May 3, 2020

Going Seismic?

When I was in about the seventh grade in Campbell, California, we thought the coolest place for a field trip was Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, about a 45 minutes’ drive away. There we could visit the Steinhart Aquarium and Natural History Museum.

San Francisco is famous for earthquakes. The earthquake of 1906 destroyed most of the city of that time. The earthquake of 1989 actually interrupted the World Series in Candlestick Park just before the beginning of game three.

For me the most interesting exhibit at the Natural History Museum was a seismograph that recorded earthquakes. It was exhibited in an enclosed glass case about the size of a phone booth (remember phone booths)? Most of the time a needle moved imperceptibly in a straight line down the length of a strip of paper, something like a heart monitor with no beat. An earthquake would jiggle the needle up and down and create interruptions in the straight line.

One day the rest of my class had moved on to something else. But I lingered, watching the seismograph by myself. I got to wondering just how sensitive this instrument was.

I looked around. I saw no one else at the moment. I stood about six feet away from the seismograph. So I jumped up and came down with all my weight on the marble floor as hard as I could. There and then I created my own personal earthquake. It measured probably 0.01 on the Richter scale, but it was unmistakably there.

At first I thought momentarily of jumping up and down again. After all, isn’t the scientific method all about replication of data? But I’m no scientist by any stretch of the imagination. And it scared me. I wondered what might happen to me if scientists found out that the San Francisco earthquake of 1957 was just some kid jumping up and down in the museum. I walked away as nonchalantly as I could.

Without knowing it at the time, I had caused what seismologists call an “artificial earthquake.” This kind of temblor is caused usually by human activity. It isn’t the actual geologic displacement of tectonic plates deep within the earth. And it isn’t exactly unusual.

The Goal that Shook Mexico

Something similar—something literally seismic—occurred in one of the earlier games in this year’s World Cup. In its first game of the competition in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Mexico faced Germany. Germany was the powerful reigning champion from four years before. It was a back-and-forth, scoreless match till minute 35. Then Mexico forward, Hirving Lozano, playing in his first World Cup, scored a goal against team Germany. This single goal proved to be enough to win the game.

Twenty-two-year old Lozano was interviewed after the game. “I don’t know if it’s the biggest victory in history,” he said, “but it’s one of the biggest for sure.”

Soccer fans in Mexico would probably have agreed with earth-shaking enthusiasm—literally. Seismologists noted a small earthquake in Mexico City at the very same moment that Lozano scored his goal on the other side of the world. Scientists explained that the “artificial” quake was probably caused by the fans’ “mass jumping”!

Those fans in Mexico could never have suspected that fervor for their team would have a seismic effect. But it’s a good example of how the combined human passion for a cause can even impact history—materially and metaphorically.

The World Turned Upside Down

One inspiring example of this is recorded in the Book of Acts, which is the subject of study in Sabbath School this quarter.

During Paul’s second missionary journey the apostles Paul and Silas brought the story of Jesus Christ to the city of Thessalonica. People of all walks of life were converted: Jews, Greeks, and “not a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4). The power of Paul and Silas’ ministry, in fact, caused a confrontation with some of the Jews in the city. The Bible says, “They dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too’” (verse 6, NKJV).

Well of course, it’s obvious that the apostles’ in the early church turning the world upside down wasn’t literal. But it was certainly an impact that changed the world. Humanly speaking, it marked a turning point. The history of humankind has been changed ever since those first few years after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.

The very first sentence in the introduction of the Bible Study Guide under study this quarter reads: “Many historians believe that the three most crucial decades in world history occurred when a small group of men . . . under the power of the Holy Spirit took the gospel to the world.” In a spiritual sense, by the power of the Holy Spirit, their impact was spiritually and historically seismic.

We read and study Scripture so that we might be changed. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, NKJV).

If this is a guiding motivation for the study of The Acts of the Apostles, what “inspiration” may be taken from it this quarter? Should we not be asking ourselves as we study together, in what ways could we turn the world upside down? How can we cause our own communal earthquake? How can we have a seismic impact in the ripples that emanate outward from us? Are we causing any ripples at all? Could we possibly become the epicenter, even if it’s only “2” on the Richter Scale, of service and witness to the people living around us?

 Gary Swanson is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Maryland, United States, and edits Perspective Digest.