In the city where we live (Prince George, BC, Canada), we are experiencing a plague of tent caterpillars. They moved in a couple of weeks ago and have effectively blitzed most of the deciduous trees, especially aspen of which there are many in the city. The stand of aspen in our back yard, normally providing us with lovely shade and colour, has this year been transformed into a grotesque leafless-looking war-zone. And the little two-inch long fuzzy caterpillars are everywhere — sticking to branches and climbing the lower parts of the house in big black swarms. Though harmless to the human body their presence and destruction is a sight for sore eyes. Their ubiquity and damage has definitely spoiled an otherwise very pleasant time of year — especially after the long, snowy, cold winter of this region. No sitting on the deck in the warm sunshine this year — at least not just yet.
This environmental downer has given me occasion to reflect on it from a theological perspective. The experience classifies as one of many along the lines of environmental disasters. I’m sure there are very good scientific explanations for this phenomenon. It seems we can expect this kind of infestation in this region about every 7 – 10 years. I remember a similar inundation at our previous location in the city about 15 years ago. Apparently the life cycle of these leaf-eating pests cannot be sustained due to colony disease and predators. So thankfully, soon they will have eaten themselves out of house-and-home and will be on their way, and the deciduous forests will be resurrect and return to normal. We can hardly wait.
Mostly, this infestation has reminded me about the plagues of Egypt that we read about in Exodus 7 – 12. I’m sure the phenomena described there were many times worse than our experience with tent caterpillars here. Yet, no doubt, there are some parallels. It seems that there are times when God uses natural disasters of various kinds as forms of judgment upon sin. There certainly are examples of this throughout the Bible. However, in the face of disaster we should be careful not to jump to this conclusion too quickly. In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus reminds a gloating, self-righteous audience that they should not make this cause-and-effect connection. He tells them that unless they repent of their sin, they t00 will perish.
We live in an imperfect natural world because of the curse sustained by Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. This is the sad conclusion we learn from passages like Romans 8:19-22. All of creation groans under the burden of this curse and waits for humanity’s final redemption in the return of the King. God sends plagues like tent caterpillars, I think, to remind us of this sad reality. And maybe He has a specific purpose of reminding us in this way and in this region of our personal responsibility in this regard. It’s humbling to realize just how easily God can get our attention by these means. It’s also a reminder of how important it is to invest our lives in preparing for that time when He returns. Life has many blessings, but there’s a big “fly in the ointment,” or “worm in the apple,” that we need to take seriously.
It’s been tempting for many to think that this is merely a natural phenomenon that will pass. When I mention the association of our experience with the plagues of Egypt I’ve noticed that some are skeptical — even of what happened there. People certainly recall that event in the history of Israel, but they are inclined to give natural explanations of what happened there. Much has been written or dramatized about these events of antiquity often making them look like natural phenomena of the time which Moses used to his advantage. It’s interesting to see how people are skeptical of the supernatural.
As Christians and Christian leaders I think we need to continually affirm our worship of a powerful God who often intervenes supernaturally to accomplish His purposes. I was reminded of this in a recent story of a missionary worker in Niger who spoke of a small boy (of about 4 years) falling into a deep well in which there was only a few inches of water. Attempts to rescue the boy by unbelieving locals only resulted in heat-exhaustian for the rescuers as they went down into the well. But then a young Christian man came by and offered to help. Fearful but prayerful, he went into the well and found it to be cool. By tying ropes to the lifeless boy, he was brought to the surface, and after prayer for him by this Christian man, the boy opened his eyes and totally revived.
Plagues of various kinds are an inevitable part of our sin-cursed world, and we need to do what we can to ensure their scarcity and also to help those who are victimized by them. But just as God demonstrated His supernatural power through Moses by the plagues and over them in a former time, so we should trust God for His supernatural intervention in the midst of sin’s curse. Furthermore, we should keep our eyes ever-open to the prospect of the fulfillment of His promise of a day when that curse will be finally vanquished (Revelation 22:3).