Last week's eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano grounded transatlantic flights between North America and Europe and generally disrupted travel for hundreds of thousands of people. The cost to airlines is in the multiple millions.
This particular volcano had not erupted since 1821, and modern aviation has not had to deal with such a major problem before. Experts say the volcano could erupt for months. If that happens, it could be a long summer full of inconvenience for not just the travel business, but for a large segment of the global commerce.
Iceland has 35 active volcanoes. In 1783 a series of eruptions killed off much of the livestock and agriculture on the island and a sizable portion of the people. Even in Europe thousands died as the ash clouds severely affected Europe's climate and agriculture. This disaster's continuing impact on Europe's economy has led some historians to speculate that it could have been a contributor to the French Revolution in 1789.
Clearly natural disasters of this magnitude severely impact a modern technologically based world. The sophisticated machines and computers at the heart of our world are vulnerable to forces beyond the control man. This points to the fact that events, natural and man-made, can create changes beyond anyone's imagination.
In the May issue of World News and Prophecy we will have an article about recent earthquakes. The two this year in Haiti and Chile highlight the fragility of life and society. Both poor and rich are subject to these forces. There are key lessons to learn from these events as God's Word tells us.
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away" (James 4:13-14).
Major disruptions like an earthquake or a volcano remind us of the fragility of life and how little control we do have at times. What it should do is point us to God, the Creator of life, and add a measure of realistic humility to our thinking.
We humans begin to think we can master the forces of nature in all their forms. It can't be done. We have limited control over our own lives. We can, and should, choose wisely in the matters we can control. But as we all learn, there are many aspects of everyday life we don't always control. We cope and adapt to these challenges. But these larger challenges, like a natural occurrence of an earthquake, hurricane or volcano, can teach us to look to God and His will above our own. It is meant to humble us.
James goes on to say, "Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.' But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:15-16).
Modern science is committed to figuring out where natural disasters come from, with the goal of eventually mastering them. I wonder how you master a massive volcano with all its forces unleashed from far beneath earth's surface? How do you turn the course of a hurricane bearing down on a major city? Could such ideas border on arrogance? I wonder.
This same book of James reminds us we cannot master our tongues, one of the smaller parts of our body. That for most of us is a lifetime work. The larger lesson for us is to master our own nature with the help of God. We cannot control natural disasters, but we have a chance to control some of our own human "disasters." God help us do that.