A great cloud of volcanic ash
As I write in late April 2010, there are no aeroplanes flying overhead here in the UK. This is due to a volcano which has erupted in Iceland. The volcano has sent a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere, the particles from which, it is considered, would damage an aeroplane’s engine, and so potentially put passengers’ lives at risk. At the moment, all planes are grounded. All they can do is wait for the cloud of ash to blow away. This though is taking time, and has caused a measure of inconvenience. The news contains reports of stranded passengers all over Europe. Some school children and their teachers have not made it back to school after the Easter break. There are rumours of impending shortages of fruit and vegetables in the shops. More critically, I heard of a girl waiting for a bone marrow transplant – and the bone marrow is flown by plane from Canada. On a personal level, I am booked to fly to Belfast in a week’s time. Currently, it is uncertain whether I shall travel or not.
Are there any spiritual lessons to be learned from this inconvenient and disruptive volcanic ash cloud hovering over of us? Yes there are. The volcanic ash cloud teaches us lessons in God’s sovereignty and lessons in God’s salvation.
God’s absolute sovereignty
The volcanic ash cloud reminds us of our ultimate powerlessness. We make plans, but our plans are subject to the will of God. ‘Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established’ (Prov. 19:21). We live in a predominantly secular world. The majority, it would be fair to say, do not take God into their frame of reference in their living and planning. But God is! Is this great cloud then a reminder from God that He is there and that we need to take account of Him in our thinking, living, planning and dying?
Christians sometimes use the letters DV. DV means ‘Deo Volente’ – if the Lord wills. Our plans are certainly subject to the will of God. ‘The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps’ (Prov. 16:9). Man proposes, but God sometimes disposes. Our plans are sometimes frustrated and dashed. Yet seeing our disappointments as ‘His appointments’ changes matters. His will is best, for He is infinite in wisdom and love. We may trust in God when we do not understand why our plans have been thwarted, for ‘behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face’.
This volcanic ash cloud then, which has caused such a lot of disruption, reminds us to make our plans with a DV – if the sovereign Lord wills. James, the Lord’s earthly brother, wrote (4:13-16, emphasis mine):
Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance.
God’s Gracious Salvation
In Isaiah 44:22, God promises His people ‘I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist’. No airline executive or earthly politician can remove the current cloud of volcanic ash and make it safe to fly again. Only almighty God can. But what of the great big black cloud of sin which separates us from God, and prevents us from enjoying fellowship with Him both here and hereafter? Here is an even greater problem, and unlike the volcanic ash cloud, it affects both flyers and non-flyers.
The Bible affirms that God, in His mercy, is able to take this black cloud away from us. Psalm 103:12 ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us’. The Christian gospel proclaims that God sent His own Son into the world to deal with our sin cloud problem – those sins which separate us from our Maker. The gospel proclaims ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:3). ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Pet. 2:24). ‘You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin’ (1 John 3:5).
It is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross that our sins are forgiven. The blood of Jesus removes our sins from God’s sight, and restores our fellowship with God our Maker. Through Jesus, we have peace with God for time and eternity. Through Jesus, God Himself can say to us ‘I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist’ (Is. 44:22, NIV).
As I write, the volcanic ash cloud remains. We are living in unusual, uncertain days. But the Bible exhorts us to look up to God who does not change. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. The volcanic ash is a reminder that it is He who is in ultimate control. And the volcanic ash is even a reminder of the central message of the Bible – the forgiveness of sins, through faith in the crucified Saviour.
Timothy Cross is a preacher from Cardiff, and the author of a number of Christian books.