Mount Agung in the Indonesian resort island of Bali is currently erupting, and residents and tourists are waiting to see if it will really blow. No one quite knows what to expect. Already, Agung is spewing thick ash 30,000 feet into the air, cancelling flights, leaving over 50,000 people stranded. Well, look on the bright side: At least they’re stranded in paradise.
The power of God is manifested in His creation, from the atom to the stars and everything in-between. Beneath the earth, whose crust is proportionately thinner than an egg-shell, churning super-heated molten rock churns with unimagineable power, thousands of miles deep. We still don’t fully know what’s ‘down there’, where Dante quite aptly placed his Inferno, and we likely never will.
In the mystery of His providence, these forces are usually kept in check. We walk, drive and bicycle blithely around, thinking we are in control of it all. Although we have been given ‘dominion over the Earth’, made a ‘little less than the angels, with all things put ‘under our feet’, we should recall that our authority is but a limited one, and distorted by our sins and our rebellion against God and His laws. Recall all that molten rock, just roiling around a few miles down, to say nothing of the asteroids whizzing by a hairsbreadth away, at least in astronomical terms. This sounds sort of like pious and fraught apocalyptica, but it is true. As the Catechism teaches, the original sin of Adam, compounded by the long history of our personal sins, has had the effect that our original “harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man” (cf., #400).
Originally created immortal and impassible, Man is now subject to decay and death, and all that physical evil is, in some mysterious way, a punishment for sin. Even primitive Man, who knew not Christ, had some dim awareness of this, perhaps throwing a virgin or two into the fiery furnace to placate the gods of the underworld, hoping for the best which, obviously, usually did not happen.
But in the fullness of revelation, we now know better, that all punishment, especially that meted out by God, is ordered to Man’s betterment, to his repentance and conversion and his spiritual good. It is spiritual sacrifce that counts for most, the offering of a broken and contrite heart. For we are not made for this world, but for the next, and if it takes a volcanic eruption, or even the threat of one, to help us realize that, so be it.
At the very least, cataclysms such as hurricanes, tornadoes, asteroids, earthquakes, teach us in our hubris that we are rather small after all, that there will always be things that escape our grasp, mysteries ‘too great and marvelous for us’, and that, in the end, especially in the face of our own death and the destruction of all that we have made, we must depend upon God, and cast ourselves at His feet.
And what about all those mega-upon-megatons of carbon being spewed into the air by this implacable mountain? Like the wildfires in California, years of draconian green emissions policies are quite literally going up in smoke. I think God is telling us something about our own misguided attempt to control the climate of this vast planet through such facile means: Weather will be what it will, whatever we may strive to do.
Wind and rain, frost and snow, mountains and hills, (and we may add, volcanos and ash) bless the Lord.