Weekly Reflections: Remembering the killer quake


“When the army officer and the soldiers with him who were watching Jesus saw the earthquake and everything else that happened, they were terrified and said, ‘He really was the Son of God!’” — Matthew 27:54

Earthquake reminders

The recent devastating earthquake in Eastern Visayas, particularly in the island of Leyte, reminds us of the July 16, 1990 killer quake here in the City of Baguio that took thousands of lives. There are many explanations about earthquakes. Volcanologists were saying that the July 16 killer quake was tectonic in origin; meaning, it was caused by some changes or deformations in the earth’s crusts.

As human beings, however, we yearn for deeper explanations. We would like to go beyond scientific explanations and try to dwell in the realms of meaning. For instance, we would like to ask what the killer quake really means to us, especially to us believers in the God who created the heavens and the earth. We would like to ask what God is saying to us through this calamity. We do believe that God is a God of love and compassion and that it is not his will for people to perish due to calamities. However, every tragedy can be an occasion for God to speak to us. God can turn tragedies into blessings.

Earthshaking experience

First of all, the July 16 killer quake was an earthshaking experience for us, indeed. It shook not only the foundations of the earth, but also the foundations of our faith as a people. Many Christian friends at that time were saying that the tragedy was perhaps a sign that Jesus Christ our Lord would be coming back very soon. But then one Pastor also said, “If ever Jesus Christ would be coming back, why should he not just come back? Why should he kill lots of people first before coming?” Certainly, we need today not just a simple faith, but a faith strong and deep enough to withstand even the worst tremors that would come across our way.

The July 16 earthquake shook not only the foundations of our faith, but also the foundations of the things we are craving for in life, like prestige, power, and wealth. To acquire and possess these things, sometimes people destroy each other or even kill each other. Yet, when calamity strikes, we do realize that none of these things could ever save us, not even a house made of stones.

God’s lordship

Now, the story of Jesus’ violent death on the cross as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 27:45-54) could help us discern God’s message through this calamity. According to the story, as Jesus breathed his last, there was an earthquake, and the temple’s curtain was torn into two, from top to bottom. The army officer and the soldiers with him who saw the earthquake and everything else that happened were terrified and said, “He was really the Son of God!”

The tearing apart of the temple’s curtain was very symbolic. Behind the curtain was the Holy of holies, which was believed to be the place of God and into which only the High Priest could enter. In a sense, God was hidden behind the temple’s curtain. The tearing apart of the curtain would mean therefore that God’s Lordship should now be recognized and affirmed not only behind the curtains, but also more importantly outside the temple.

It took an earthquake for the army officer and his soldiers to recognize God’s Lordship and declare of Jesus, “He was really the Son of God!” It is also our hope and prayer that the July 16 killer quake, including the recent earthquake in Eastern Visayas, would awaken us from our deep slumber and recognize our human frailties as a people and affirm God’s Lordship over our lives and the whole of creation.

Children’s appeal

After the July 16 killer quake, the Grade V pupils of the U.P. Integrated School had written an open letter of appeal to all of us. They said in their letter:

“We appeal to the old people to stop killing each other. We appeal to the politicians to stop fighting for power and money. We appeal to the architects and engineers to stop being greedy, but instead use the money to build buildings and hotels with earthquake-proof materials. We appeal to all Filipino school children who were not affected to give donations like used clothes, food and money. We appeal to the illegal loggers to stop cutting trees in our country for a better future. Lastly, we appeal to all young and old people alike to pray and to change for a happy and peaceful future.”

If we who survived the killer quake would really learn our lessons, and listen and respond concretely to this appeal of the school children, then we could say that those who died in the July 16 killer quake did not really die in vain. # nordis.net


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