by Maurice Hamel
"These are what makes a man unclean" - Mat. 15:20
If you are looking for biblical instruction on the proper management of the environment, there is no shortage of passages which apply. The prophet Nahum wrote about these things saying, "You have increased the number of your merchants till they are more than the stars of the sky, but like locusts they strip the land and then fly away." (Nahum 3:16)
You may be thinking, surely this is what has caused the environmental degradation that we see. That prophet does speak a word of truth for today. The greed of man has spoiled the land through our careless taking of profit. It is all too common for us to take from the land without a thought of what impact we might be having. Too often we look at nature as a resource that is endless and free for the taking. God has certainly not endorsed our irresponsible wastefulness which is defacing His creation. Anyone seeking to walk in His ways should do what they can to not be a party to such ungrateful behavior. As the caretakers of God's creation, we need to honor Jesus' command to "Let nothing be wasted." (John 6:12)
We have all heard about the wasteful habits that are common in our society, so they will not be listed again here. But it must be stressed that even if we change these things to improve our habits of stewardship, it will not be enough to "save the planet". In fact, the main source of pollution in the world is not even the result of our wasteful use of resources or our careless disposal of hazardous chemicals. We have lost track of the fact that we are the pollution which defiles this world, not something outside of us.
When we are trying to identify the source of our environmental problems, it is easy for people to point out the speck in someone else's eye. Some people will blame the capitalists for taking profit from the land and not leaving anything for future generations to use. Others fault the education in impoverished countries for failing to teach people how to feed themselves and care for the land. The blame for the troubled state of the environment is also placed on war, hunger, disease, the arms race or political corruption. We blame anyone other than ourselves.
We need to be made aware of the part that we play in contributing to the deterioration of the world around us. Our culture sees that the changes to the land which have been brought on by things like over-population, careless use of chemicals and deforestation. But a theme presented throughout the Bible is that man's impact on nature is more serious than we have acknowledged. The Scriptures speak of the actual defiling of the creation, not just the tainting of its resources. We forget that everything was fine in Eden until we decided we wanted to do things our way. This rebellion against God was the beginning of the environmental crisis.
So where does the responsibility for our ecological problems today rest? The Bible teaches that environmental protection is not just a temporal issue which is distracting our attention from things of eternal value. If you want to get to the root of it, our ecological problems are in fact a spiritual issue. According to Scripture, the pollution is flowing out of our corrupted hearts. Jesus was commenting on this pollution, when he spoke about our uncleanness: "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what makes a man unclean". (Mat. 15:19-20)
The instruction about caring for this world which Adam received during his daily walks with the Lord in the Garden is no longer available to us. Our rebellion against God has left us to tend the creation by trial and error. This is compounded by the effects of the curse which were brought on as a consequence of our disobedience. It was this "curse" that caused the orderliness in nature to have the tendency to decay.
So when we finally come to the point of realizing that we are at fault, what are we to do? How are we to deal with our failures once it becomes apparent that the environmental issues we stress today are mere side issues in relation to the harm our morality is doing to the environment? The world is polluted. It is cursed and fallen, and it is our fault! It has gotten far beyond what we could ever repair. From the day we were thrown out of the Garden, the creation has been cursed. God's instructions to Adam in Eden made it clear that the disobedience of mankind is a crime deserving capital punishment. Like children who have broken something they should not have touched, we are waiting to be found out and punished.
We are a people preoccupied with eating healthy, reducing our exposure to chemicals and keeping our bodies in the best physical condition possible. But in all this we miss this basic principle which Jesus taught about ourselves and our bodies. The pollution that we should be concerned with is not what we breath in. Preventing air pollution is like simply cleaning the outside of the cup. (Mat. 23:25-6) It is what flows out of our hearts that pollutes the world.
These things seem so unrelated to us. How could someone's personal ethics concerning something like drug use, sexual conduct and reproductive rights effect the weather, the health of the economy, or cause insects to infest our crops? It sounds like I'm being preoccupied with other people's freedom of choice and want to make them feel guilty.
Many cause and effect relationships are not apparent at first glance. Let me use some simple examples to make this point. Picture a child at play unplugging a cord so he can plug in a toy in its place. Now picture that child sitting in front of the television to watch something while playing with that toy. If the television does not work it may take the child some time to realize that it does not work because he just unplugged it. To a child's mind the two events seem unrelated. If this seems obvious to us, are we being naive to assume that the degradation that we see in the world around us is unrelated to what the Bible calls the evils that come out of our hearts? Is it so hard to apply the cause and effect relationships which the Bible warns us about to our world today? Do we expect that there are no consequences to our behavior?
Today we have chosen to do battle with the curses, instead of asking what God requires of us. We have put our faith in other "gods," to deliver us from our physical trials. We have turned to science to provide us with an understanding of our world. Science itself is not wrong. It is the study of God's creation. But we have used it to replace, rather than build upon, our knowledge of God. We have become dependent upon our technology to sustain us. We develop genetically resistant crops. We irrigate against the drought, use poisons to kill the locusts and blights, and add chemical fertilizers to propup the tired land. Is it any wonder that God allows the desolation of the world's farmland to advance?
We have sought the blessing from the land while we are neglecting God's commands and being ungrateful in our prosperity. We are now receiving punishment to discipline us for our turning away from him. He has promised that when we have been humbled He will remember the covenant that He has made with us. (Deut. 30:2-10)
God is using the Fall to draw men back to him in repentance, so that they can receive his forgiveness. In Romans 7:13, the Apostle Paul elaborates on this concept by making the following points. In order that our disobedience might be recognized as sin, for our own good it produced a frailty in our flesh and mind. This was to make the consequences of our rebelliousness apparent, so it would no longer be deceptively appealing. We can then recognize that our rejection of God's standards are the cause of pain and suffering for not only ourselves, but also for all of creation.
The curse on the creation and the failure of our own good intentions have a definite purpose. After Paul had struggled with his own powerlessness to overcome his own destructive habits, he cried out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:24) This is exactly the point that the Fall was intended to make. That is why our efforts to overcome the curse are failing. God desires for us to be dependent upon him, not on our own ability. God uses the fact that on our own we have made such an awful mess of things to lead us to the Savior which He has provided.
© Maurice Hamel
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