I was in Oakland when the recent earthquake hit northern California. I awoke at 3 a.m. in an undulating bed.

My first thought, in my mental fog, was “I don’t remember asking for a water bed.”

My second thought was I must be making this happen. My wife is right. I thrash around at night like a wild man.

My third thought was I was having a heart attack.

Then I came to my senses. I was in California. It must be an earthquake. I stayed awake for a spell, listening for sirens and such. But when nothing happened I dozed back off.

I’m making an issue of this in a religion column because earthquakes are big in religious circles. Some 20 books in the Old and New Testaments mention them. And when God wants to send a message, earthquakes are usually his weapon of choice.

An earthquake did in the cities of Jericho, Sodom and Korah.

They bounced Elijah around and rattled Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Job, Paul and the Psalms talk about them.

Earthquakes were there at the Crucifixion and, as everyone knows, they’ll be a big part of end times.

There’s a poetic quality to an earthquake. It is as if the earth, like a frustrated dog, is trying to shake off things it finds annoying.

“I’ve had all I can take,” the earth seems to say. “Get off my back.” And though science has pretty much figured out how and when quakes happen, the lessons a quake can teach today are still pretty biblical.

I'm not soft-peddling the seriousness of earthquakes. They are tragedies that cause harm and suffering. But if one thing positive can come from a quake, the insight we glean may be that thing.

They are reminders that we live in an unstable world. They show us how quickly a person’s life can change.

They bring to mind lessons about living each day fully, storing up treasures, such as wisdom, love, humility and compassion, not material possessions that can be shattered in a second.

An earthquake makes us stop in our tracks and think about mortality. They make us feel fragile. They show us the fallacy of self-sufficiency.

At least the latest California quake showed such things to me.

Sadly, like most people, I've found that truths learned today may slide to the back of my mind tomorrow.

And that’s why, I suppose, earthquakes keep happening — in the Bible and in our world today.

Earthquakes are natural disasters that help us to focus on what matters.

At 3 a.m. in California, an earthquake can be a literal wake-up call.

Email: jerjohn@deseretnews.com