this was, only seven months later, an even more historic shaking would come, this time with epicenters at both the capital of our nation, and the heart of international commerce. September 11th 2001 flooded the American people with a sense of helplessness and incredulity, rocking our country to its core.
Shakings of such magnitude come in many forms – from natural disasters, to human evil, to unpredictable accidents and tragedies of all kinds; any violent, unannounced intrusion into our seemingly stable little areas of the world. When all the things you trust in and take for granted experience upheaval, your only safe conclusion is that nothing in this world is unshakeable. Nevertheless, we’ve all known people who stood firm in the midst of a crisis, even when everyone and everything else was falling apart. What’s different about such people? Perhaps it’s that they’ve built their foundations on another world – one which cannot be shaken.
Consider this passage in the epistle to the Hebrews:
“… but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (Heb 12:26-27 NIV)
One of the points suggested here is that a shaking is coming which will separate the permanent from the temporary – the unintegrated from the infinitely integrated. It’s that very lack of integration – or integrity – that makes material things susceptible to disintegration when subjected to powerful forces. People of integrity, who have allowed temporal things to be removed from their hearts, and remain true to transcendent principles, have unshakeable reserves in a time of crisis.
Yes, it is important to be prepared to whatever degree humanly possible for the emergent contingencies we know to prepare for, especially as we consider everything from ominous rumblings in Bremerton, to the boisterous threats from North Korea’s nuclear tyrant. But when you’ve done all you can do, invest time seeking a world which can’t be rocked – because sometimes even terra firma falls apart.