Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lessons from Lava

Recently, the residents of “The Big Island” of Hawaii have watched with a mixture of resignation and dread, as a gray and orange, 2,000-degree, river of molten rock has carved a path of fiery destruction across the landscape. Each passing hour, lava from Kilauea Volcano has been inching closer to their homes in the small town of Pahoa.

As you might imagine the lava flow is no respecter of persons or property. Dispassionately, the dark ooze has swallowed up fences, flowed over a cemetery and enveloped major roads. In some places the lava flow is chest high and advances at the rate of 8 to 11 yards per hour. Reports say that about 950 people have been displaced by the creeping liquid.

Another inherent problem from the lava flow is the noxious methane gas emitted from the cooling rock. As vegetation is scorched by the lava, thick plumes of smoke reduce visibility and make breathing dangerous for those downwind.[1]

What is so tortuous for those in the way of this natural disaster is the sense of helplessness as they slowly watch their homes being overtaken. There is no man-made solution to stopping flowing lava and because the flow could change direction at will, any community in the vicinity of Kilauea is in danger. Of course, the pragmatist might say, “This is what happens when you decide to build a subdivision on the side of the world’s most active volcano.”

Monitoring the slow creep of the lava flow from relative safety reminded me of an apocalyptic passage in 2 Peter 3:10-13. The Message Bible offers this paraphrase:

But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment. Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.

What Peter is talking about here is the renovation of earth by fire. You’ll remember that God already wiped the earth clean with a deluge in Noah’s time. The rainbow covenant promised that God would never again destroy the world by water, but it didn’t say anything in the fine print about fire.

When will this great inferno be lit? Biblical prophecy places this event at the end of the Millennial Reign of Christ (Rev. 21:1). The earth is going to be redeemed from the curse of sin, just like you and I. That’s when God will restore the Earth to a pristine condition, as it was before the fall of man (Gen. 1:31). Paradise lost will be paradise regained.

As I see it, there are many parallels between God’s judgment and the Hawaiian lava flow we’ve heard about in the news. Both are slow moving. The lava creeps along at a steady, but sure pace, and in the same way the Bible tells us that God is slow to anger (Num. 14:18) and it patient with unrepentant mankind (2 Peter 3:9).

Both are inevitable. Anything in the path of the lava flow will certainly be burned up. Just so, anyone who has not repented of their sin and trusted in Christ will face the inevitable judgment of God. The destruction of earth has already been planned in God’s prophetic calendar and no matter how much we’d like to disbelieve it, no amount of mental gymnastics or scripture twisting can change the sovereign will of God.

Both can be avoided. The residents of Hawaii have watched the lava inching toward their homes for weeks. They have had ample time to prepare and make an escape route. In the same way, God’s eventual wrath can be avoided. There is still time to repent of sin and help others get ready to make an escape from our doomed planet.

When Paul preached to the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill he explained man’s situation like this, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). -DM          

[1] Ralph Ellis, Paul Vercammen and Martin Savidge, “Lava Flow Inches Closer to Homes in Hawaiian Community,” CNN, 28 October 2014 <http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/28/us/hawaii-volcano/index.html>

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