On iconic Mount Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, 277 people were on the mountain, including 187 climbers. The date was Friday 5 June 2015. Suddenly and without warning, a massive earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale rocked the picturesque mountain. Boulders were dislodged and began to tumble downward. The Malaysian mountain guides like Robbie Sapinggi, Valerian Joannes, and Joseph Solgin valiantly tried to rescue their climbers but tragically perished. When it was all finished 18 people were dead: 9 from Singapore including students age 11-12 on a school outing; 6 from Malaysia, 1 Filipino, 1 Japanese and 1 from China.
Flags flew at half-mast in Sabah and Singapore. Athletes at the SEA games observed a minute of silence. Makeshift memorials were found in various places.
Statements came out of Sabah that the earthquake was the result of 10 foreign climbers who one week earlier stripped naked on the summit of Mount Kinabalu. In addition to the display of nudism, there were reports of hikers spitting, urinating, littering, using profane language etc. Sabahans claimed that these actions offended the mountain spirits.
A man named Suhaji, age 63, made these comments that taboos on the mountain had been broken. ‘…Sabah’s ethnic communities … firmly believe in a certain code of conduct while on the mountain … He went on to say that before he made his first ascent on Kinabalu, his parents held a ritual to ask the spirits for permission to climb. There is preparation to sacrifice to the mountain spirits: seven white chickens and seven eggs.
Canadian mountain-climbing nudist Emil Kaminski said on his Facebook page that Malaysian politicians were ‘stupid’ to link earthquakes with mountain-top nudity. As for the other nudists, 4 of them were arrested (or turned themselves in), spent 3 days in jail, fined MYR 5,000, and deported from Malaysia.
Two questions loomed in the minds of many:
1. Why did Malaysia, which is not on the Pacific ‘ring of fire,’ experience its first-ever earthquake?
2. Were the spirits on Mount Kinabalu angry because of some irreverent climbers?
First, one of the signs of the last days is a proliferation of earthquakes in diverse places (Matthew 24:7), and this would include those areas which are not normally earthquake prone. Early in 2011 the United Kingdom had several earthquakes and it is even further away from the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ than Malaysia. So, yes, it is possible for Malaysia to have an earthquake, even if it is unprecedented.
Second, in Scripture some (not all) natural disasters could be directly traced to spiritual forces. For example, in Job 1:19 Satan inspired a great wind to strike the house of Job’s son. All 9 of his siblings were there that day with him and all perished as a result. The death of all his children by natural disaster was the pinnacle of Job’s suffering. Do you recall the miracle of Christ casting out a legion of devils from the Gadarene demoniac? Just before arriving on the eastern shore of the lake to perform the miracle, He was caught in a great storm. Though the Biblical text does not say it explicitly, it is possible that the demonic forces knew Christ was on His way to cast them out and they wanted to make things as difficult as possible. In the mariner’s Psalm 107:24-25, it says that God caused a great wind and the same in Jonah 1:4.
So, yes, it is possible that natural disasters have a spiritual force, either God or spirits, but not in every instance. After all, in our fallen world disasters happen and at the ‘end of the world,’ these will occur with increased intensity. As such, they are more the result of the ‘signs of the time’ than a direct act by the spirit world.
Jesus appears to comment on that fact indirectly when He speaks about the tower of Siloam in Jerusalem falling down and killing 18 people. He does not ascribe a spiritual cause for this tragedy. Yet He does outline the importance of repentance, implying that the people of Galilee and Jerusalem were sinners, though they practiced outward piety. Without it, we will face a perilous future of death and destruction (Luke 13:3, 5).
In light of the precarious state of life on this earth, what should our response be? Get to the Rock that is higher than us. Through repentance, faith, and following God, we can be transported from the sinking sand to the solid rock. Only then will we understand the comforting words of Psalm 46:1-2: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.