by Maurice Hamel
"Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?" Mark 12:24
A theme presented throughout Scripture is that man's impact on nature is more serious than we have acknowledged. The Bible teaches that our ecological problems are not just a temporal issue distracting our attention from things of eternal value. If you want to get to the root of the it, it is a spiritual issue. According to Scripture, the earth is being polluted by what is flowing out of our corrupted hearts.
Our culture is concerned by the impacts on nature which are brought on by things like wasteful greed, hazardous chemicals, over-population and changes in climate. But the Bible speaks of the actual defiling of the creation, not just the damage to 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 then if we are concerned about protecting nature, what should be our priorities? Paul provides some guidance concerning how God expects us to conduct ourselves: "we instructed you how to live in order to please God ... It is God's will that you should be holy; 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." (1 Thes. 4:1-7) Paul goes on to say that they are to love each other as brothers and work in order to not be dependent on others for support.
Notice what is necessary to please God. "Be holy," that is keep the letter and the spirit of the commandments. It is interesting that in teaching us how to please God, Paul stresses our responsible use of our own bodies, rather than our responsible use of the creation. This man-centered priority that the Bible teaches is the opposite of the conventional wisdom of recent years. Paul is telling us that one of our primary responsibilities is to be responsible caretakers of our own bodies. The principle impurity (i.e. pollution) that we bring the world is not our wasteful use of resources 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.
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 wickedness 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 place where the immoral culture lived. The creation, which is essentially an innocent bystander, suffers the consequences when men are being disciplined by God. Consider the magnitude of the environmental destruction done by the judgments upon the immoral cultures of the pre-Flood world or Sodom and Gomorrah. From this perspective, it becomes apparent that the environmental issues we stress today, although important, are side issues in relation to the real harm we do to the environment.
Jesus indicated that we are polluted. This uncleanness comes out of our hearts and defiles the world, preventing nature from being fruitful. It is because of our rebelliousness that God withholds the blessing of his provisions from us.
Since the early 1970s, a significant effort has been made to create regulations to prevent the land, water and air from becoming polluted by industrial discharges. We have generally accepted the idea of conservation. We are willing to restrict our individual liberty by giving up the right to be careless or wasteful in our use of natural resources. Isn't it odd that at the same time we have fought to have fewer restrictions on the uncleanness within ourselves as though it had no impact on the environment.
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 a basic principle of stewardship which Jesus taught about ourselves and our bodies. The pollution that we should be concerned with is not what we allow to enter our bodies. Protecting the environment by preventing industrial pollution is like simply cleaning the outside of the cup. It is the immorality that flows out of our unclean hearts that pollutes the world.
Describing this problem, Paul wrote: "they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity" (Eph. 4:19). Instead of yielding your will to unclean thoughts and unwholesome talk, "put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, [and] Y be made new" (Eph. 4:22-3) If you want to get serious about helping to protect the environment, it is God's will that you should be holy.
© Maurice Hamel
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