I am not aware of anyone in the Tampa area that felt the effects of the earthquake that shook the eastern seaboard yesterday, but even still the news of its occurrence was disturbing. The east coast is my home. I have spent most of my life in Georgia and the Carolinas, and I have traveled often through Virginia. These places are more than just familiar; they are also solid and safe, or at least I have always thought of them as so. Earthquakes happen in far away places like California or Japan or Haiti ? places that I hear about on the evening news but never visit. Earthquakes do not happen in Richmond or Washington or New York or Boston, not for at least the last 150 years! These places represent strength and stability. Our nation was born in these places. The whole world knows about these places. You know ? Eastern Standard Time and all that.
So, when people I know and love felt the ground beneath them shake and the buildings around them tremble yesterday afternoon, it was enough to get my attention. Thankfully the effects were relatively minor, but the damage was just enough to remind us that nothing in this world is as permanent as it seems. I heard an interview this morning with a representative of the National Cathedral in Washington who spoke of the distress of seeing the damage to that magnificent building. It took 80 years to complete the giant gothic structure. It was intentionally built to be large and sturdy to represent God. This morning what catches your eye is not the sturdy building, but the flimsy yellow caution tape designed to keep people out of it. That, and several of the large spires that once pointed to the heavens but which now lie in pieces on the ground. (And by the way, the Washington Monument is closed indefinitely because of visible cracks in the outer wall.)
I suppose that in the grand scheme of the universe a 5.8 magnitude earthquake is a minor event. And I suppose that within a few weeks life will be back to normal as though nothing happened. But it ought to be enough to remind us that this world in its present form is passing away. Nothing we create will last forever. Even the grandest traditions lose their vitality. Even the most elaborate institutions meet with decay. Even the surest investments are subject to market risks. Even the healthiest bodies get sick. And even the sturdiest buildings can be shaken at their foundations when the earth beneath them shifts.
But there is one thing that will never be shaken. The Psalmist points us to this one unshakable Reality when he declares, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:2-3)” Why does the Psalmist have such confidence in the midst of apparent chaos? The answer is found in verse 1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” In the mist of things that break down and fall apart, God is the one unshakable, unmovable, indestructible Reality. He alone is eternal, and He promises to be present to all who call upon him.
Which presents us with an important question ? the most important question we will ever answer. Where is our strength and security found? If it is in the things of this world we will eventually find ourselves holding a straw in the wind. It may not happen today or tomorrow or even this year, but sooner or later something will happen that will test how secure our foundations really are. To say such a thing is not a case fear mongering; it is simply a case of being honest. And God loves us too much to not be honest with us. So, in this season in which we are faced with economic uncertainty, political stalemate, chaotic world events, and a seemingly endless barrage of natural disasters we need to double check our foundations to make sure we are well grounded.
The good news is that a secure foundation is available. Like the wise man who built his house upon a rock (Matthew 7:24) we can build a life for ourselves that will last. We will still struggle and face storms; that much is unavoidable. Even wise men sometimes have reason to cry. But the uncertainties of life do not have to define us. Instead, they drive us into the arms of God.
Grace and peace,