Before this week, none but a few intrepid back–packers in big boots and leather shorts would ever have heard of Eyjafjallajokull. Now this Icelandic volcano has everyone’s shorts tied in knots. Here I sit writing an InsideOut in Edinburgh, Scotland, of all places, with only the slightest chance of getting home to San Diego (at the earliest) a week late. This delay was not in my plans. I have lectures to prepare, places to speak and our major San Diego conference (June 17–18) to help organize, all of which are nigh impossible from this beautiful but out of the way town. And I am better off than most. Like us, forty thousand Americans are stuck in Great Britain. Many are out of money, obliged to shell out for hotels, restaurant meals, clothing and transport to and from the airport as they seek information on their “flightmare.” International commerce is losing multi–millions of dollars per day; travelers are desperate for prescription medicines, parents are separated from their children and weddings have had to be postponed.
My wife and I have fewer problems than most. Last week I lectured at an international conference in Edinburgh, so we had already arranged to stay with Rebecca’s brother and sister–in–law, who live here. Now we are simply over–staying our family’s gracious welcome! This is a special providence for which we are indeed grateful. Life in Edinburgh slows you down. On Sunday we walked 20 minutes to church and back. To use the bus, you walk ten minutes to the bus stop and wait ten minutes for the bus—but a week for a flight? That is slow! But whatever our differing situations, those of us marooned on European desert islands have been forced to reflect on the true nature of life. Our efficient planning and apparent control of affairs masks a deeper level of reality over which we have no power. One simple volcano with an unpronounceable name has disrupted the lives of millions of perfectly intelligent and well–organized people. We are in shock, but shock provides an occasion to take stock of both the hard reality of perilous human existence and God’s control over the affairs of men.
A French philosophy professor, Francois Roche from Nimes, on holiday in Japan, is in shock. He is down to his final $30 and stated: “I stayed in my hotel last night, but that was all my money. From now on, I think I’m going to sleep at the airport. Help me God!” On April 20, he learned that his next flight to France could be May 12—but only if he would pay an extra $200. Otherwise, he might have to wait until June to see his native Gaul!
Bringing God into the equation is timely, but how easy it is, even for Christians in normal circumstances, to think of human existence in purely naturalistic and mechanistic terms, where life is viewed as a series of well–worked out projects, realizable, quantifiable goals, and rational plans—all under our careful control. And then the pulverized ash of molten rock and shards of natural glass, spewing from a tiny speck of the earth’s surface, fills the sky above us—and we are undone. Our mighty traveling machines, now strangely silent, splayed out like great lifeless birds on the jetways of Europe’s airports, make a powerful unspoken statement of our own much deeper spiritual helplessness.
Such times bring a sense of humiliation, not so much because of our sin, but because we realize the precarious nature of physical human life. The fact is, we are powerless, both morally and physically. For life in all its aspects, we are dependent on God the Creator of life, the controller of history and the just Judge. Without this assurance, life is chaotic and human beings are left to the mercy of natural volcanoes and other mindless threatening “natural” events. For this reason, many who refuse the Creator worship Nature as the Goddess/Mother, seeking to placate her anger by various acts of spiritual devotion. But, as Paul says, this is merely the worship of creation, an idol that has no ultimate power.
I believe in a sovereign Creator because, 1. in spite of superficial disorder, there are amazing signs of His ordering hand, which, in mysterious good ways, controls the lives of those who love Him, and 2. because that is how Jesus, my model and Savior, lived—trusting himself to the goodness of God in spite of the disorder all around him, despising the shame for the joy that was set before him. So I wait in faith, in a faraway land, for the joy of returning home to work in a fallen world in the service of Jesus, my Lord and Master.