Terra Not So Firma

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“There’s nothing quite like good old solid ground . . . terra firma,” the astronaut announced at the press conference following his problem-wracked, week-long voyage. Kneeling down when the shuttle had landed, this proud military man had actually kissed the ground. “It’s nice to be able to count on something!” he had said.

Well, of course, everyone knows that you can count on solid ground . . . or can you?

It was January 1993. Our family had flown to Southern California to spend the week with some of our closest friends. On Sunday night, Lenny and I got in the car and drove to Palm Springs for a Monday of golf. Our families stayed back in Pasadena.

At exactly 3:30 the next morning, I woke to something I had never heard before. It was a cracking sound, reminiscent of lifting a sticking window sash. And then, incredibly, our hotel room began to roll. Lenny sat up. “Earthquake,” he choked out. “We’re having an earthquake.” I flipped on the light. “It’s a big one,” Lenny said after about twenty seconds of what felt like ocean waves. Fifteen seconds later it was over.

We phoned our families. They were hysterical. What we had experienced in the desert was nothing compared to what had happened a hundred miles to the west. When we saw the news the next morning, we saw freeways—the very ones we had traveled only hours before—twisted and broken. (We were literally on the freeway—Interstate 405—in the photo above the night before the earthquake.)

When we got home later that day, we heard the detailed story from our families . . . dishes falling from their shelves and chandeliers swinging wildly. Thirty-five seconds of terror.

Over the next few days, I experienced the aftermath of an earthquake from the inside. I listened to local talk shows and the quivering voices of people devastated by this unspeakable disaster. By late in the week, it dawned on me why earthquakes are so awful. No, it’s not the lack of warning—although that’s the reality of these tremors. It’s not the destruction—although the power of the moving earth is spectacular.

The greatest ruin an earthquake delivers is in the hearts of people who can no longer count on the dependability of solid ground. Terra firma has lost its firma.

Isaiah 31 was a blazing reminder from the prophet to his people. “Woe to those who . . . rely on horses, who trust in chariots . . . and in horsemen because they are very strong,” he declares in verses 1-3. “The Egyptians are man, and not God. . . .”

The Israelites were filled with insecurity. “We’re tired of trusting a God we cannot see,” they must have said. “We’re tired of relying on invisible safekeeping. Give us those strong and dependable Egyptians. They’ll protect us. They’re like solid ground. We can count on them. They’ll save us.”

“When the Lord stretches out his hand,” Isaiah replies, “they will all perish together.” If you trust in anything or anyone other than Him, you’ll be very sorry, the prophet warns his people. Even the Egyptians will fail you.

What can you count on . . . your job, your car, your Maytag? How about your stock portfolio? Your relationships? Your health?

Isaiah reminds us that none of these things are worthy of our absolute trust. Incredible as it may sound, they all will let us down. Trusting in God will never bring disappointment. He is enough.  His reliability is legendary. His faithfulness is completely sure . . . absolutely firma.

Kneel down and kiss this truth.