Thursday, April 22, 2010

Theophany of Eyjafjallajökull

The most fascinating part of the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull has not been its effect on aviation. It has been the photos.  It looks like the end of the world - something out of the Book of Revelation. The world turns dark in the middle of the day. Ash turns the landscape into a monochrome gray. An apocalyptic plague covers this tiny North Atlantic nation.

The most fascinating photos are the ones of lightning in the ash cloud. Plumes of steam and ash rise thirty thousand feet into the air, and from the middle of the cloud comes lightning and thunder! I wouldn't have imagined that such a thing were possible. But it seems that the same conditions that make for the standard thunderstorm lightning is present in a volcanic ash cloud. Who knew?

As I ponder the photos, I see more than a pyrotechnic display. I see a theophany. In Revelation the apostle John witnessed lightning, thunder, and fire burning before the throne of God. The people of Israel stood at the foot of the sacred mountain Sinai and witnessed a similar display of cloud and lightning, and the people trembled.

Nowadays people don't tremble, they complain. The volcano is disrupting their travel plans. It is unexpectedly extending their European vacation. It is delaying their work or school. It is costing them money. Waa, waa, waa. Call the wambulance. Where is the wonder? Where is the awe!

When God wanted to reveal his divine attributes to Job, he appeared in a whirlwind and challenged Job with images of his power displayed in nature. For four chapters God describes the wonders of creation. I picture this scene at the end of the Book of Job as more than words. I imagine God displaying images to Job's mind. Job's response is to stop complaining and repent in dust and ashes.

Our response to the theophany of Eyjafjallajökull is to complain and want things to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Displays of God's power in nature have become a bother. People look at this Icelandic volcano and see a problem to be overcome, an obstacle to be avoided. I see God.

This is why we are mindlessly destroying our environment. It is because we no longer discern the divine in creation. We no longer stand in awe of volcanoes or earthquakes, rain forests or glaciers. All we see is the loss of money and time. I hear God speaking... just in time for Earth Day.

Rush Limbaugh said he also heard God speaking in the volcano. He said it was God's way of protesting Obama's healthcare reform. The apostle Paul is more on track. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." It is not about us. It is all about God, if we only had ears to listen.

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