The Impact of Turkey’s Earthquake
When world events occur that alter the lives of millions of people, reporters often use the term “geopolitical earthquake” to describe them. Such an earthquake began in the early hours of February 6. In this case, it was also literal.
Within 24 hours, three quakes of magnitude 7.8, 7.7 and 6.0 shook the Turkish city of Gaziantep, which has a metropolitan area of over 2 million people. People as far away as Cyprus and Lebanon felt the tremors.
With every passing day, the death count rose. At the time of this writing, the official number of lives lost in Turkey and Syria is over 41,000. By the time you read this, it could be closer to 50,000. Tens of thousands more are injured. Millions from both nations have been displaced. In Turkey alone, an estimated 3,000 buildings collapsed. Syria’s affected Idlib province is the last non-Kurdish rebel stronghold in Syria. Several million people there were already in need of humanitarian aid before the tremors struck. The city of Aleppo, which previously suffered heavy shelling in the Syrian civil war, was particularly hard-hit.
From heat waves to volcanic eruptions, the Mediterranean region has had its share of natural disasters. But these earthquakes were not just an “average” disaster. “No words can describe the sight of families—most of whom [have been] displaced more than once—who had to leave their homes in the freezing cold to take refuge in unsafe streets in the middle of the night,” said Red Cross Near and Middle East regional director Fabrizio Carboni. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called it “the disaster of the century.”
The earthquakes themselves were traumatizing. But now that the dust has settled, questions abound. Where was God? Why did He allow this to happen? And how will this alter the future for Turkey, Syria and beyond?
Let’s look into the Bible for answers.
Where Was God?
Whenever tragedy on such an incomprehensible scale occurs, many people ask why? Why should millions of people be shaken and terrified, their homes, schools and businesses destroyed, their neighborhoods turned to rubble? Why should thousands upon thousands upon thousands of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, grandparents and grandchildren be crushed to death? Why is our world so full of senseless tragedy? Is there a God? If so, why does He allow such suffering?
Many people believe in God. They are taught that He is all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful. But if that is true, He knows about the suffering. And if He loves those people and He has the power to stop that suffering, why doesn’t He?
People have theories about why God allows suffering. But at times like these, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise, they struggle to find an explanation that rings true.
There is a God. And He gives us the clear, true answer in His Word. That answer precisely contradicts what many religious people teach, assume and believe!
God is not the god of this world.
Have you been taught that? The Bible states that the devil is real (“Satan Is Real. Do You Recognize Him?”, page 1). Not only that, he has also deceived the whole world. And not only that, he is the god of this world (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Does the world around you begin to make a little more sense when you realize that the god of this world is actually the devil?
The Bible describes the age we live in as “this present evil world” (Galatians 1:4). That is exactly what it is, and this evil world has an evil god.
Ezekiel 28 describes a magnificent archangel who was “full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty” (verse 12). Isaiah 14 tells us God gave this angel authority to rule the Earth. But then this angel turned to evil and tried to seize God’s throne. This angel’s name was Lucifer. After he rebelled, God changed his name to Satan. And notice: God cast him back down to Earth (Ezekiel 28:16; Revelation 12:9, 12).
Satan hates human beings. And the Bible shows that the devil as the current (though temporary) unseen ruler of this world has the power to stir catastrophes such as whirlwinds (see Job 1). It is possible that the devil has a hand in calamitous events like the Turkish earthquake.
But this leaves our question unanswered. If God has the power to cast down Satan and confine him to Earth, He has the power to protect people from disasters, even disasters wrought by the power of the devil. So why is God allowing these disasters? The sadness, the misery, the tragedy that surrounds us must not be ignored. We must face up to it—and learn from it.
There may well be several ways in which what has happened here can advance God’s ultimate purposes.
First let’s examine some potential political and prophetic implications.
These earthquakes were the most recent disasters to hit Turkey, but they add to a host of tragedies to ingrain themselves in the Turkish psyche. An earthquake struck the area around Istanbul in 1999 and killed about 17,100 people. It also catapulted the political career of the young mayor of Istanbul at the time—a certain Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish government’s slow response disillusioned many people. Erdoğan campaigned against the unpopular status quo and became Turkey’s leader in 2003.
Twenty years later, the antiestablishment Erdoğan is now Turkey’s “new old regime.” He has used a variety of anti-democratic methods to cement his power, but Turkey is still technically a democracy. Its three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir—are all governed by opposition mayors. Erdoğan originally campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption and wise economic stewardship. Yet today, inflation is sky-high while many in Erdoğan’s inner circle have mysteriously become millionaires.
People were already getting fed up with Erdoğan’s regime before the earthquakes hit. He has pulled every possible string to hold on to power for two decades, from cracking down on opposition figures in politics and the media to altering Turkey’s electoral system. The earthquakes appear to have crumbled his popularity even further. Many people, decrying rickety infrastructure and a perceived slow and inadequate government response to the quakes, are now blaming Erdoğan for exacerbating the crisis, much as he did in 1999.
Presidential elections loom in May. These may produce such a landslide against Erdoğan that he would have little choice but to concede.
The earthquakes are also changing Syrian politics. When news broke of the disaster, international rescue teams rushed to Turkey’s aid. But what about Syria? It is ruled by iron-fisted dictator Bashar Assad, who gained notoriety years ago for killing his own people with chemical weapons, and the civil war continues to this day. Some governments, like the United States, don’t even have diplomatic relations with Syria. Most of the West, including Europe and moderate Arab states, have shunned working with Assad for years.
But when the earthquakes hit, nearly all this animosity was immediately forgotten.
Within two days, Assad made an official plea for help to the European Union, and the EU quickly pledged millions of dollars’ worth of aid and began organizing a donor’s conference for March. “[W]e are already sending now a message to the people of [Turkey] and Syria: The EU will support your communities,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Because no one should be left alone when a tragedy like this hits a people.”
Moderate Arab governments are also jumping to Assad’s aid. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all given the Assad regime money, emergency supplies and other aid. The earthquake is giving Assad a chance to revive relations even with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries that have had notoriously poor relations with his government.
Both these trends are of biblical importance because of a prophecy in Psalm 83. This refers to an end-time alliance of Middle Eastern peoples (verses 6-8). Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in his booklet The King of the South: “Here are the modern names of these nations, as taught at Ambassador College under Herbert W. Armstrong: The Ishmaelites are Saudi Arabia; Moab and Ammon both refer to Jordan; the Hagarenes anciently dwelled in the land known as Syria today; the Philistines are the modern Palestinian Arabs; Gebal and Tyre are Lebanon. We cannot be extremely precise in this understanding, but it gives a good general idea.”
Among all the peoples listed in this psalm, one lies outside the Middle Eastern region: “Assur.” Mr. Flurry writes, “At one time, this was the capital of Assyria, which is the term that biblical prophecy uses for modern-day Germany.”
This critical prophecy is describing an end-time alliance between Europe and several Arab states. It reveals that the purpose of this alliance is to “cut [Israel] off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance” (verse 4).
Syria today is the odd one out of this alliance. For more than 40 years, it has had a strategic alliance with Iran, the rival of moderate Arab states like Saudi Arabia. Assad’s actions in his nation’s 11-year civil war have alienated him from both the moderate Arab world and Europe. But this recent disaster has proved to be an opportunity for Syria to close a number of these rifts.
The King of the South proves that another part of this alliance, Edom, is a prophetic name for modern Turkey. Another prophecy shows that Turkey will have a special path of its own to fulfill.
The book of Obadiah is specifically addressed to Edom (verse 1). Verses 10-14 show that, when the modern nations of Israel face destruction in the near future, the Turks will betray them. A betrayal implies a certain level of trust beforehand. Erdoğan has shown through his actions that he is no friend of the nations of Israel. He is a dictatorial Islamist who has sponsored terrorist groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood that are actively trying to destroy the Jewish state of Israel and even its brother nations, Britain and America.
Erdoğan may or may not be the Turkish leader to carry out this betrayal. But with resistance against his regime growing immediately after a cataclysmic quake and before an election, he may soon be replaced by a leader whom the nations of Israel will be more eager to trust.
These massive earthquakes could hasten the fulfillments of prophecies in Psalm 83 and Obadiah. This certainly could have factored into God’s purpose for permitting this tragedy, even at such staggering human cost.
But as astounding as prophetic fulfillment is, there are even bigger questions to answer involving not just the presidents of Turkey and Syria, but every Turk, every Syrian and everybody who has ever lived.
The world has been transfixed in horror by videos of the quakes’ aftermath. You see people walking in front of buildings along city streets, some of which were turned to rubble by the initial disaster. Then the camera shakes and turns toward one of those large buildings as it slowly collapses. People flee as an enormous cloud of dust billows toward them. Then, seconds later, the camera shakes again and turns to a building on the other side: Now it too is collapsing.
A similar disaster occurred during Jesus Christ’s ministry, and it was recorded and preserved for us. Eighteen people were crushed to death in that tragedy. His teaching then is what every person at every collapsed building mourning every dusty, broken body needs to hear!
Some people must have thought—must think—that there is no God or that He is unfeeling and cruel. Some people believed that there is a God, and those who perish this way must have somehow deserved their fate. Christ squarely refuted this view. He said, “[T]hink ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).
Here He directly discussed exactly the kind of aftermath that millions of Turks and Syrians are sifting through right now. He acknowledged that some human beings suffer and die in seemingly senseless tragedies. So why do such tragedies occur if, as He said, these victims did not commit greater sins to deserve greater punishment?
We have all been influenced by the evil “god of this world” to some degree. Romans 3:23 says that all human beings are guilty of sin. Ecclesiastes 9:11 says that time and chance happen to everyone. Jesus said that, one way or another, we will “all likewise perish”—unless we repent! Repenting means giving up your entire way of life and submitting to God’s way of life. It means turning to the true God and allowing Him to rule you.
Jesus said that the disasters people are suffering are warnings to the rest of us. One way or another, your brief existence will end—unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.
Don’t let your life meander on until it runs out, whether by disaster, by illness or just by living out your all-too-few days. What does it matter now that people died under the collapsed Tower of Siloam, or the Hyatt Kansas City walkway, or the 1999 Turkey earthquake? Whether they—or we—live 90 years or 9 years is not all that different if we live pointlessly, without repentance, without qualifying to receive eternal life. But surrendering your life to the Creator who gave it to you—no matter who you are or where or when—changes everything. As Jesus taught, this is the whole purpose of human life!
This is what the images from Turkey are teaching, if we will grasp the lesson.
The most fundamental lesson a human being can learn is to face the truth of his own helplessness apart from God.
But what about those who died? Even if we can learn lessons from their deaths, they cannot—or can they?
Notice the following scriptures: “Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:5). “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God ….” (Revelation 20:12).
The truth of the Bible is that all those who have died will live again! Their deaths are only temporary: They will be resurrected to physical life. And at that time, the god of this world will no longer be Satan the devil: It will be Jesus Christ! With His Kingdom ruling, God promises to “wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain ….” (Revelation 21:4).
In the near future, God will replace Satan as ruler over the world. In the appointed time He will resurrect those who have died, across Turkey and Syria, across the globe and across the generations. He will give them the opportunity to repent, to share a relationship with Him, to fulfill the purpose for which He created them. No longer will such tragedies occur, because human beings will know their purpose and their Creator, and their Creator will bless and protect them.
This article merely introduces one of the most profound truths provable from your Bible. To prove this for yourself, request our free booklet Why ‘Natural’ Disasters?