A few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail with a relatively short (19 pages, including bibliography) paper dealing with the subject of “Volcanic Activity In The Bible,” written by an online acquaintance of mine from my organization. The paper, according to its cover, was written in August 1998 by someone who combined a series of verses in the Bible that deal with fire and dark clouds at midday and other physical manifestations of the wrath of God that could very well indicate volcanic activity with scientific information about the dangers of volcanoes as a potential vulnerability for the United States (and, clearly, other areas).
As a child growing up in West Central Florida, volcanoes were not a part of my day-to-day existence nor were they a matter of particular concern, and at best were a subject of academic interest. I studied them further in college, but at that point, living in the Western United States, the subject was of more than academic interest because I lived in an area of active volcanism. That is, of course, true for me as a resident of Oregon who lives within sight of several volcanoes, most notably Mt. Hood and the infamous Mt. Saint Helen’s. Interestingly enough, an episode of the television show Grimm , which is set mostly in Portland, dealt with a supposed monster responsible for triggering massive volcanic eruptions as a sign of discontent.
It is very easy to oversell an issue like this. When one finds potential indications of a matter that is obscure and often neglected, such as volcanism in the Bible, it is very easy to see too much where others see too little. So long as we are able to distinguish between possible inferences (that may also be, in typical biblical fashion , references to several layers of meaning at once) and keep the correct level of openness to other possible meanings of a text, and so long as we are most clear where the Bible is most clear—Mt. Sinai being a volcano is one of the clearest lines of evidence, as is the volcanism in Sodom & Gomorrah, both of which are located along the Anatolian Fault—then we should be free of difficulties in examining such obscure subjects.
Of the utmost importance, of course is understanding our own potential vulnerability to the problem of volcanoes, or any other disaster. No matter where we may reside, there will always be something (and usually many things) to which we are potentially vulnerable: floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, wars, coups, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, blizzards, fires, and sinkholes are only a few of the risks that have been present in places where I have lived over the course of my rather intensely dramatic life. No matter where we live, such risks will be present. There is no place we can go to be safe from any vulnerability whatsoever, and so it remains necessary to walk in faith, knowing that troubles may come, knowing there is little we can do to eliminate risk even as we are aware of the dangers wherever we happen to be, and trusting God to either deliver us from or through the troubles of life. There are some problems, even large problems, that we simply must be aware of but not paralyzed by because we simply can do nothing about it on our own. That may not be the most satisfying of answers, but sometimes it’s the only one.
Let us remember, though, that the forces of a volcanic fire are not only for judgment (although that is certainly the case at least sometimes), but they are also a refining fire for those of us whose impurities are to be burned up so that we don’t have to be. This is not to say that purification and refining are necessarily enjoyable activities (for they are often not), but rather that when we examine the range of alternatives that is available, that they are far preferable and far more rewarding than the alternatives that exist. When we know what options are available, we can choose the best ones rather than wait in vain for options that we can imagine but that do not exist. Whether we will be burned up in the fires or refined in them is a choice only we can make for ourselves.
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 See, for example: