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Photo illustration by Jessica Berry, Deseret Morning News

Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes. In the past year, calamities have struck countries around the world — and more disasters will come in the last days, according to the Scriptures.

"And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great." (Revelation 16:18).

Revelation 6:12 also mentions another "great earthquake" before the sun becomes black and the moon becomes as blood.

But to what degree should such apocalyptic prophecies influence where and how we live?

In light of the 2004 tsunami that hit Asia and the hurricanes that devastated America's Southeast coastal regions last year, is it biblically wise, for example, to live in coastal areas?

And what about the Wasatch Fault, a quake-prone region from southern Idaho to Nephi, with its own potential for a major disaster?

While most church leaders have always stressed it is more important how we live, rather than where we live, isn't common sense also a vital part of our God-given existence? To what extent do we correlate our lives to prophecies of the last days?

"You need to have reverence for nature," the Rev. Art Ritter of Salt Lake's First Congregational Church said.

He's not advising a fear of God but rather a respect for his power.

"We think we're in control," he said, stressing that it is God who is really in charge.

The Rev. Ritter also says he's not one who firmly believes recent natural disasters are part of the apocalypse.

"Place the book of Revelation in its historical context," he said.

Still, he acknowledges that while it may not be wise to have a city like New Orleans built below sea level, it does show the strong resolve of man in making that work for all these years.

The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City is another whose faith does not believe that all of the Bible is literal — especially in regard to the book of Revelation.

"Life is a matter of faith," he said. "You never know what will happen. . . . We can't always control the odds."

The Rev. Goldsmith says a good example of that involves a woman who was run over while standing on a safety traffic island. She was where she was supposed to be, and yet the accident happened.

You can't live your life in a bubble, the Rev. Goldsmith says, but you also shouldn't be self-absorbed with potential catastrophes.

"Balance risk with prudence," he said, and use common sense.

The Rev. Goldsmith also says Christ's metaphorical advice about building a house on a solid foundation (Matthew 7:24-27) may apply in a literal sense, too.

The Rev. Mike Gray, senior pastor of Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, says "to bloom where you are planted" on life is solid advice.

"What's good for one person isn't good for another," he said.

Any occupation or location you choose to live in probably includes some physical risk and accidents. Natural disasters can seemingly happen anywhere at any time.

"Life on a beach — there's an inherent risk there," the Rev. Gray said. "You have to make practical decisions."

He believes most of all we should live where God wants us to live or leads us to live.

"Live fully to be a blessing to others," he said.

Common sense is important, but the Rev. Gray says there is plenty of foolishness in the world. too.

Richard Wolf, an elder in the North Salt Lake congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, says his faith doesn't have any directives on living in disaster-prone areas.

"It's a personal decision," he said.

Still, there may be a need for the good word to be preached in disaster-prone regions.

Regarding earthquakes, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that "literal and figurative quakings of the Earth are mentioned a number of times in the Bible."

Information from the Witnesses' "Revelation: Its Grand Climax at Hand" book states:

"Since 1914, with earth's population exploding into the thousands of millions, literal temblors have contributed significantly to the distress of our times. Nevertheless, even though they fulfill prophecy, these earthquakes have been natural, physical disasters. They are preliminary to the great symbolic quake of Revelation 6:12. This, indeed, comes as the devastating finale to a series of advance tremors that shake Satan's human earth system of things to its foundations."

This book also states:

"In a similar way, when the great earthquake strikes, this entire world system will be engulfed in the despair of total darkness. . . . Our entire globe will shake under a 'great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world's beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.' "

Although literal quakes may occur in the last days, Witnesses are cautioned that the Book of Revelation is presented in signs and symbolism. Jehovah's Witnesses stress finding true peace and security in the last days by building up their faith in a study of God's word and living his commandments.

President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addressed the theme of "If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear" extensively during the priesthood session of the church's October 2005 General Conference.

"What we have experienced in the past was all foretold, and the end is not yet," President Hinckley said. "Just as there have been calamities in the past, we expect more in the future. What do we do?

"Someone has said it was not raining when Noah built the ark. But he built it, and the rains came.

"The Lord has said, 'If ye are prepared ye shall not fear' (D&C 38:30).

"The primary preparation is also set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, wherein it says, 'Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come. (D&C 87:8).' "

The LDS Church believes in modern scripture and revelation, in addition to the Bible. The LDS Church's Doctrine and Covenants reaffirms the idea of very strong earthquakes in the last days before Christ's second coming.

For example, D&C 88:87 states, "The earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man. . . ." And D&C 45:33 mentions quakes in diverse places in the last days.

President Hinckley also said at the last General Conference:

"How portentous are the words of revelation found in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the calamities that should befall after the testimonies of the elders. The Lord says:

"For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.

"And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.

"And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men's hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people" (D&C 88:89—91).

How interesting are descriptions of the tsunami and the recent hurricanes in terms of the language of this revelation, which says, "The voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds."

The LDS Church has no policy on where members of the church should live.

President Hinckley has stressed living worthily, though.

"We can so live that we can call upon the Lord for his protection and guidance. This is a first priority. We cannot expect his help if we are unwilling to keep his commandments."

Also, at the most recent conference, he also stressed that church members should do all they can to be physically safe and prepared.

"We can heed warnings. We have been told that many had been given concerning the vulnerability of New Orleans. We are told by seismologists that the Salt Lake Valley is a potential earthquake zone. This is the primary reason that we are extensively renovating the Tabernacle on Temple Square. This historic and remarkable building must be made to withstand the shaking of the Earth.

"We have built grain storage and storehouses and stocked them with the necessities of life in the event of a disaster. But the best storehouse is the family storeroom. In words of revelation the Lord has said, 'Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing' (D&C 109:8).

"Our people for three-quarters of a century have been counseled and encouraged to make such preparation as will assure survival should a calamity come.

"We can set aside some water, basic food, medicine and clothing to keep us warm. We ought to have a little money laid aside in case of a rainy day.

"Now what I have said should not occasion a run on the grocery store or anything of that kind. I am saying nothing that has not been said for a very long time."

President Hinckley has said none of the recent natural disasters were likely a divine punishment.

"Now, I do not say, and I repeat emphatically that I do not say or infer, that what has happened is the punishment of the Lord. Many good people, including some of our faithful Latter-day Saints, are among those who have suffered. Having said this, I do not hesitate to say that this old world is no stranger to calamities and catastrophes. Those of us who read and believe the scriptures are aware of the warnings of prophets concerning catastrophes that have come to pass and are yet to come to pass."

He also said, "We know, of course, that the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust (see Matthew 5:45)."

After the 1976 Teton Dam disaster in southern Idaho, President Boyd K. Packer of the LDS Church's Council of the Twelve Apostles stated that if a man says all suffering and disaster is caused by sin only, then how do we explain the suffering of Jesus Christ?

God in Old Testament times did chasten his people with weather-related calamites and could perhaps do so today.

According to 1 Kings 8:35-36, the heavens can be shut from delivering rain when people sin. Leviticus 26:3-6 mentions similar situations.

However, there are apparently times when God is not directly a part of natural disaster, or at least his true message to us is not found there.

According to 1 Kings 19:11-12, the Lord spoke to Elijah not in a strong wind, an earthquake or a fire, but in a "still small voice."


E-mail: lynn@desnews.com