A few days ago, a powerful 7.9 earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska shook people from their sleep across southern portions of the state, and triggered tsunami warnings from Unalaska Island in the far Bering Sea to as far southwest as San Francisco, California, though no tidal wave was detected. The quake occurred about 25 kilometers below the surface of the earth and is considered to be a shallow quake in seismic terms. There was no reported damage as a result of the quake.
Closer to home but more than 200 years ago, the great New Madrid quake of 1812 struck, destroying the village of New Madrid, ringing church bells many hundreds of miles away, leveling buildings in six states, perceptibly shaking more than 1 million square miles and able to be felt by folks as far away as Hartford, Connecticut and Charleston, South Carolina. It changed the course of the mighty Mississippi River, and even caused that river to flow backward for a time. The damage from this quake was so significant that today, emergency plans are in place to deal with its reappearance in at least nine states from Ohio to Louisiana. The recorded power of that quake? 7.9 on the Richter Scale.
The general cause of an earthquake is fissures in the earth’s crust. The various plates carved by these fissures are constantly moving ever so slightly. Along these fissures, known as fault lines, are points of conflict between the plates. Here, pressure builds between the plates, until that pressure is relieved cataclysmically by an earthquake. The Richter Scale (named for its developer) is an indexed measurement of that pent-up pressure being released.
So, why the vast difference in damage from two 7.9 earthquakes? The first answer is obvious: the recent Alaskan earthquake was centered about 160 miles off-shore. The second reason is more significant, however. The predominant soil type in the New Madrid Fault area and points north, south, and east is a loose, loamy soil. Interestingly for us here in the Ozarks, we do not have that type of soil (or, much any soil, really), so the affects of the powerful earthquake, despite its proximity to our region, were much less pronounced. The light and loamy soil of the region immediately to our east is the result of thousands and thousands of years of erosion and redistribution of settlement material, carried downstream by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers system, as well as the Ohio, Tennessee, St. Francis, White, and Arkansas rivers. This type of soil, when subjected to the stresses and vibrations of an earthquake, becomes suspended in a process known as liquefaction. The soil takes on the properties of a liquid, unable to support structures, trees, or anything else standing upon it. Liquified soil is what allowed the 7.9 earthquake to have such devastating, far-reaching affect.
Like geological earthquakes, we also experience human earthquakes; fault lines between people. Often, these fault lines are very small, causing a rift between two people. Other times, these fault lines can be huge, resulting in seismic shifts in history, such as seen from the two World Wars. Either way, the analogy of the earthquake to describe the dynamics of the division between people is accurate.
These human fault lines, and the resultant points of conflict, are where we as imperfect humans live much of our lives. In God’s perfect plan for His creation, the boundaries where one person ends and another begins would not be seen as a fault line – we would fit together seamlessly, without points of conflict. That is how life was in the Garden between Adam and Eve before the introduction of sin. Since that time, any boundary line between two or more people can be seen as a fault line and a source of conflict and pressure.
In seismology and the emergency planning that goes into earthquake preparedness, there is no way to predict the precise timing of an earthquake or predetermine its severity and impact. Those who are prudent will assess the likelihood of a cataclysmic quake and take appropriate steps to mitigate its impact should that earthquake occur. That may be to buy earthquake insurance, pass stronger building codes to make buildings more resistant to quakes, see that emergency supplies and equipment are on hand, or move to a safer area.
No, we cannot tell exactly when or how severely an earthquake will strike, but based upon what we do know of earthquakes, we can make good general assumptions. The same can be said of human relationships and associated conflicts. So, how do we plan to mitigate the damage caused by these human fault lines? We prepare ourselves against the inevitable conflict. In the time of Jesus’ ministry, he was routinely presented with conflict from the Scribes and Pharisees, yet He never let those points of conflict turn into a major clash, deftly turning away there attempts to create pressure along the human fault lines. Even when Jesus was arrested, imprisoned, falsely accused, tortured, and killed, our Lord did not return evil for evil. Instead of escalating the conflict, Jesus asked His Father to forgive those who abused Him.
The first step in preparing ourselves for the likelihood of human earthquakes is to avoid the trouble zones. Just like I would not likely build a house on or near the San Andreas Fault in California, I can choose to avoid those areas of likely conflict in my personal relationships. Take a moment to read Philippians chapter 4, where Paul advises his readers to stay away from evil things, and to fill their lives with those that are true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely. Secondly, know where to set your personal foundation to better withstand the human earthquakes. Turn to Matthew 7:24-27 and read the story of the two foundations, one built on loose and shifting soil, the other constructed upon solid rock. When the quake hits, which house is more likely to crumble? Lastly, grow in your maturity and become more Christ-like, as directed in 1 Peter 3:8-9:
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
Like earthquakes, we cannot eliminate the probability of being affected by human conflict. But, there is much we can do to better prepare ourselves for the event.
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People