Between April 1997 and April 2000, I lived through six earthquakes on four different continents. They were all fairly significant earthquakes that registered between 4.9 and 6.8 on the Richter scalethe kind that make you stop and gasp while you hold onto something for dear life. But they weren't really catastrophic events (unless you count the 6.8 quake at Assisi, in September of '97, which killed 10 people and destroyed some ancient frescoes on the ceiling of the Franciscan basilica there. By the way, that one struck within an hour after I had flown into Italy, while Carey Hardy and I were literally standing at our hotel's front desk, checking in.)
Here's the complete list, with documentation:
|SIX BIG EARTHQUAKES THAT STRUCK CLOSE|
TO ME AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM
|Twin 5.0 quakes in southern CA||April 26 and 27, 1997|
|6.8 quake in Assisi, Italy||September 26, 1997|
|5.3 quake Hollister, CA||August 12, 1998|
|5.1 quake near Queenstown, NZ||April 24, 1999|
|5.1 quake near Pune, Maharashtra, India||March 12, 2000|
The first two of those quakes hit within 24 hours of each other, while I was home. The others all occurred in places where I had gone to minister. The string of earthquakes in and of itself seemed a rather bizarre turn of providence. (An earthquake occurred every place I visited, practically every time I traveled overseas, for three years! What are the odds of that?) I admit that I wondered after the fourth and fifth quakes whether these tremors had some sort of apocalyptic significance, and whether they were meant to convey some divine message to me personally.
It also occurred to me that if I were a charismatic charlatan, I could have parlayed my connection with the earthquakes into big-time fame and credibility, simply by inventing whatever "prophetic" significance I wanted to imagine and claiming the earthquakes were divinely-inspired punctuation marks for my prophecies. After all, I had multiple witnesses to my presence in all six earthquakes. The one in Queenstown, New Zealand, occurred while I was preaching about Jonah, right after I had made an emphatic point about God's sovereignty over the forces of nature.
If you have spent any time in charismatic circles, you know that I could have easily sold the idea that the earthquakes were proof that I am endowed with amazing prophetic gifts.
As a matter of fact, the day before the Pune earthquake, an American faith-healing evangelist launched a series of open-air meetings in Pune, in a vacant lot across the street from where a friend of mine lives. This faith-healer was known for making prophecies of doom. He had preached in Pune a year earlier and prophesied a long series of catastrophic disasters that he said would devastate the region if people did not repentearthquakes, floods, famines, etc.
Of course, if you make enough prophecies like that, chances are you're going to get one of them right someday. Since this guy's constant theme is disaster and he had already prophesied the full range of possible catastrophes (storms, earthquakes, financial disasters, and so on) the odds were pretty good he'd be able to claim something someday.
Since this earthquake hit the day after his first Pune meeting, he immediately claimed the phenomenon was sent by God specifically as a fulfillment of his prophecies.
Now, this earthquake was by no means a disaster. It was enough to shake me out of a deep jet-lag-induced nap and into an immediate state of fervent prayer as the ceiling fan swayed over my head. It shook the whole city pretty hard. But it didn't really do any major property damage. As far as I know, no lives were lost.
My first thought, as soon as the shaking subsided, was, That guy is going to claim this as a fulfillment of his prophecies.
That is precisely what he did. That night more than 10,000 people showed up to hear this counterfeit prophet. They didn't notice the fact that no actual disaster occurred. The famines and financial disasters he had predicted never materialized. Even the earthquake itself was not really a disaster. But that fellow was claiming it as proof that he spoke for God, and multitudes believed him.
I happened to be visiting my friend across the street that night, and we moseyed over to hear the guy preach for a half hour or so. He was the worst kind of false prophet and charlatan, preaching a man-centered health-and-prosperity message to people the vast majority of whom lived in extreme poverty. And he took their money as a "seed-faith offering" that was supposed to make them rich. The amount of money he collected was astonishing. Then after prophesying more doom, he took a second offering.
He was preying on superstition for personal profit.
Superstition is irrational awe or fear of the unknown, resulting credulity regarding the supernatural. In this case, people's superstition was purposely manipulated and intensified by the preacher's deliberate blurring of any distinction between God's supernatural intervention by miracles and His providential control over everything that happens.
If you mask the proper distinction between providence and miracles, you confuse things that ought to be clearand such confusion always breeds superstition.
David Wayne, the JollyBlogger, has a post that makes this point well: "We reformed cessationists believe that God has ceased revelation, but He hasn't ceased upholding, directing, disposing and governing all creatures, actions and things. In other words, God is working in a mighty way at all times."
Adrian Warnock rejects any such distinction: "I honestly believe it is the cessationist who makes the supernatural/natural distinction too large. "For me, it really doesn't matter too much if God answers my prayer for the healing of Phil Johnson's allergic rhinitis by means of a new medication, his body just suddenly deciding one day no longer to exhibit such symptoms. . . , by miraculously changing something physically wrong with his white cells or by . . . taking Phil home to be with him and performing the ultimate miracle of healing. I just want Phil to be healed."
I appreciate the prayers and the well-wishes, and I agree that God's answer to Adrian's prayer (by sending rain that eliminated the high pollen counts) was just as much an answer to prayer as a miracle of healing would have been. I also agree that it would have likewise been an answer to prayer if He had called me home.
But it's still not precisely the same thing. Ask Darlene if the dead-Phil option and the natural-relief option are functionally equivalent in every sense, and she'll explain why they are not.
This post is longer and more far-ranging than I planned, so I'm going to cut it short. Here's the point: The faith that sees the hand of God in the natural outworking of divine providence (and understands that God is sovereign over every detail of everything that happens) is not a lesser faith than the kind of belief that can only see God at work when He intervenes in spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous ways.