by Maurice Hamel
"then I will hear from heaven … and heal their land" - 2 Chron. 7:14
Bible provides us with God's view of the creation, our relationship to it, our authorization to use it and our care for it. An understanding of what God has told us in the Bible concerning nature provides a fresh perspective on the present environmental debate about "saving the planet."
Perspectives Toward Nature
The outlooks that people hold concerning our relationship to nature range from calling it a limitless commodity, to an organism in which we are each a cell, and from a renewable resource, to our mother. Regardless of the perspective you use to look at the creation, most of us in the Western world are beginning to understand that the condition of our ecology is deteriorating as a result of our wasteful practices.
Some people are convinced that the threat of a global catastrophe can be avoided. For many there is the belief that if a proper education and financial security can be provided to all, we can make people behave in a responsible way. Others are hoping that our technology will provide us with a miracle cure through things like pollution free energy and wonder drugs.
Desiring such solutions is superficial because it would only treat the symptoms, as though our problems will go away on their own like a cold. Without the world view that God provides us in the Bible, efforts to solve our problems will not be confronting the real issues. Jesus said it is not the things we do that are unclean, but what flows out of our hearts. (Mat. 15:10-11,17-20) Our behavior is only part of the problem.
United States National Parks are one of the major targets associated with the Heritage Treaty, but there are others as well. Some recent newspaper headlines that reflect the massive effort now underway to allegedly protect our heritage and various federally-owned properties include:
A Distorted World
We like to think the best of ourselves, that man's heart is basically good. But even those who do not believe in God are seeing that, left unchecked, man will cause the destruction of nature. We are handicapped by the fact that we cannot understand all of the creation's workings without insight from outside this world.
The "balance of nature" that we see today seems right because it is all we have ever known. We tend to assume that God sees reality the way we do, and so do not try to understand what God has already told us in the Bible about a subject. For example, since Jesus referred to snakes, pigs and thorn bushes as examples of corruption, (Mat. 23:33; 7:6; 7:15-16) it is reasonable to assume that not everything in nature is part of the "good" creation. To understand the difference between the original "good" creation and nature as we know it today, you have to understand "the curse". Satan has defaced the creation to diminish it's capacity to display God's ability and wisdom. As a result, when we picture death and decay as part of that original creation, we have developed a distorted image of what God is like.
People consider this world as a nurturing place, when actually nature sustains itself at great cost to its participants. In the beginning God gave the beasts every green plant as their food, not each other, but this is no longer obvious from viewing nature. It is the Bible and not nature that reveals this reality.
The world that is around us today is all that modern man has experienced. We have grown so confident in what science can do, that we have come to trust modern explanations of what has happened in the past instead of the first hand accounts that have been passed down to us. Rather than being a people of faith, we prefer to live by what we see. As a result, the Bible is too often considered to be merely myths and parables passed down by an undereducated culture. Yet, good science has always confirmed a sound interpretation of Scripture, otherwise it would mean that God was not infallible.
Science is about mankind's desire to understand what God has already engineered and assembled in nature. But we make the mistake of assuming that the world can be understood simply through its mechanicalness. We have grown accustomed to the idea that science will be able to solve all the problems of humanity. Faith in science has caused us think we are masters of our own fate. Yet in spite of this confidence, it seems that we are always fearful over some perceived threat. We worry about our health and safety as we live with pollution, crime and disease all around us. We worry about the future of this world and whether we will be deprived of the natural abundance and material prosperity which we have come to expect.
The glory days of science's successes, finding a cure for polio, harnessing the atom and putting a man on the moon, are now viewed in the context of the hidden costs to the environment of our progress. Today we recognize that our trial and error approach to the growth of technology has accelerated the deterioration of the creation. Will people be able to work together to solve these things as the world advances to a better state, or will things inevitably decay under the curse and the law of entropy?
Our Concept of God
There is a growing sense of urgency that we must do something to "save the planet," but we feel inadequate to help change the destructive habits of our culture. We are fearful that the things being done to the earth will impair God's ability to provide our daily needs. We have allowed our image of God to be reduced to a beneficial, but somewhat powerless, Mother Nature. We are left to worry how we can protect our elderly mother.
God has not been caught offguard by our ecological problems that we face today. He is not distraught, as though He has lost his control of the creation. Still, we hesitate to put the environmental crisis in God's hands, doubting that He can help with these problems. We are too easily persuaded by the "wisdom" of our age and too quick to forget what God has done in the past. It is clear that Jesus has power over nature to multiply loaves, calm the storm and restore the lame, but if God were to restore nature today, fallen men would only defile it once again.
So then, there is suffering, pollution and deterioration in the world around us because in giving us free will, God also allows us to live with the consequences of our foolish choices. Like ungrateful children, we do not appreciate that God is being patient with our openly rebellious behavior. God, our Father, will not allow us to remain immature children. He sends us adversity to remind us that even as we are straying from Him, He is protecting and sustaining us. But too often we deny that God exists because He is not as gentle as we had expected. We worry and live fearful lives because we don't remember how God has provided for us in the past.
Since we are confused about who we are and who God is, we do not understand the cause of our problems. God limits the blessings and fruitfulness He provides us in order to draw people back to himself. God is teaching His children through the abundances and scarcities that He causes in nature. The Bible tells us that God is willing to allow harm to His creation for a purpose. The creation groans under its burden in order to show us the scars our behavior is causing. It is a reminder of the cost of our rebellion, in the same way the scars on His hands and feet will be a reminder to us in heaven.
Do not be deceived into thinking that anything we can do will be able to restore this world into a utopia. Life is not a peaceful coexistence with nature. It is wishful nostalgia to think that man's heart is pure and the Indians lived softly on the land as a part of nature. We do not understand what it means to take care of the earth. The "balance" of nature that we are striving to preserve has the predator stalking and killing its anxious prey. This is not the blessing a loving father gives to his innocent children. God has sent this affliction into the world to discipline a rebellious people.
We Are The Pollution
Some say we want to feel like a part of nature again, but our sense of concern for nature is really because these creatures were once under our custody as caretakers of the creation. We continue to fill this position, but we no longer are equipped with the wisdom and ability we were meant to use. Each day we further aggravate the conditions which cause nature to have less capacity to give God joy or cause Him to be praised.
The root of our ecological problems is really spiritual, not biological or chemical. "We" defile this world, not something outside of us. The real pollution is flowing out from within us. Jesus was commenting on this "pollution," when He spoke about our uncleanness: "things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean'. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what makes a man unclean; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean'". (Mat. 15:18-20)
This point is reinforced by the repeated warnings against corruption and immorality throughout the Scriptures. God has delivered judgments upon the excesses of evil, even to the point of bringing great ecological damage to the places where immoral cultures lived. Consider the magnitude of the environmental destruction done by the judgments upon the pre-Flood world or the City of Sodom. The creation, which is essentially an innocent bystander, suffers the consequences when men are being disciplined by God. This makes it apparent that the environmental concerns we stress today, although important, are side issues in relation to the real harm we do to nature.
What should our priorities be? Listen to the direction Paul provides concerning what God expects of us: "we instructed you how to live in order to please God ... It is God's will that you should be sanctified [set apart for God]: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable ... For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life." (1Thes. 4:1,3,4 & 7)
Notice that in order to please God we are told to be "holy," meaning that we are to be physically and mentally pure. It is interesting that in teaching us what God expects of us, Paul stresses our responsible use of our own bodies, rather than our responsible use of the creation. So then, one of our primary duties is to be faithful caretakers of our own bodies, but in terms of morality not just physical fitness. The principle impurity (i.e. pollution) that we bring the world is not our wasteful use of nature or our careless disposal of hazardous chemicals. It is our defiling of that part of the creation for which we are personally most accountable, ourselves.
Man's position over the creation, as taught in the Bible, is the opposite of the conventional wisdom of recent years. In our attempts to find our own solutions for the problems we face, regulations have been made for the handling of hazardous chemicals. Yet at the same time, we have resisted complying with the regulations that God, the Creator, has given us, as though our defiance of these laws had no impact on the environment. We assume that such restrictions were given for no purpose and that there will be no consequences to our immoral and decadent behavior. Like the pollution that comes as a result of an unethical businessman illegally dumping his waste, if we are deceived by the appeal of ignoring "outdated" morality, the true costs of our actions are disregarded. When God's laws are ignored the result is affliction. But rather than seeing the scars on the land as an indication that God is displeased with us, the violence of this decaying world causes people to question whether there is a God.
The Church has not played a noticeable role in the movement to "save the planet." This has lead people outside the Church to doubt whether Christianity is still relevant in a time of environmental crisis. Most Evangelicals addressing environmental issues sound no different than their secular counterparts. They have discarded the parts of the Bible that our culture finds unacceptable. Added to this is the fact that at some point most Evangelicals have wondered, "Why should we work to protect nature when the Bible says all this will pass away?" Our considering this temporal world to be disposable is a sign that we do not understand our biblical stewardship. Even if nature is not eternal, we are its caretakers.
People will cease to be anxious about the environment, only when they accept that they are the source of the problem and turn their hearts toward God. God is in total control of the environment. Everything is going according to plan. We must recognize that it was because of our disobedience that we now fear what the future may bring. The Bible tells us that those who do such things deserve death. (Rom. 1:32) We have made such an awful mess of things that we now are left to face the consequences. Yet our coming to this realization leads us to the fact that Christ allowed the penalty for our actions to be executed upon Himself in our place.
The Bible does have something to say about the degrading of God's creation. In the past, God has used nature as a tool to disciplined the nations through our struggles against drought, storm and pestilence. But this is meant as a reminder that throughout the Bible, God is shown to take pride in proving himself powerful on behalf of those who will trust him. People will not be able to "save the planet" through their political activism. They need to see that we each have become the wasteful prodigal son who the Father is waiting to receive back in repentance. We need to remember that God has promised if we turn to him He will not abandon us. God calls us to humble ourselves and pray. Then "He" will heal the land. (2Chr.7:13-14)
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