Monday, 20 October 2008

So who's afraid of volcanoes?

Thinking about volcanoes - about how without them the earth itself would simply not exist but have exploded and certainly not have been a habitable planet; thinking about the dramaitc explosive power of volcanoes as life-giving and life protecting depsite the enormous death, havoc and destruction they might seem to create; thinking about the void left behind when the lava stops flowing and the smoke stops belching ...
I realise somehow how very unhealthy it could be in organisations to only ever have an extremely low conflict threshold; to become obsessed with damping down dissent and creating false consensus so that we don't see that the earthquake or volcano could also bring positive creative energy for renewal. For churches seeking to tread a path between tradition and renewal this is a real challenge
But then I also wonder whether there is a spirituality really able to deal with the discontinuity the volcano represents. On the one hand it makes me think of the words from Isaiah 43:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

But on the other I am simply left perplexed and not terribly satisfied. Perhaps to some extent this is about trying to have a Christian theology which has space for vulnerability, pain and incomprehension. And although I can in a sort of wordless and slightly mystical way see what that might be and what it might mean, the rational me also wants to rail against a God who is either not strong enough or not good enough to prevent millions being slaughtered in genocides, holocausts, occupations and ethnic cleansings; against a God too wrapped up in his own beautiful caring vulnerability to be able to actually do something to stop wars or pandemics.
I do not believe God can found in all situations, no matter how terrible. Sometimes surely God is absent - perhaps because we humans have driven God out. Perhaps though, together with the Jews in Auschwitz who put G-d on trial faced with the arbitrary volcano of the shoah and found him guilty, all that remains for me too is to somehow or other say morning and evening prayer ...

And for further reflection, you can see parts of the recently screened BBC play God on Trial on YouTube here, highly recommended - if you search around enough you can find the whole play in 6 minute chunks to watch.