Since God has nothing to do with the advent of earthquakes - or fires, floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis for that matter - I rather prefer the legal term "force majeure", which defines "an event that is a result of the elements of nature, as opposed to one caused by human behaviour." So after the latest Christchurch upheaval, I thank God that in a city of nearly 400,000 people, in which an earthquake struck at its busiest time of the day, the death toll is likely to be only about 200 and many square kilometres of the city are still standing and largely unaffected.Oh Garth, what a splendid and flexible God is yours, one who is not responsible for Acts ascribed to him by the law, yet who saved a relatively high proportion of Christchurch's citizens from the example of such an Act which occurred on 22 February. Are we to learn from this deed of relative mercy that the New Zealander is favoured by God over His other creations, the Portuguese and the Japanese? Should we look into our hearts and ask ourselves what more we might do to improve our standing with Him, to reduce future death tolls to zero. Should we pray more, for verily we are praying above our weight on a world stage, yet might we not be praying enough?
Compare that with the Lisbon (population 250,000) earthquake of 1755, in which 100,000 citizens died and six magnificent cathedrals were reduced to rubble, and the Kobe quake of 1995 in which 6700 people perished, and we surely have cause to be grateful. And to whom can we express gratitude, save to the creator and sustainer of the universe?
Perhaps Thomas Babington Macaulay knew something of which we are only dimly aware when he wrote of London in the future ''and she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.'' Yes, we win: in 1840 Macaulay prophesied that London would be in ruins but at least one New Zealander would be around to go there on his OE.
Artist's impression by Gustave Doré; I am grateful to Michael Higgins for advising me that this promo for Block of Wood by The Bats includes scenes of Christchurch as it was: