Sunday, April 18, 2010

God, The Ash and the Business Backlash

It's noticeable that elements within the business community are starting to increase their efforts to have Europe's flying ban lifted as soon as possible. This is understandable, of course, since the airline industry is losing millions of pounds through its forced inactivity this week.

BBC business editor Robert "Good-in-a-Crisis" Peston is quoted today as saying that the disruption to airlines risks becoming a "major business and economic disaster" which may place several European airlines in financial difficulty.

The International Air Transport Association, meanwhile, has warned that airlines will lose at least £130m each day that they cannot fly.

It is no surprise, therefore, to find KLM and Lufthansa trying out "test flights" this weekend in order to see if it is safe for planes to fly. No doubt, they hope to convince the various authorities of their case.

For the thinking Christian, the disruption caused by the eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano raises a number of important issues, questions and opportunities:

  1. Since they serve a God about whom the Psalms declare, "stormy winds do his bidding", they must conclude that God has either decreed or permitted the prevailing jet stream to blow the volcanic ash over Europe, as opposed to into the Atlantic or the Arctic.
  2. In ascribing this act to God, they may discern within it both his mercy and his judgement. Examples of the former quality are numerous. Firstly, they can be grateful that, so far, no human life has been lost through this powerful display of nature and that destruction to the towns and villages in the immediate area of the Icelandic volcano and glacier has been minimal; secondly, they can be thankful for the technology that enables human beings to predict and anticipate the impact of the ash upon aircraft. Much better to suffer the current disruption than to have woken two days ago to stories of numerous planes falling out of the sky without warning.
  3. On the issue of God's judgement, Christians should recognise the biblical reality of judgement in this age, as well as in the age to come. This huge topic cannot be explored adequately in this post - and no doubt the usual suspects will soon be making sweeping and ridiculous statements about the issue before too long. To say nothing about the reality of judgement in this age, however, only hands the subject over to the extremists. It is a topic that must be addressed. The portrayal in the Bible of God's judgement on the city of Babylon - the graphic symbol of a society in every age obsessed with greed, sex and godlessness - does include judgement upon her commercial activity:

"The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no-one buys their cargoes any more—

cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls ... of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep .... and bodies and souls of men.


The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out:

'Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!

In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!' "

(Revelation 18)

It would be ridiculous, of course, to claim that the current airline disruption is an exact fulfillment of this ancient biblical prophecy! Indeed, the final reality will, if the passage is read in full, be much worse.

However, it is possible to identify within the judgement passages of both the old and new testaments, themes which can inform our understanding of the nature, extent and purpose of divine judgement in every age.

If it true that global warming is happening, and that it is largely caused by human activity, and if it is true that the world's poorest are those most affected by climate change, then surely it is not too far-fetched to see behind the current forced grounding of European flights the activity of a sovereign God, who "secures justice for the poor".

Specifically, can we discern a voice from heaven saying, "Enough of your greed; enough of your luxury" and within that, a call to Europe (and elsewhere) to build more sustainable economies - ones that do not contribute to environmental and economic degradation among the poorest in the world?

It is to be hoped that, over the silence of the runways in this early summer, human beings are able to hear and respond to this still, small voice.

Image credit Sverrir Thor.

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1 comment:

Rusty Shackleford said...