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Icelandic Volcano Eyjafjallajökull - Act of God ?

The insurance industry has labelled the eruption of the Icelandic Volcano Eyjafjallajökull an "act of God". Is it?

Could it be that God, the Creator of the laws of physics, acts in the realm of physics for his own purpose? (See note 1) If so, what might be that purpose? Do we begin to see God's purpose if we look at the results? The grounding of air travel over a vast realm of Europe and elsewhere - what possible interest might God have in bringing that about, or at least allowing it to happen? Can we ever know, or might there be some interest that is in line with God's character as revealed in the Bible - justice and love?

Do we fully understand God's Creational mandate for humanity - to be shepherds of creation? To be God's representatives in bringing love and justice to the rest of creation? (See note 2) But what do we find?

Perhaps it is time to take stock?

Are we absolutely certain that man-made climate change is a myth, as the climate skeptics claim? Or is it possible that our lifestyle is contributing to changes that will bring about irreversible damage not only to our grandchildren but also the rest of creation? What is it about our lifestyle (I write as a rich European) that might bring this damage about? Are there not several factors - such as, our expectation of uninterrupted, plentiful and cheap power, our assumption that we should be able to drive as far and often as we fancy without inconvenience, our aspiration to fly more often? Is it not the case that air travel is much more damaging to the future climate than rail travel (see note 3), or even road? Are we not increasing our air travel at an alarming rate (see note 4)?

And are not a large number of our flights unnecessary?

Do we not realise that air travel damages the future climate (via climate change emissions)? What would we say when we stand before God's judgment seat, and he were to ask us why we flew so much, having heard that it causes harm?

Have we not been warned that we must reduce our dependence on air travel? Have there not been many warnings that we must stop the increase in air travel, and even reverse it? And what is the result? Have governments, business and people heeded the warnings? Not likely!

If humankind refuses to take the warnings to reduce our dependence on air travel, and if God knows that it will end in damage to his earth, what is God to do? Should he not give warning? Should he not shake us, to wake us up? He is a merciful God, so is it not reasonable that he allows a small volcano to erupt that will not kill anyone, but will disrupt air travel for a number of days?

Might not this massive disruption to air travel be an "act of God". Might this 'act' be more than an act: a sign or message designed to warn us? Warn us to reduce our expectations, our aspirations and our assumptions about flying? If so, should we not listen? And respond? Should we not take action in our lives to fly less often?

See also the following pages with a similar message about other issues:


1. The Bible seems to indicate that God sometimes does act in the realm of physics, and in other realms such as economics or belief he sometimes 'allows' the laws of that realm to work to their logical painful conclusion while at other times God "holds back" the evil that is due. So, either way, it seems reasonable to see that God does act purposefully in this world.

2. See A New View in Theology and Practice for explanation of the idea that humankind is meant to be shepherds of creation, as representatives of God.

3. In round terms, per passenger or per tonne of goods transported, air travel emits ten times the climate change emissions that rail travel does.

4. Growth in air travel. At present, air travel holds a relatively small percentage of the travel done, but it is growing fast at compound interest rate (that is, increasingly fast) and it is expected that air travel will contribute a huge proportion of climate change emissions around 2030. This is made worse by (a) artificially cheap air fares (b) expansion of airports (c) aspiration that is being deliberately created in developing countries like India to fly rather than take the train (see the film The Age of Stupid) (d) increasingly the structure of multinational corporations is such that its employees fly from place to place for meetings and 'work commitments' (e) increasing globalisation means that sales people and others are forced to fly to other countries in pursuit of their work, (f) increased impatience in getting around from place to place, (g) the vested interests of the aircraft industry, airlines and tourist companies, (h) the desire of governments to have the 'prestige' of a hub airport, (i) the unquestioned assumption that prosperity is only possible if we let our business people fly as easily and often as they like. What is happening is that the very structure of Westernized life and business is being shaped so as to depend increasingly on air travel. So, even if governments try to stop the increase in air travel, they are very unlikely to be effective. This is alarming.


On 21 April 2010, AF wrote:

"That was very good Andrew. I agree with your point in note 1 that it is not that God gives us so many volcanic eruptions but that by his mercy he restrains them so we have so few. I think that if the world was really as the reductionists would have us believe it would be far more capricious than it is. It may well be that God has let this volcano go off as a warning to us. Of course volcanoes are just natural events caused by build up of magma, moving of the earth's crust etc. but God can restrain them if he wishes. 'Even the wind and waves obey him.'

"I think another lesson from the volcanic eruption is how puny mankind really is. One little volcano can bring the whole European airline industry to a halt - for as long as it likes. A little bit of dust is all that it takes and we are powerless to do anything about it. This event was also entirely unforeseen. What other similar things could take us by surprise?

"It is also sobering to see how many people have been caught out. David and Helen have one friend stuck in Singapore and another in America. My nephew's wife is stuck in Cyprus. Everyone must have people close to them like this. Yet it is hard to find one of these trips that were necessary. The airlines complain about how much this is costing them and our economy. But if no planes ever flew again, once everyone was back home, I think all our economies would benefit. On the news were some school children stuck on a field trip to China. What nonsense taking them to China - it is just an excuse for a 'jolly'. Sadly those organising the trip probably don't even realise that and would be angry I even suggested it. On my accounting system that trip would be a big economic negative.

"Remember how the temperature over America fell when they stopped flying for a couple of days after 911. I wonder what has happened over Europe?"

On 24th April 2010 SJB commented:

"... Insurance companies may be trying to hide behind an 'act of god' defence, but this is clearly economic and nothing to do with belief. They don't really think it's an act of God, they just want to weasel their way out of paying out. For an industry based on fear, deceit and greed, this comes as no surprise.

"However, I do massively agree with you only many points. We really don't need flowers from Kenya, we really don't need cheap and fast travel to move businessmen around, we really don't need pollution. We have just seen a stark example of how a civilisation can be rendered impotent, and how devastating sudden changes like that can be. If the universe is really the story of "Survival of the Stable", then we've just been shown just how unstable so much of civilisation really is. It should be taken as a warning, but not because some unearthly creature wants to nurture us like the Vorlon's in Babylon 5, who didn't turn out to be so nice after all. Instead, the warning should be taken to remind us of the sin/crime of hubris, of believing that we/our civilisation is indestructible, and of thinking that things will always remain as they are no matter how unstable we let them become."

Offered to God as on-going work, this page is designed to stimulate discussion on various topics, as part of Andrew Basden's pages that open up various things from one of the Christian perspectives. Discussion, comments, queries are very welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2010. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

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Created: 18 April 2010. Last updated: 22 April 2010 AF response. 28 April 2010 SJB response. 3 May 2010 error corrected.