So much technology. So much know-how. So much sophisticated planning. So much power. Just one blast from an Icelandic volcano – and it was all paralysed. When the Eyjafjallajökull (there’s one for the proofreaders!) volcano erupted in mid-April, the United Kingdom and Ireland were forced to close their air space to all flights, and other parts of Europe had no option but to follow suit. In a matter of hours, as the ash from the volcano drifted southwards, air travel was brought to a standstill. The powerful aircraft on which so many rely were helpless. Thousands of travellers were stranded in airports, some who had to travel spent substantial sums of money on taxis and other alternative means of transport, and for several days the result was chaos. Although little attention was paid to them, the Icelanders in the vicinity of the eruption must have had a particularly difficult time. You couldn’t make it up.
Not for the first time, the pretensions of man have been put into perspective by the forces of nature. But of course it isn’t ‘nature’ as some self-contained, impersonal force – it’s ‘nature’ as an expression of the will of a sovereign God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Scientists will no doubt be able to explain the processes by which the volcano came to erupt at that precise time, but any such explanation, whatever its value, will inevitably be incomplete. The crucial factor, which is not amenable to measurement by scientific instruments, is the providential working of the God who ‘works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Ephesians 1:11).
Eyjafjallajökull was fulfilling the will of God. Of that we can be sure. That is not to say that we can grasp precisely what his will was (and is) in the eruption. The divine purpose will have had many facets, most far beyond our understanding or imagination. We may rest assured, however, that every detail, down to the frustration of the last stranded passenger to reach home, was embraced by the mind of the Almighty. We are often eager to speak of God’s providence in relation to happy events, deliverances from danger, and so forth, but our doctrine of providence must also embrace a recognition that hard experiences too are shaped by that same sovereign working of the Lord.
One thing is surely beyond dispute – an event such as the eruption of a volcano reminds us in dramatic fashion of the power of the Lord. Forces are unleashed which leave our little minds reeling, as the limitations of human strength and ingenuity are exposed. There is, literally, nothing that human beings can do except flee for safety if possible. Awe-inspiring as that may be, however, it is even more sobering to remember that all such phenomena, and indeed the entire world, are in the palm of the Lord’s hand. The Lord who is ‘mightier than the great waters’ (Psalm 93:4) is also mightier than the greatest volcano.
For Christians such events, brought dramatically close by the news media, should serve as a call to humble acknowledgment of the sovereignty and power of God, along with joyful recognition that this God has stooped very low to deal graciously with us in the Lord Jesus Christ. Looking at the night sky, the psalmist wondered, ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’ (Psalm 8:4). Our response to Eyjafjallajökull should be the same. We should never lose our sense of wonder that the Almighty is also our loving Father in heaven.
We recognise too that unbelievers have only to open their eyes to be confronted with abundant evidence for the existence of God. As the Apostle Paul says, ‘since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20). Destructive phenomena such as volcanoes may not have been part of the original creation, which was ‘very good’, yet they too testify to the fact that those who attribute the universe to chance and random forces are flying in the face of the evidence. We know, of course, that only God’s grace can open blind eyes to the truth. If people did not believe when the Son of God returned from the dead (see Luke 16:31), they will not believe when an Icelandic volcano erupts, unless the sovereign God of salvation is pleased to bring them to himself. Lots to pray about after the big bang.