In Lisbon, the capital of the Portuguese colonial empire, on November 1, 1755, on All Saints' Day, the earthquake that shook the whole of Europe at the time and caused European thinking to stop and react occurred, in which more than 100 thousand people lost their lives.
Debris and ash covered the city with its beautiful palaces built from the (robbed) wealth of the colonists. Thirty Catholic churches were so full that the spires fell on the people who had come to celebrate mass. The horrible, previously unimaginable devastation of the event shook the whole of Europe, not only spiritually, but also in European thinking. Millions of people wondered how God could allow this. The analogy is obvious.
Today, the bodies of more than 30,000 dead are claimed, and who knows how many thousands lie in the mass grave. How many of the 150,000 or so people affected by family loss and injury in Turkish and Syrian territories, as well as the billions watching the horror images, wonder the same thing: Where was Allah, where was God?
It is very interesting, but how is it possible that decades before the drama of the Lisbon earthquake, G. W. Leibniz (1646–1716), a German scientist who thought through the issue of divine justice on a philosophical level, in his epoch-making book published in 1710 on the goodness of God, human freedom, and the origin of evil, rated this world as the best of all existing worlds? Would Leibniz have kept his opinion if he had lived through the tragedy of Lisbon and the Turkish-Syrian earthquake?
Because Leibniz gave a theoretical answer to the French philosopher Pierre Bayle, who claimed that the evil experienced and victorious in the world precludes the existence of an all-powerful and benevolent God. In the theoretical discussion, Leibniz referred to Job and also quoted Pascal, who said that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the God of philosophers.
It is also there when and where existential tragedies happen because of the way nature works and its potential for disaster. It is also there when and where dramatic, sad events happen because God gave man freedom when he made the world.
God is not present as a heavenly disaster reliever but as a sympathetic Father, an earthly reality of mercy. To notice and take to heart the battered lives lying on the side of the road like a Good Samaritan. He is also present in disasters as God, in the processing of horror as a real disaster, and as a God who shows himself as a spiritual healer. Struggling with the depressing experience of the Lisbon disaster, the French philosopher Voltaire wrote a philosophical poem a year later in which he answers the question "How could this happen?" with his thoughts and writes: "Are mortals able to penetrate deeply enough into God's thoughts?" In fact, the French skeptic of reason cannot give an affirmative or negative answer to this question.
German, French answer seekers, biblical surpluses
At the same time, the German theologian F.C. Lesser came up with a somewhat fanatical view of creation, which he published as a book in 1738, even before Europe's great Lisbon drama, under the title Insecto-Theologia, i.e., Insect-Theology. In this order, which can be seen in the lives of insects, God, the Almighty's smallest human friend, shows how wise, good, and fair he is. Voltaire also intended the poem "Desaster" as a response to him. Later, Immanuel Kant, the best of the Protestant philosophers, came up with his criticism of the cool, quiet, and clean air of the Baltic coast in 1791. He said, "All philosophical attempts to answer the question of theodicy, or divine justice, are doomed to fail."
Kant says that the only important question about human existence is that it is risky to be free, and he says that the only way to survive is through moral action, which is meaningful and really possible.
Disaster theology, disaster philosophy, or earthquakes cannot prove or disprove God's divinity. The question is: how do we, as humans, behave in such situations according to common sense and our internal moral commands? After all, Kant, Leibniz, Pascal, and even Lesser see the two Old Testament examples as a common denominator. Confronted with the fiery furnace of human judgment, the joint testimony of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego is: "If our God, whom we are serving, exists, he is able to rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he will rescue us, O king, from your power as well. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we don’t serve your gods, and we will not pay homage to the golden statue that you have erected.” (Daniel 3:17–18).
The wisdom of biblical faith - the possibility of disaster-solving faith
This is followed by a discussion of Kant's Job model. Job, who had lost almost everything and everyone as a result of an existential earthquake, could say, The Lord gave, the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this, Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. (Job 1:21-22). Even in the midst of existential and real earthquakes, and devastating and soul-crushing losses, he did not deny God.
He didn't turn into a rebellious atheist because he was thankful for all the grace he had received over the years. This is not the morality of renunciation, but the morality of faith. The Kohinoor diamond of existence, the unbreakable hope, and the attitude of gratitude of a person living in the awareness of God's presence are not the most important cynicism of losers, but the greatest treasures even in the midst of losses.
This is the catastrophe interpretation, the theological earthquake and destruction theology, the Christian belief that our religious leaders and ancestors sang about in the 17th century. Valid to this day: Even if mountains and hills trembled/Which were raised by a heavenly hand,/And departure towards the great sky/Would give the sign of destruction:/If you see this, do not believe/This minute will lose you./Zion, you cannot fall,/ Until God protects me! (Reformed Hymnal 394.3).
Has mankind reached the final stage of the end times?
Are the end times over? German Sociodemographer and Theologian Heinzpeter Hempelmann wrote an extremely thought-provoking study recently, even before the Turkish-Syrian disaster, entitled "Earthquakes - and What the Bible Says About Them." He has not published a disaster-theological essay or a disaster-theological thought process. It goes into detail over thirty pages about the natural science and seismology of earthquakes.
Then, how have thinkers and philosophers from ancient times to the present placed this phenomenon among the phenomena of human existence? He then says that earthquakes are very important to all people from a religious and existential point of view.
After all, he turns to the biblical findings and then directs attention to the role of biblical prophecies in world history. Finally, in 14 points, he summarizes the lessons learned. This goes all the way back to perhaps mankind's most powerful and dramatic earthquake, the Chinese disaster of 1556, which claimed approximately 830,000 lives. Here are some important takeaways from this exciting and study-worthy essay.
God's presence cannot be excluded from the greatest catastrophe, and His forewarning is not what is most important. An earthquake is a natural tool that can lead to God. It also indicates that a part of humanity, the population of a given area, is in a moral crisis. But there may be a catastrophe with which God erases something from the old lifestyle and thinking, to make room for the new.
The earthquake is also a warning that there will be a shocking earthquake at the end of the world. The omega point of history will not be some rosy or artificial intelligence wonderland, but a cosmic and planetary future earthquake in the full and unsuspected sense of the word. Therefore, every generation must prepare for this in spirit, because even Jesus does not know the hour or the day, only the Father does.
We don't have time, but we are ready. Earthquakes were called "apocalyptic codes" in the Bible, and they still remind us that everything will end one day. Permanently and irrevocably. Until then, watchful waiting, preparation before God, positive action, nurturing the hope of survival, and taking seriously the existential alarm and the alarm of intervening disasters, are all possibilities that remain our innovative opportunity and temporary chance.
Earthquakes, once and now, are not a concrete judgment of God, but rather possible, real signs of grace indicating that evil has prevailed in the world and, as a result, the entire human well-being and state has been shaken. Natural disasters and spiritual events, visible and invisible reality, are linked in the biblical apocalyptic, end-time perspective.
From a prophetic point of view, disasters that are happening more often and getting worse could mean that the world order is falling apart.
The visible form of the world is passing away—according to the Greek text: “For the present shape of this world is passing away." (1 Cor 7:31). Schemes and templates are a thing of the past. Biblical hope does not use, or does not use in the least, the spiritual worry, fear, and anxiety caused by the drama of events. He does not see events as a means to the mission, but rather as a source of comfort when they occur. Not for a single moment should we forget the conviction of the common faith: we await a new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, in the name of the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands affected by the disaster, it is our Christian freedom, even our duty, to say: Come, Lord, Jesus! So that nothing will be under a curse anymore and the night will pass forever (Revelation 22,20; 22,3.5).