I Believe in the Volcano God


I think there’s a god in the volcanos.

Let me explain. I came across a news item recently about the first ever expedition inside a volcano. There’s a National Geographic program coming up about it. I’m setting my DVR, because that is cool. But the article I read starts in an interesting way:

Volcanoes have fascinated human beings since the dawn of time; thankfully, now we know enough not to think of them as powerful earth/fire gods, but to understand them as the magnificent phenomena they are.

I’d prefer to remove the word “thankfully” from that sentence. In fact, I almost want to replace it with, “unfortunately.”

I’m not trying to get you to embrace some kind of weird spirituality with minor gods everywhere, or to start sacrificing animals to volcano gods so they won’t erupt, but I think the loss of supernatural thinking is a detriment to our culture, not something to be thankful for.

To be sure, believing in the wrong kind of god is dangerous, for we end up doing things like sacrificing animals – or worse. But not believing there is a supernatural force and energy operating within all physical phenomenon is harmful to understanding reality. We’ve abandoned faith as a way of knowing, which means we’ve abandoned spiritual vision as a way of knowing. A person who believes there’s an angry god in the volcano may not be at the truth, but he’s closer to the truth than the person who thinks there’s no god at all.

This is why C.S. Lewis, for example, has no problem bringing wine gods (Bacchus) and fruit goddesses (Pomona) into Narnia. He knew full well that people who believed the gods could throw parties and make apple orchards grow were closer to understanding and knowing Aslan than those who didn’t believe in the possibility of the supernatural/spiritual in the physical at all.

Our nominalistic thinking is not something to celebrate. I’m going to stick to my belief that God is in the volcano, and that when crawling through its holes, crevices, and lava pools, we can learn about the work of the Maker, the tragedy of a fallen world, and hope for the redemption to come.


  1. Chris Yokel

    Paul would certainly want us to think that: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

  2. Loren

    Good point–I love how C. S. Lewis incorporates gods and goddesses in his works! However, I’ve always seen it more as just different ways Satan uses to blind us. Is one more position more receptive to the truth than the other? Hmmmm….. Those who are caught up with gods and idols, with demon-possession, witch doctors, etc. are as far from the truth of Christ as those in our western culture who have minds fixed only on the material and existential plane. The “real” world. For us with the western mindset it’s a constant struggle (even as believers) to realize there’s another realm in this battle of life. So maybe we see this as the more blind position, when in reality both are in bondage to Satan’s lies…..

  3. Andy S

    This reminds my what Chesterson once said ““Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” If we stop believing in the supernatural as a rule we stop believing in alot of things.

  4. Patrick

    If the volcano is now explorable there is the sense that we have conquered it. Knowledge of the physical properties and dynamics of the volcano have tamed it, removing appropriate fear, respect, and wonder. I’m not sure the belief in external false gods (sun god, volcano god, twig god) is any closer to the truth than the false belief in self as the ultimate god-being of our lives which is the position atheism and satanism both seem to take. The belief in the all-powerful human who needs not fear, respect, or stand in awe of anything because we believe we fully comprehend it. It’s all been physically explained, so move along now. There’s nothing miraculous or wonderful going on here.

  5. JWitmer

    Screwtape didn’t seem to have a preference between tools, and talked about the trade-off between ages: in some, the agents of satan could make witches, in others, atheists.

    I think Lewis preferred myth and polytheism because he saw it as medicinal for our current materialistic bent – a point which is probably still applicable for major sections of the globe.

  6. Heather Carrillo

    “A person who believes there’s an angry god in the volcano may not be at the truth, but he’s closer to the truth than the person who thinks there’s no god at all.”

    I’m a little unconvinced that this is helpful. I used to think that until I met someone who just “believed in the supernatural.” He was SO far from the truth it was heartbreaking.

    In some ways I think Atheists have the upper hand in that they believe in an either/or existance of God. Spiritualists believe in a both/and. They may even believe they ARE saved, which is much more detrimental. And seeing as MOST of the world believes in some kind of spiritual force/being/power/what have you, and the amount of Atheists being as few as they are, I am almost thinking spiritualism is more of a problem. I’m not saying DON’T witness to the Atheists just, don’t affirm spiritualism as “closer to the truth.”

  7. Jonathan Rogers

    I love this moment from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Eustace is talking to Coriakin the Star Man….

    Eustace: In our world a star is a burning ball of gas.
    Coriakin: Even in your world, son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.

  8. whipple

    I don’t miss television much when people discuss it around the water cooler, but I think I’ll miss seeing this (because I’m not going to get to).

    And thanks, Travis. All the created world reflects the Creator. All have words to speak. If these be silent, the very stones will cry out in praise, might not only mean that the stones are waiting for quiet, but that, if quiet indeed comes, they will still be singing. How can something speak which is dead? Outside the stifling realm of empirical knowledge is a world where the lame go leaping, donkeys prophesy, and rivers clap their hands.

  9. Dave Bruno

    There is an excellent National Geographic photographic episode available on iTunes called “Through the Lens.” Carsten Peter climbs into a volcano to photographic. Amazing!

    But he speaks of volcanos as “his religion.” He, at least, is being honest, even if metaphorical.

  10. Dryad

    I’ve always loved the Roman concept of the ‘genius,’ a little spirit/god that inhabited various things. For instance, if you saw a beautiful sunset from a certain hill? You would thank the genius of the hill. A garden refreshed you in the early morning? Thank its genius. It seems to me that the logical step from there would have been to thank the Genius that made them all, but the Romans were never too keen on monotheism….
    Also, I am Not advocating idol/false god worship. I simply think that the Roman response of thankfulness was fascinating.

  11. Chris Whitler

    I love science. I love reading, watching and hearing scientists. I subscribe to the Niel Degrasse Tyson’s podcast and the team SETI cast (I also subscribe to the Pubcast and the RR podcast…hint hint…dusty cobwebs anyone? I know, I know…you’re busy…ok) I love astrophysics and astronomy. I don’t understand it all but I love it all the same.

    And some of the folks in these scientific communities make me a little sad as they can come across quite jaded regarding religious belief. Sometimes rightly so as there are a fair share of kooks out there that say pretty ridiculous things. There are some kooky scientists too I suppose.

    I read a book a few years ago called Aristotle’s children…it’s about all the times the philosopher/scientist’s work has been rediscovered by new generations. A cool book. And part of the argument of the book is how science and religion just don’t get along. I can never see this…why can’t we just let faith, reason and mystery live together…they belong together. They are gifts to one another.

    I just heard (on one of my nerdly podcasts) that there is not enough mass in the universe to account for all the gravity that keeps everything spinning. All we know about, the billions of stars and the myriad of galaxies and all the planets everywhere and the astroids and all of it doesn’t come anywhere near to explaining how all the stuff keeps going around and around and hanging there and burning and glowing and pulling. What they are saying now is that the universe (all we see and know about) explains only 4% of what we need to run the whole works.

    96% of the universe is missing! So they invented a thing that no one has seen called “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy” (spooky and cool sounding) as a spacer for the 96% that we don’t understand. I love it.

    God is in the volcano and in the stars. And he’s hidden himself in the dark matter, playing hide and seek with scientists and children and explorers and kooks.

  12. Jonathan Rogers

    Chris, this morning I heard about dark matter on the radio, and thanks to your comment, I knew what they were talking about. Very Chestertonian, this idea of God playing hide and seek with scientists and children and explorers and kooks.

  13. Eric Peters

    Speaking of volcanoes, I hereby kindly refer everyone to the grossly underrated 1990 movie, “Joe vs. The Volcano” (Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan).

    Featuring such memorable lines as:
    – “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”

    – “Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life. I forgot how BIG… thank you. Thank you for my life.”

  14. Jen

    Dark matter. That sounds so sci-fi and cool. =)

    Amazing how, with the eight perspective, the more we learn about the universe can open the door to even deeper awe. I also love that idea of God playing “hide and seek” with us. There is so much wonder and mystery… In the dark matter and volcanoes and the microscopic world too. Thanks for the reminder!

  15. Ron Block


    An awareness of the Numinous, even in a not-Christian sense, would benefit our society greatly. As for Christians, we are often just as steeped in the materialistic-hedonistic mindset as the rest of America, which is why mind-renewal (learning to see the Numinous everywhere, and especially in ourselves and other people) has to be happening if we want live from what God has made us – new men, new creations in Christ.

  16. Travis Prinzi

    Great conversation so far, everyone! Thanks for the comments.

    Glad a few of you were reminded of Chesterton by this post. Chapter IV of Orthodoxy is sort of foundational for everything I think and key to what I think is the important truth behind this post. It’s this “magical”, fairy-tale thinking that I’m getting at here, which is closer to the truth that nominalism and mere empiricism.

    Which leads me to some thoughts in reply to those who have noted that “spiritualism” or “belief in gods” is just as much a lie (and perhaps a more dangerous one) than atheism. I think good points have been made, but I also think we’re talking about different things. I think the atheist is farther away from the truth because he does not even accept an epistemology that allows for the truth – that there are spiritual realities within, underneath and and behind the physical. “Knowing” only happens through demonstrable, repeatable facts based on the observations of the five senses.

    A few responses in particular:

    It’s been rightly affirmed that belief in the wrong gods doesn’t get anyone closer to salvation than belief in no god, but I’m talking about epistemology here. How do we know? That’s what Chesterton is getting at with his assertion that the truth, the real “reason,” is a fairy-tale philosophy. So I do think they’re “closer to the truth,” in that they accept an epistemology that allow for supernatural knowledge. This doesn’t mean they are “closer to salvation,” which only happens through Christ himself.

    I tend to think Lewis preferred myth and polytheism not only because of our modernist, Enlightenment-rationalism mentality, but because he accepted Tolkien’s assertion that myths “are not lies.” This is a tough one to swallow for many Christians, because lots of us are still modernists, thinking that if we’re not hearing something called the “factual truth of the gospel,” the only thing beside that is “Satan’s lies.” But Tolkien and Lewis just didn’t think that way. Tolkien thought the old myths told the truth about God, and Lewis lived in the world of comparative religions, believing their commonalities all pointed to a true God (who could be ultimately found and known in Christ). Just look at The Abolition of Man and all Lewis’s talk of the Tao. That’s stuff most of us modernistic Christians would cringe at, but I think he was on to something.

  17. Becca

    Last summer, we spent three weeks in China. I can’t adequately describe what the large cities are like there. For miles, the landscape was dominated by concrete and asphalt. Looking up, we could see nothing but smog. Almost everything visible was made by human hands.

    The effect this man-made world had on my attitude was profound. During days we spent in the thickest urbanity, I felt disoriented. It was like an internal compass stopped functioning.

    Returning to the natural fertility of Tennessee was like walking through a hymnal. Worship was scrawled everywhere. Shouting from the leaves. Singing in the loam. Luring me to soak, revere, commune.

    I was thinking about this RR post last night as we walked the toddler we adopted on that trip under a sky full of stars. He began yelling for us all to look up and soak in the wonder of it. Awe comes so naturally the the gallery of the maker.

  18. S. D. Smith


    Thanks, Travis. This is fascinating and liberating. As the bricks of the Enlightenment crumble down, I can begin to see over this wall into a mysterious, sunlit valley and recognize it as home.

  19. Kaytlin

    God’s wonders put me in awe every single day. To choose to be blind to His beauty would be a missing life indeed.

    I understand that someone must be willing to accept the existance of the spiritual in order to accept the existance of God. But I need to be honest and say that it seems those who believe in the supernatural yet choose to reject God Himself, or weave their own comfortable view of Him, seem to often be even more blinded to the truth than those who are not convinced that God exists.

    Many people who immerse themselves in nothing more than “a sort of spirituality” seem to weave their own world of comfortable, exciting beliefs. Sometimes the mysterious and supernatural becomes so exciting that it seems it can become a source of pride to dabble in that. Not always. But sometimes.

    It’s just been on my mind especially lately. It saddens me. Still, I believe I understand what you were trying to say.

    Thank you for another reminder of God’s beauty.

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