Whether it’s from plastic bags or carbon emissions, there are folks suggesting that you and I individually and we collectively are the agents of our own demise.
Can I say, theologically speaking, they may be right?
I’m not getting all Malthusian with you. (That’s a reference to the Reverend Thomas Malthus, who in 1798 suggested that human population growth would outstrip food supply.) Follow that line of thinking, and it leads to all sorts of dark and nonsensical conclusions such as mandated birth control, eugenics and euthanasia, and establishing a hierarchy of deplorable people that the world would be better off without. Some would suggest we all remain childless… so that the world could go on without humans. Then what’s the point of living at all?
That’s not at all what God reveals to us or intends, according to what He’s laid out in the Bible. God gave all the world that we may ‘rule and reproduce,’ that we have dominion as stewards over the rest of His Creation, but also that we are blessed when we fill it with godly offspring (Genesis 1:28). However, God says that we do bear responsibility for our environment in a way that may be surprising to many.
The prophet Jeremiah had the onerous job of telling the people of his time that disaster was coming. What people really did not want to hear was that they were responsible. I think the message Jeremiah gave may be insightful and urgent to us in the here-and-now.
"Announce this to the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?" declares the LORD. "Should you not tremble in my presence? I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it. But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say to themselves, 'Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.' Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good.” (Jeremiah 5:20-25 NIV)
Look at that: “Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good.” Pause there. How much good is withheld from us - because we sin?
God, who prescribed and maintains the regular (that word means “appointed”) seasons, the sun and the rain, fire and frost, winter, spring, summer and fall, storm and flood, drought and famine, is working still and is telling us – writ large on the cosmic kiosk of nature – that our moral decisions have major consequences in our world.
Intuitively we understand this, even if we don’t actively think about it. When we accost or abuse another person, then good relations are withheld, and there may be long term or even legal consequences. When we abuse our bodies with illicit sex or prostitution, with poisons of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco we understand that there are physical consequences. When we fill our heads with pornography, horror and violence, with death and delusions then there are consequences working in how we see the world and the resulting anxiety and dis-ease in our souls.
This is logical. What God tells us is that the consequences of our sin against Him are cosmological. But what can we do?
A few months back I got to listen to a lecture on preaching the Old Testament by Prof. Rock LaGioia at Grace Seminary. This was about the time a young Scandinavian girl was addressing the United Nations about climate change, haranguing world leaders - anyone older than she it seems - for ruining the world, and because, you know, we are lords of this world, to fix it for her. Rock, as we were considering the words of the prophets, looked at us and smiled and suggested, “You want to save the environment? Stop sinning.” I laughed. And then I looked back at the text, and then I thought: oh, my…
The ‘natural’ disasters and appointed seasons which create real and devastating circumstances for us mortal earth-dwellers are in a very real sense the consequences of our moral decisions.
One correct response, rather than to judge each other, is to fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. Another we should consider is according to the purportedly wisest man of all, King Solomon, who prayed to God in confession for his people and pleaded for mercy. God responded to Solomon:
“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2Chronicles 7:14 NIV)