by Maurice Hamel
For a moment try to look at the environment from a different perspective than normal. Frame what we see in nature with foundational concepts that God gives us in the Bible and see how that changes the way you look at your relationship to the environment.
Let me remind you about some of the basic doctrines of the Bible that many of us learned as young children. The Bible teaches that man is fallen, that death and suffering entered the world because of Adam original sin and that God cursed the ground because of man's rebellion? If we assume that these claims are true, what does that mean in the physical world today? Can science measure the conditions that existed before the curse, or are those things only apparent through God's revelation? By applying these basic doctrine, we can conclude that "survival of the fittest" was not part of the original good creation and that the decline of natural resources that we are experiencing is part of God's plan. This means if we cleaned all our factories and changed our wasteful habits, we would still be living under the curse. There would still be the environmental problems. We would not achieve a utopian life on a South Sea island in the land of milk and honey where there is no toiling, disease or crime.
We are a people who tend to separate our spiritual lives from our daily lives. The spiritual world operates under one set of laws. The physical world under another set of laws and so God has no real relevance in the daily lives of most people. He gets our attention only on Sunday and during times of personal crisis. Since most people approach God from this perspective it is not surprising that most people find it easier to trust things that they can see and touch even when it disagrees with the Word of God. It is easy for us to look at the Bible as instructions on how to get to heaven. It is harder for us to see it as a description of our physical world. If we are willing to accept the Bible's advice for the health of our soul, why doubt what it has to say about the health of our planet? Yet instead of constructing our view of the physical world around what God has told us about his creation, we act as though the Bible is only accurate for spiritual not scientific matters. We measure the accuracy of the Bible against our scientific theories and consider the interpretation of men infallible instead of the Bible.
How does this outlook effect our view of man's relationship to the physical world and our responsibility as caretakers of the Master's possessions while he is away?
Today most science is based on the premise that everything which exists can be measured and observed by investigating the properties of the physical world today. But writing 2000 years ago Peter warned: "you must understand that ... scoffers will come [saying] everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:3-4) This is not to say that scientific observations are inaccurate. At a given atmospheric pressure and salinity, water will always freeze at the same temperature. That is a scientific fact. But environmentalists are trying to understand how nature's processes are out of balance by ignoring what God has told us about the history of our world and looking for clues in the rocks. Because today's theories do not include God as Creator, we are using flawed basic assumptions for our models of nature.
These are the things being described when Peter wrote: "there will be false teachers among you. They will ... introduce heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord ... and will bring the way of truth into disrepute ... with stories they have made up." (2 Peter 2:1-3)
What are the implications of our inaccurate way of looking at things. We are viewing man as an just another animal; viewing nature as advancing; studying climate without considering the Bible's version of historic geology; leaving God out of the cause and effect events of our three-dimensional model of the universe. Nature is creation after being drastically altered by the Fall. If people look at nature and think they see Eden, it is not surprising so many cannot picture an all-powerful, good God. These errors distort our image of God. It would be a universe designed by trial and error, where innocent creatures are food for predators and God arbitrarily sends disease, earthquakes, storms and drought. What kind of God would have called this precarious "balance" good?
We should not assume that the balance that we see in nature today represents the good creation that was present in Eden. Modern science cannot distinguish Eden from the Fall. People act as though the Pilgrims invaded in Eden and any changes man does to the land are inherently wrong. Man is portrayed as a villain robbing helpless nature, as a weed spreading throughout the Garden. Our distorted view of why suffering and death are in the world has impaired our ability to see the creation depicting God's character. We assume that God created the world just as we find it. If a world view is wrong, then solutions based on it will fail. Because men of science don't recognize that the creation is fallen, they are asking the wrong questions.
"Saving the Planet" has become a dominant social concern. People want to do something to help. We want to serve God, but we want to do it our way. We project our own perspectives upon God. We have our own image of the good creation and so we fight to prevent nature from being changed, as though we are defending the creation in God's absence. But if this is a fallen world, then these modern scientific assumptions are not correct. We cannot assume that what we see today has always been true. In Matthew 22:29, Jesus told the leaders of his day: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God".
All creation is a tool for God's purposes. God's hand can be seen in ecological events. God withholds the fruitfulness of the land to get our attention, but we fail to understand why our rebellious behavior is being disciplined. We turn to science for deliverance from our physical trials and struggle against God's correction, rather than returning to him. This tells us that our ecological problems are in fact a spiritual issue. The impacts of our moral and ethical choices are more serious than we would think. We are now facing the consequences of our spiritual failures. Effects of sin on the world go beyond what is apparent. We have regulations for industrial wastes, but at the same time we fight restrictions on our own uncleanness, like simply cleaning the outside of a cup, as Jesus said in Matthew 23:25.
The principle pollution we bring the world are the things that come out of our hearts. Our rebellion against God has an impact on nature. Personal conduct effects the environment. These things seem unrelated. We expect our behavior to have no consequences. God's covenant with Israel included both blessings and curses, to make us fruitful when we are dependent on him, and to make our burden greater when we ignore his instruction. This is simply the law of cause and effect.
Like us, the Pharisees were also preoccupied with external cleanness, but Jesus admonished them about internal uncleanness. Today we worry about our health, preventing the chemical pollution around us from getting into our bodies, but the prophets rarely rebuked the people for their failures under dietary and hygienic laws.
The judgments from God that had a severe environmental impact, the curse, the Flood, fire and brimstone, did not come because those people handled chemicals improperly or were especially bad in misusing their natural resources. God passed judgment on them because of their wicked hearts, their internal, not external, uncleanness. How did he judge them? Nature became increasingly degraded. God withdrew a portion of his blessing of natural resources. God had told Abraham that a dozen righteous people would prevent judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. But when the critical mass was reached there was an end to God's patience. What had been described as a well-watered valley capable of supporting five cities was turned to a wasteland. In a very real sense, we are the salt of the earth. Like salt prevents meat from spoiling, it is the Church that provides real environmental protection.
Our laws concerning clean water, clean air, undisturbed wilderness and greenhouse gases, that we hear so much about today, are all merely attempts to clean the outside of the cup. The pollution having the greatest effect on our global environment does not have anything to do with chemicals or natural resources. God withholds his provisions. He reduces the health and productivity of the land, to cause us to realize our dependence upon him and our rebellion against him, and so repent and be saved from his punishment. When we get our priorities straight, when we seek the kingdom of God first, (when we make him our joy), then as an added benefit God will take care of all these other things that he had sent to discipline us because of our rebellion.
Our young people are concerned about the health of the world which we are leaving them. They see our priorities and failures as a reflection of our religion. If they are rejecting Christianity, it is partly because it does not offer them hope. We need to show that Christianity is relevant, and that a life in rebellion against God is the real cause of the degrading of nature.
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