Mount St. Helens  (MSH)
Visitors Resource Packet
Compiled/Written by Lloyd & Doris Anderson
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Understanding Natural Disasters
through the eruption of Mount St. Helens

        Imagine how it would feel to have your home washed away by raging torrents of rain and mud, or to have all your earthly possessions, let alone a family member, suddenly buried by an earthquake. These things happen almost everyday in some part of the world and are referred to by some as “nature’s fury unleashed.”

        But, if it is God our Heavenly Father speaking to man at such times, would He not communicate more effectively than with an angry tirade?  Lest we miss what he might be saying, lets look at the most studied geological event in modern days through the eyes of scripture. There we find that the Prophet Isaiah prayed and longed for this type of catastrophe (Chapter 64).

        Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!

        Then too, Jesus Himself challenged us to pray just such a wake up call after he had cursed the barren fig tree, the symbol of Israel whose leaders had just rejected Him. (Matthew 21:21):

      Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, be thou removed and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, and shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

        In the winter of 1970, a praying woodsman with the heart of a prophet was hunting elk on the face of Elk Rock. As the morning sparkled with splendor and St. Helen gleamed in the cold winter sun, he was stunned by the beauty and appalled by the fact that many who came here came to exploit what to him was a sanctuary. He soon found himself praying that God would display His power for all to see through the eruption of the mountain. Like Isaiah, he was hoping such an event would change the hearts of men.

     Although, truthfully, he was more awe-stricken than the rest of the world when ten years later God honored his specific request to "cast men's works off the mountain."1. What we are about to discover is the detail in which an all-wise and all-powerful Creator can answer His children when they pray in league with divine purposes. It was much like keeping his promise given in Micah 1:4:

The Lord will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth and the mountains shall be molten under Him and the valleys shall be cleft as wax before the fire and as the waters that are poured down a steep place.

        So then, is it just coincidence that Mount St. Helens is now a monument where people cannot even step off the trails? Furthermore, was it mere chance that the mountain erupted to the North, giving us seven geological changes so rapidly that they dispute the idea of long ages of time for man’s origin?

        When a volcano erupts, the hot molten material that lies below the earth’s crust pushes its way upward through cracks and weaknesses in various types of rock -- some very hard, others quite soft. This can happen suddenly without warning or over time, producing many earthquakes. No one knows for sure when or where magma will rise. We cannot see the channels and how they block the magma. We do know from Proverbs 3:20, however, that it is by the Lord’s “knowledge that the depths are broken up.”

     Scientists describe that prayed-for Sunday morning somewhat like this: a strong earthquake caused a wedge of the north side of the mountain to plunge into the valleys below releasing the pressure within.  Superheated water trapped in the magma-heated rock flashed to steam.  Water expands 1700 times when converted to steam. Millions of gallons of water instantaneously turning to steam produced an enormous chain explosion blowing the north side of the mountain across the landscape like a mighty canon and cutting down 150 square miles of forest.  As additional snow and ice from the heights of the mountain turned to water and came in contact with the hot rock below, the explosions continued.  Later in the day the magma became exposed and began exploding until the mountain was hollowed out, its top was gone, the water supply was exhausted, nine hours had elapsed and the energy equal to 20,000 Hiroshima-sized atom bombs had been released.2 was as if “a great invisible hand had passed over the face of the mountain” bringing the entire forest that was on its surface all down at once.1

     The blast so quickly compressed the air ahead of it that it produced a shock wave that smashed the forest to the ground.  One observer described it this way: “It was as if a great invisible hand had passed over the face of the mountain.  The entire forest on the whole mountain went down all at once.”1

        The theory of evolution is based on small changes occurring over vast ages. This theory, when it becomes a presupposition for interpreting scientific data has a large margin of error. 2

        For instance, at Yellowstone National Park there used to be a sign that read, “What you see here is a succession of 27 forests, now fossilized, that lived and died over a period of 50 million years.” The sign has been removed because MSH has raised doubts about this explanation. 3 The sinking logs on Spirit Lake, just one of the displays at the 7Wonders Museum, show it was, more likely, one forest carried there by a catastrophe similar to the eruption of MSH. Again, God was not only speaking loudly to the world in the eruption of MSH, but definitively, as promised in Isaiah 45:18-19:

For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, ... to be inhabited; I am the LORD, and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth;... I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.

        God consistently proclaims not just His power, but His mercy mixed with justice. He awoke the mountain with enough warning that people could get out of the way. For, He looketh on the earth and it trembleth, He toucheth the mountains and they smoke.” (Psalm 104:32.)

        God began the eruption by first touching the mountain gently so that it only began to smoke. People soon gathered -- scientists, news media, curiosity seekers, volcano chasers, photographers and government agents. The primary topic of discussion then was all about when and how bad. "How long can we continue to send loggers in?  How soon do people have to evacuate their lodges and cabins?  How far will the explosion go?

        Dixie Lee Ray was Washington’s governor at the time. Even as the mountain began to bulge on the North side, she was being harassed because she had begun to erect roadblocks to protect people. Finally, Saturday, May 17th, she said owners could cross the barriers to get their things if they would sign a release and return by 6:00 p.m.  She planned to allow it once again on Sunday, but God had other plans according to His character described in Isaiah 54:10:the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from Thee.”

        The following arguments suggested by Creation Scientist Dr. Stephen Austin support  the above conclusions:

The eruption was executed with perfect timing to prove God’s point that changes can occur rapidly.

·         The eruption occurred on a sunny and cloudless day -- Due to nighttime and bad weather, MSH is normally visible only about 15% of the time.

·         12 time zones (most of western civilization) were awake and off work to watch the display.

·         Casualties were minimized. Most families in the area would have experienced the death of at least one close friend or relative if the Eruption had taken place during working hours. In an event that could have killed a thousand more, 57 people died.

God chose the perfect direction to make his point--

·         The northward blast and landslide provided the setting for the rapid geological changes that best challenge evolution. Two of them involve Spirit Lake. There is no lake in another direction from the mountain that would have exhibited the appearance of multiple forests and the early beginnings of coal. Likewise, the Upper Toutle drainage provided the ideal setting for the canyons, drainage and layering resulting from the volcano’s activities.

·          If the blast had gone west it could have involved 50,000 more people. If south, three dams that produce electricity along the Lewis River could have failed and threatened large populations of Portland and Vancouver.  The ash plume went west for about one hour dropping much debris in the foothills before blowing east, saving more potential damage.

        As it was, street lights came on in Yakima, Washington at noon and the ash spread to so many states that people began to use bumper stickers that read ”Don’t come to Washington, Washington will come to you.” Amos 4:13 says God does these sorts of things.

For lo, He that forms the mountains and creates the wind and declares unto man what is his thought, that makes the morning darkness and treads upon the high places of the earth, the Lord, the God of Hosts is His name.

        But, unfortunately, just as in Noah’s day when that prophet foretold the Global Flood, many fail to heed God’s messages. In fact, the tectonic plates that cause earthquakes are but leftovers from that flood when the “fountains of the deep were opened up” (Genesis 7:11). The changes of the earth from the flood have resulted in our violent weather patterns, changing climate and diminishing lifespans.4  Although we wrestle with the idea of evil being so bad God would have to destroy the earth, we need to ask ourselves how much more violent our earth might be without natural disasters and wild weather to constantly remind us of our mortality. Psalm 46:8 teaches us how to respond appropriately:

Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations He has made in the earth.... Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen.

        One of the people who did not listen to the warnings that came before the eruption of MSH was Harry Truman, the 83 year old man who owned the beautiful Spirit Lake Lodge. He has become a sort of icon representing the attitude many people have that we are self-sufficient. Even school children wrote to him to leave the mountain, but he declared “there is not enough material there to come this far, and it will go

the other direction if it is going to blow.” Harry and his lodge now lie under the rocks and ash of what used to be the north side of MSH, 1/2 cubic mile of material that raced down the mountain at 100 miles per hour to end his life in an instant of time. He chose his own death when he refused to leave, saying, “I am part of this mountain and this mountain is part of me.”

        There is one more story to help us reflect on the character of God displayed in the eruption. So different from that of Harry Truman’s. It is that of Michael Lienau. His story follows in his own words.

All my life I wanted to make movies.  When I was nine years old, in order to buy more film, I charged neighbor kids admission to see my home movies. By age 13, I had a 16mm camera and freelanced local news footage for TV stations. At 17, I began work as a full-time cameraman for an NBC affiliate. At 19, I started my own film production company. I was poised for my “big break” whenever it came...

May 18, 1980...the world was stunned by the raw power that tore the top off Mount St. Helens. I joined a film crew attempting to capture the first ground level shots of the devastation. Common sense told me not to go -- the mountain could erupt again at any moment. But eager for my first big break, I soon found myself the youngest of a team of five, camera-ready, leaping from a helicopter into a wasteland of flattened timbers.

A three-hour shoot soon became a three-day struggle for survival. We struggled in hot ash, eventually in circles, our compass rendered useless by magnetism in the ash and our contour maps made meaningless on the altered slopes. We were terrified and now hopelessly lost when a second eruption of Mount St. Helens shook the ground. The atmosphere was charged with electricity, but it was deathly quiet. The blast rocketed over our heads to be heard by people 200 miles away.

Cold, hungry and injured, we became the story. Unknown to us, we had been declared missing and presumed dead. Morale plummeted as the possibility of never getting out became a reality; it was then that I called out to God in my desperation.

Broken trees lay scattered around me, one of them making the shape of a cross. I heard an audible voice say, “Michael, look up to your left!” It scared me because no one was near. Minutes later I saw the blades of a rescue helicopter rise over the hill exactly where the voice had told me to look. We were saved!

Today, the volcano is an awe-inspiring national monument. But for me, Mount St. Helens is also a personal monument, a landmark which graphically reminds me that in any of life’s disasters, the One who made the mountains, Jesus Christ, can be my rescuer. The One who moves the mountains offers the only solid ground to stand on. 5

     For Michael Lienau, God kept His promise found in Psalm 46:1-2:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though the waters thereof roar and be troubled and though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

        After the eruption this conversation occurred between the woodsman (W.M.) working in the blast zone and his friend:

W.M.: “God sure did a work here.”

Friend:  I don’t think God had much to do with it.”

W.M.: “8:32 Sunday morning! What would have happened, if it had been 8:32  Monday morning?”           

Friend: “There wouldn’t be enough men in this county left to rig a tower.”

W.M.: “God is good to us, Buddy.”


       As life returns to MSH, forestry experts are able to study how nature rapidly recreates complex ecosystems after catastrophes. This is producing a kinder and gentler forestry that better accommodates ecological values while allowing for the extraction of commodities.6  God has done far more than the woodsman ever imagined.

     If you are far from God or wish to use the Mountain’s witness to help a friend, call the Mount St. Helens Creation Information Center. We are here to help you turn yourself and others to the One who created you for a purpose and can bring good from every personal disaster. 

Mount St. Helens Creation Information Center

4749 Spirit Lake Highway,  Silverlake, WA  98645

     Sources 2-6 used in this paper can be purchased through the Mount St. Helens Creation Information Center. Order form available.

1 Brooks, David. Information obtained through personal interview.

2Austin, Steven. A Slide Collection for Educators, and, the video,“Mount St. Helens, Explosive Evidence for Catastrophe.” Institute for Creation Research.

3 Anderson, Lloyd. “7Wonders,” (summary leaflet using Austin’s work), Mount St. Helens Creation Information Center, 1999.

4  Whitcomb, John. The World That Perished, Baker book House, 1988.

5Lienau, Michael. “The Fire Below Us,” an award-winning dramatic  documentary video of Global Net Productions.

6Swenson, Keith, Biological Recovery from Catastrophism at MSH (quoting  Franklin, Jerry F. from “Ecosystem responses to the eruption of Mount St. Helens.” National Geographic Research. 1(2): 198-216

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