Day 6: of Advent Stories
A family of ours living in Turkey grounded their sense of security in God during a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck just outside their city in January 2020.
When I think about how I experience the presence of God, I often come to terms with a difficult reality. People throughout history who have encountered the living God have fallen on their faces in sheer terror. Immanuel, God with us, is not a tame reality in which we merely take comfort. His presence is known for its ability to both create and destroy, to both bring fear and then to comfort. In Jeremiah 31:28 the Lord declares, “Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant.” My story is about a time that I was terrified. In my fear, I learned the power and presence of the Lord.
Last year, I had just put my son to bed when our apartment start shaking violently. We lived on the 3rd floor of an old building, in a row of apartments that stood shoulder to shoulder. When things started falling off the walls, I quickly jumped off the couch and ran to grab my son from his bed, realizing that this was an earthquake. Our building was rocking back and forth like a boat; our hanging lights in the hallway swinging from ceiling to ceiling. We stood in the doorway, terrified. 42 seconds passed. I thought of my wife, probably heading home from a meeting, and frantically called her. She was ok, but startled. Looking out the window, it was like a movie, like an apocalypse. Every car siren was screeching at the same time. There were cracks up and down the buildings, glass shattered. People started pouring in the streets, screaming and crying. There was chaos everywhere, everyone frantically trying to leave the city and go to the countryside. I ran to the cold winter outside, forgetting our coats and shoes, totally unprepared. What do I do? God help me!
A friend called from a city 5 hours away, worried. She felt the earthquake violently as well. 6.8 magnitude. Scanning the news, we discovered buildings falling, people dying, thousands injured. All the numbers counting up over the next several hours. In the aftermath of the earthquake we all felt aftershocks, each bringing about more insecurity of our present life. Then the phantom earthquakes began. Hundreds of tiny movements from my wife or son or even a truck outside caused an adrenaline filled tension and racing thoughts that there was another earthquake. We watched all the condemned buildings being demolished over the next coming months. 7,200 buildings brought down around us. Where is our security? Not in the structure of our home. Where is my reality grounded? Not in my senses. Where is my comfort? The God of Nahum is my comfort.
5 Mountains quake before him;
the hills shake apart.
The earth heaves before him—
the world and all her inhabitants.
6 His indignation—who can stand before it?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
rocks are shattered before him.
7 Yahweh is good—a refuge in the day of distress;
he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:5–7)
I always come back to a quote by C.S. Lewis: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains”. Looking back on the times of suffering can be painful in itself, but it is in those times that I specifically feel closest to God. It’s the times where I am screaming the inevitable Why God! into the heavens that I realize that His presence is the only comfort in this world. All other else is sinking sand. All other else is quaking and shaking before Him.