Catastrophic Power at Mount Saint Helens

And he [Abraham] looked . . . and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace” (Genesis 19:28).

Man has the capacity to control or release great destructive power such as in the atomic bomb. When the first one was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, it destroyed the city and took the lives of 80-100,000 people. However, when Mt. Saint Helens blew 1,300 feet of its top off on May 18, 1980, the power released was estimated to be 500 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb. The force from within the earth removed 1.5 cubic miles of material and sent a column of ash 16 miles into the stratosphere. The ghostly crater remaining; the moonscape pumice plain before it; and the mat of vegetation, logs, and animal carcasses that were left floating on Spirit Lake, were but a dismal relic of the beautiful mountain and lake that once stood there.

The Creator of the universe is of course the master of its powers!

The Mt. Saint Helens eruption was only a small reminder of the powers that God can unleash to serve His purposes. When the boat Jesus was sleeping in was endangered by a storm (in His humanity He got tired), He exercised His divinity and simply said, “Peace, be still . . . and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).

Evidence of Colossal Eruptions in History

Lava flows and ash deposits from the volcanoes in the Cascade Range show that much larger eruptions occurred there in the past. Ancient Mt. Mazama blew out over forty-two times as much pulverized rock and ash as Mt. Saint Helens. When it collapsed on itself, it produced what is now Crater Lake in Oregon.

Huge basalt lava flows 100 feet thick cover tens of thousands of square miles in the Colombia Basin of eastern Washington. On the Columbia Plateau of western Canada, they pile up 5,000 feet thick. These were likely poured out during and after the worldwide Flood judgment of Noah’s time (Genesis 7). Lava outpourings are found at various places in the world such as Iceland and the Deccan lava fields of India which are larger than the country of France.

Although the Mt. Saint Helens eruption was small compared to historic eruptions, it was heard nearly 700 miles away in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. In a surprise move, it reached out in a lateral explosion that destroyed forests 17 miles to the north. Small preliminary eruptions of steam and ash were occurring after a small crater opened on the summit on March 27. The main blast occurred when the expanding north side of the mountain slid down in the largest landslide of recorded history.

A flow of super-heated steam (1,100°) and pulverized rock traveling at 200 mph then quickly overtook the landslide. It plunged into Spirit Lake and over Cold Water Ridge six miles to the north. The water in Spirit Lake splashed up the mountainside 900 feet, like in a dishpan. When it came back down, it brought thousands of trees, vegetation, soil, rocks, and any animals that were in the area. The bottom of the lake was raised 300 feet. The mat of debris on the top was so solid, it was reported in the news that the lake was gone — filled up.

The People in Harms Way

I visited the Johnson Ridge Observatory six miles north of the mountain in the summer of 2009, nearly thirty years after the eruption. I was amazed to see the shattered bases of large trees, knocked off above the ground. It is hard to imagine the force that broke off 500-year-old trees seven feet in diameter. Beyond the blasted area was the large blown-down area—86,600 acres of Douglas fir, cedar, and hemlock, were stripped bare and “mowed down like tall grass.” The visitors center is named in remembrance of David Johnston, who worked with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). He was on duty when the area was destroyed. He gave one hurried report “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” before he perished.

About 60 people lost their lives, along with thousands of elk, bear, foxes, and other animals. All efforts by authorities to barricade the mountain against sightseers were bypassed by some. For some it meant a quick death. For others—they were well-paid for the series of pictures they got that show the mountain collapsing. Some of the people who perished were found still clutching their cameras. The FAA had put a five-mile flying restriction around the mountain but it was violated as much as seventy times a day! This makes one wonder what causes some people to court disaster like this.

Why People Court Disaster

Natural catastrophes in our world are beyond our control. But social catastrophes need not catch us unprepared or overcome us. We are glad to stay as far from danger as possible. God’s map for life is found in our Bibles. His Word teaches us the way of righteousness. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17, 18).

We see many people today, especially youth, in careless pride throwing their lives away with drugs, immorality, disease, dangerous sports, and such like. The pride of heroism, and possible fame or lustful appetites is the way Satan draws souls to see how close they can get to danger and escape. Some from despair and lack of fulfillment terminate life in outright suicide.

Many today are also like the old man of the mountain, Harry Truman. Harry was the eightythree-year-old proprietor of the Mt. Saint Helens Lodge. He refused to leave his property on Spirit Lake despite official orders to evacuate. He said, “That mountain will never hurt me. When you live someplace for fifty years, you either know your country or you’re stupid.” By 9:00 AM on May 18, 1980, Harry was consumed by the flow that incinerated everything living within the inner blast zone and filled the south end of Spirit Lake. The lodge site was then buried under 300 feet of avalanche material.

Mr. Truman is not alone. When faced with the coming judgment of God many confidently state their denial of the event. Their apparent wisdom will finally be proved foolishness by the facts. Many admire the stubborn spirit of never giving up despite the disastrous results. Satan uses this rebel spirit in man to cause societies to self-destruct. Babel was the beginning of Satan’s false religious system (Genesis 10:10) and Babylon is the system God finally judges in the end (Revelation 18:18). The Prophet Jeremiah says it is Babylon “that made all the earth drunken: . . . therefore the nations are mad” (Jeremiah 51:7).

One wonders at times why nations such as the United States take self-destructive courses. People in rebellion against God’s rule in their lives are held on their way, intoxicated by the “golden cup” of pleasure (Revelation 17:4). Pride keeps many from changing course and admitting their error. They brazenly insist that it will all work out somehow and that the naysayers are old-fashioned. Rome was an example of the lust for luxury, violence, blood, and the pride of “the survivor.” There is little thought of the fear and agony of the weaker victims. This is the product of evolution’s “survival of the fittest” taught in America’s schools for three generations.

Then there are others who make their peace with their God. They find fulfillment, satisfaction, and challenges in Christian living and in family life. This is the noblest involvement and calling of God to preserve our race. The needs of all in a Christian community are met as husbands, wives, children, and the elderly humbly and with joy accept accountability and are faithful in their responsibilities.

The Christian qualities of repentance, compassion, and service are what bring peace and rest to the weaker among men, women, and children. The virtue of humility allows people to acknowledge they are wrong and change their beliefs for what is right. The child of God takes a safe course and stays far from danger, not out of fear, but from wisdom. If necessary, it is the child of God who can face danger, suffering, and death with the knowledge of God and steadfastness. “I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed [my soul] unto him against that day [the judgment]” (Paul in 2 Timothy 1:12).


Mount Saint Helens, the Eruption and
Recovery of a Volcano

, by Rob Carson
The Bible — by God, the Author of creation,
judgment, and redemption

Elvin Stauffer

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