What might christians do in response to global warming?

Following on from the last post we consider how – if God gives stewardship of the planet to humans and global warming occurs – it might be beyond the Divine to intervene and abrogate the mess that we have created for ourselves. True, nothing is impossible for God but the issue of freewill is the game changer because one thing that God cannot do, is give us freedom then intervene and take it away from us when we make decisions that He doesn’t like.

Developing this line of thinking further we might ask questions as to whether God’s solution to the problem of global warming is the same as that which  we would like or hope to see happen. Could it be that rather than finding a way to completely reverse global warming in the future, believers might be called upon to bring about an answer that involves change and self-sacrifice? Indeed, as it is estimated by the United Nations that there will be 50 million environmental refugees by the end of the decade, could it be that God’s answer to global warming might involve a range of measures that does not involve the Divine flying in like superman to save the day? An answer that might require believers to:

  • lobby government to make decisions that favour the environment?
  • reduce their carbon footprint by greener choices in regard to travel?
  • being satisfied with products that are old and functioning over that which is new and shiny?
  • take measures to generate their own electricity?
  • invest in carbon neutral enterprise to offset the damage caused when burning CO2 on flights, car journeys, etc?
  • grow and irrigate their own crops to offset food shortages?

However, the more radical believers might also find themselves:

  • sharing the love of God through feeding those left hungry by environmental poverty?
  • providing shelter as they invite refugees and other displaced people into their homes?
  • being satisfied with what they have over the pressing need to have new things?
  • content with the little they now have in the knowledge that it facilitates a world whose environment is delicately balanced at present?

What we can be sure of is that God has made us reponsible for our world and it is now up to us to protect and preserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I write this post, the issue of global warming is dominating news headlines. Given that temperature rise relates to human activity around the earth, it is fair to conclude that whatever happens in the future will be because of humans. And, if we believe God has given humans stewardship of the earth and its resources, then we should not expect God to intervene or undo the problems we have created for ourselves.

Indeed, it’s quite possible God could undo this environmental damage but this might also require the Divine removing human freewill to ensure the same would not happen again – a set of conditions that humans might not be so keen to agree on. Now, although many Christians believe God is capable of doing anything He wants, it is clear that there are some things that stand outside of His control since ceding responsibility of humans for their management. Indeed,

‘Why would we expect God to intervene and save us from our poor choices if we contaminate the earth with nuclear waste?

Within this framework of thinking, it could well be that God is able to remedy our weather but only through the actions of people who are open to being divinely directed towards godly choices and wise decisions about the environment. For example, government leaders and advisers who determine the direction of economic, ecological and environmental policy may well benefit from prayers that inspire them to make decisions that reflect the inspiration and direction of God. And if you are following my thinking on this, you will understand that God’s solution might more often (as not) happen through the activity of people rather than the irresponsible requests for the Divine to intervene in some sort of dramatic way or supernatural moment which may now rest outside of the remit of God.

Now, while some believers will take issue with this notion that God’s priority in answering prayer rests on the responsiveness of humans to go and attend to the needs before them. However, this is to be found throughout the bible. In Exodus chapter 3, where God reveals that he has heard the cry of the Israelites and seen their misery, it is Moses who goes and brings deliverance. Likewise, when the disciples inform Jesus that the crowd following them has no food, he instructs them to give something for the people to eat (Matthew 14:16). Likewise, when the disciples inform Jesus that the crowd following them has no food, he instructs them to give something for the people to eat (Matthew 14:16). The miracles that follow in each of these situations only occur after Moses and the disciples have advanced into their respective situations to begin to meet the need themselves in a very real and practical way – quite a challenge for those believers who are only willing to pray for answers in a way that does not compromise their comfort nor lifestyle choices.

 

 

Taking charge of the weather?

As a fair number of Christians believe that God’s sovereignty means He is in control of everything that happens in the world, it has led some to assert that the Divine regularly intervenes and controls our weather in ways that align with prayer requests. However, as we saw in previous posts, the Christian experience of receiving positive ‘weather’ outcomes in regard to prayer request is no better than even-stevens and just as likely to correspond with the vaguries or anticipated certainty of weather for those regions. For example:

rain on the west coast of Ireland, sun every day in Arizona.

Now, surely if God was answering prayers regarding weather, every weekend in the UK would be sunny and Christmas Day would always have snow – but this doesn’t happen- why?

Well, either God is not answering prayers requests or he is impervious to petitions for this sort of thing. Indeed, from my experience of talking with people who genuinely believe God is answering prayers for the weather, the words I frequently hear (when I point out that God did not answer their request for fine weather) is something along the lines of:

‘It doesn’t matter what you think – God loves people and is able to do anything he wants because nothing is impossible for Him.’

Now, while I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, I do not accord with the premise that is behind it. Yes, God does love us and there is nothing outside of his sovereign control that will thwart Him. However, the important thing we need to remember here is that prayer is not about human wants and needs but about God and what he is willing to do in a situation to bring about His Kingdom purpose and plan. And, hard as it is for some believers to accept, a Saturday afternoon of glorious sunshine does not necessarily constitute an advance in God’s kingdom intention.

Indeed, even when a wedding ceremony or baptism service has been wholly honouring to God and a testimony to the way he has worked in the lives of the people involved, there may still not be a reason for God to intervene and keep the specks of rain from the photographer’s lens. After all, the weather remains secondary to the principle aim of the occasion, which is to see the couple married and to glorify God in the process – two objectives which might just as easily be facilitated through a ‘washed out’ day as it would though a picture-perfect event that enabled photos of the wedding or baby with godparents to be filmed outdoors.

Having outlined the reasons why prayer requests for sunny weddings are unlikely to feature high on God’s priority list, let us turn our attention to the situations and circumstances where we might expect God to oblige our human requests and supernaturally intervene with the weather. Here, I am thinking about those occasions in which believers petition God to intervene with a meteorological solution for a pressing situation or pending disaster by praying for rain to abate in an area because people’s lives are at risk through flooding, or requesting rain to help a drought-stricken area suffering from famine.

Now, although each of these requests are surely far more worthy candidates for God’s intervention than prayers asked for sunny weather at weddings, the frequency of weather reports from across the world detailing floods, droughts, hurricanes (etc) strongly suggests that God doesn’t intervene in the majority of these situations. This is not to say that God is unwilling to answer our prayers but rather that He works in ways that are different from that which we anticipate and expect. Although God is powerful and capable of anything, he has clearly chosen to limit the way He acts within our world – especially where his intervention affects human growth and freedom. I am thinking here about the limits that God places on himself to facilitate a temporal world in which humans are free to do many things without divine intervention, enabling them to experience the consequences of their actions, be they good and bad.

And so too with the weather that may one day bless us with sun and on another day destroy our town with a flood through excessive rain that takes lives and brings misery. Returning to the Geography Revision Sheet I mentioned in the first post and its astute observation that

 ‘The climate of the British Isles is best described as changeable…’ 

Maybe we should add…

‘…and this has nothing to do with us petitioning God to change our weather.’  (Bob Eckhard, 2018)

 

 

Why might God not answer prayers for ‘good’ weather?’

I am indebted to a great truth that was imparted to me at school and has informed every fishing trip I have ever undertaken since – wisdom from a geography GCE revision sheet that offered the astute observation that:

The climate of the British Isles is best described as changeable.’

There you have it! Years of meteorological research culminates in a theological understanding of why some prayers for fine weather go answered for many believers. The reality of what happens when people pray for sunshine is not about whether God does or does not answer prayer, but rather it is about random chance. In other words the prayer request aligns with the variability of the British climate for that day. In much the same way that when I flick a coin into the air and call ‘heads,’ I hope that it will spin at such a rate and be caught at the very moment that allows it to be rendered portrait side up.

Now, I appreciate that some believers will struggle with what I am saying here so let me suggest a foolproof method by which the possibility of God controlling the weather might be  tested and observed. This method involves setting up of an experiment to provide the scientific conditions by which God might be observed to intervene in a ways that run contrary to the vagaries of weather:

Of course, the experiment would require a multiple number of weddings to be scheduled for different days of the week in India during the monsoon season – a period in which it rains constantly across the country for days, weeks and even months on end. The respective families would be encouraged to pray in advance for good weather for their wedding day with particular instruction to pray for the exact hour when their ceremony is scheduled to take place. The evidence of whether God has answered these prayers would be determined by how many instances of dry weather occur at these specific times within the monsoon period.

Naturally, my own belief is that very few (if any) of these weddings would occur without wedding party and guests getting wet because this is what happens when you hold outdoor events during the rainy season. This isn’t to say that God couldn’t but rather ask the more reasonable question of:

‘Why would God intervene and what higher Divine purpose might this serve?”

Interestingly, when believers attempt to justify God controlling the weather they often cite instances in the Bible in which God has intervened and affected the physical climate in some way. Among these examples are the events of the flood detailed in Genesis 6 or the day the sun reportedly stood still so that a battle could be prolonged and victory secured (Joshua 10:13-14). Other examples include a rain cloud that appears in response to Elijah’s prayer (1 Kings 18:44) or the storm at sea that affects Jonah’s escape (Jonah 1:4). Although all of these examples are used to show the way God has been proactive in the world – intervening and affecting our weather system – it should be noted that most of the ones that are recorded document acts of judgment and not the type of blessing associated with weddings.

 

Does God answer prayers for sunny weather at weddings?

The seminar at its end, people dispersed, save for a few conference delegates who lined up to speak to me about what I had just presented. As I chatted, I became aware of two teenage girls waiting at the side. Finally, with the last person away, the girls came over and asked if I would explain something that was troubling them – namely, my assertion that ‘it is a redundant act to pray to God to provide sunny weather for a friend’s wedding day.’

Of course, what troubled them was not my statement so much as the idea that God might not be as they imagined Him. By that I mean, the uncomfortable notion that God may not answer these sort of prayers or least, not in the way they want – an idea totally at odds with what many Christians believe about God and the way He acts within our world. After all, what is more important than the bride’s wedding day and a loving God would surely want to intervene and make it as joyous as an occasion as possible – wouldn’t He?

Now, aside from the fact that there is no meteorological evidence to suggest that Saturday is the sunniest day of the week – which it should be if God is answering prayers for fine weather for weddings on these days – there is also the very real issue that although some people petition God for good weather, it still rains on their special day. Which begs the question:

  • ‘Does God favour some people’s weddings over others?’ (OR)
  • Is it just simply the case that God does not answer prayers for this sort of thing?’

If the first were true, people would be right to challenge God because scripture informs us that the Divine is not given to favouritism (Acts 10:34) but loves all people equally. Now, while some families may have fine weather at the wedding of one daughter, they might encounter poor weather on another occasion, suggesting that a parent, daughter, son, fiancé(e) or other family member had transgressed God in such a way that He is now unable to bless them. This does not even consider the more ludicrous anomaly of how it may rain on a couple marrying for the first time yet not for those remarrying for the third, fourth of fifth time? – people whose lives might be frowned upon by some yet enjoy the hottest day of the year for their wedding and, by inference, the greater blessing of God?

As I will deal with the reasons as to why I believe God does not interfere with our weather in the next post, I will close with the answer I gave to the  girls – much to their chagrin. Namely, that weather is random and unpredictable – particularly in the United Kingdom where it is not unusual for a variety of elements to occur in one day which may include rain, sunshine, and sleet –  within the same hour and even in summer. That believers pray for  sunny weather and it occurs does not mean God has answered but rather the person was fortuitous in praying for it on a day when it was going to be sunny. Moreover, there is no sidestepping the question that if God responds to requests for sunny weather with thunder and hail, what should we make of that?

(extract adapted from ‘A short book of believer absurdities’ – Bob Eckhard)

 

How do we make sense of the loss of loved ones? When I was child, I found myself one evening cycling to the local Roman Catholic church my mother and I attended. Okay, two things need to be clarified here:

  • Firstly, being made to attend catechism (Bible School) every Saturday did not make me in any way inclined to give up my Sunday as well.
  • Secondly, my mother’s inability to get up in time to attend church often meant that I didn’t go either which was pure joy for me.

Okay – on with the story: Now, although I don’t remember much about the journey to the church on my little bike, I do remember the weight of confusion I felt when I arrived there to find it locked and no priest in sight. Thinking someone would arrive, I waited for what seemed like  hours before returning home with my issue unresolved. And what was that issue? What might trouble a child of that age? Put simply….

‘Doesn’t God realise that one day my mother will die and I will be left alone?’

Basically, the realisation that one day my mother would die, shook me to the core. Years later, after the death of a close friend, I came to liken this type of mindset  to the sort of unpleasant  ‘fairground’ ride that you long to be over and away from, except this one involved no way out of it. One in which the words:

‘Stop the world – I want to get off!’

…seem wholly appropriate due to the impossibility of the situation and sorrow one experiences. Now, while the phrase (above) doesn’t do justice to the turmoil I was anticipating nor my inability to sidestep the sorrow and loneliness that separation from a loved one would bring, it does highlight something of the sense of avoidance and deceit that resides within each of us. A desire not to face the reality of death for ourselves or for those we love. And yet – as we saw in the last post – death of every generation in the physical world is a necessity in order that future generations are enabled to grow, flourish, bloom and (as they die) make way for the generation that will follow

Not that this makes the death of a loved one any easier to bear – it can’t nor will it ever. However, confronted with the reality of death as the great leveller, we – like those before us – might question what follows at the end of our finite existance on earth? Surely this is the most important question that humanity faces and yet the one most likely to be ignored or sidelined.

 

Why do we have to die?

Why do we have to die?

Now, while this question is seldom articulated out loud, it is often found in the guise of other questions people ask: questions such as:

Why did God create a world dependent on tectonic movement?

Why doesn’t God remove all the evil people from the world?

Why doesn’t God start over and create a better world without things that harm humanity?

Of course,  at their root of these questions is our own  discontent at the limited longevity of human life. A life that may be further shortened through war, famine, natural disaster, illness or some other danger.

Interestingly, questions regarding the necessity of why we have to die suggests that humans actually appreciate being alive and their overriding desire is for this to continue. Indeed, without this desire and inbuilt drive in every living creature or organism to live and survive, it is questionable whether any species would exist on earth. That said,  it seems that many creatures and organisms in order to survive are often able to sacrifice themselves in some way so that the next generation may advance and have the best chance of survival. A few examples of this are –

  • the returning salmon who mates and dies leaving a dead carcass for their young to feed on
  • ants that absorb poison and in the process give rise to the next generation of ant who may prove resistant to it in years to come
  • a virus that is cured by antibiotics but which later mutates into a more virulent and/or deadlier strain that might be resistant to drugs next time round.

Likewise, humans have also adapted and learnt how to ensure the continuance of life through a greater understanding and management of those things that would otherwise prove detrimental to health and existence. Now, while they have been hugely successful at survival and technological advancement,  three problems are pertinent.

  1. The limited resources of earth that – with increasing human population size – may not be able to meet the needs of everyone on the planet.
  2. The limitations of the human body that causes it to grow weaker and less productive the longer it lives after its hiatus of productivity.
  3. The limitations of space in disposing of human feaces from people who live longer that will surpass what can be adequately managed.

In summary,  one answer to the question ‘Why do we have to die?’ might be that there is not enough physical space or resources on earth for humans to exist forever. Indeed, it is questionable whether  young could survive or grow without the passing on of a generation, particularly where it ‘frees up’ resources for growth and development. Finally, it seems that unlike humans, organisms, insects, animal kingdom etc are intuitively aware of the need to pass on the baton and provide for the next generation. How much they are cognisant and self aware of existence and what comes after death: that is another question?

 

‘Is God bothered by human death and dying?’

 

The ‘Bigger Picture’

Perhaps the thing that bothers people most about suffering today is the sense of waste or futility when loved ones die as a result of illness, evil actions or natural events. Central to the concern is a sense that the life of the deceased individual has somehow been cut short or left unfulfilled – and even for those who have lived a long life. But this is largely a secular perspective on life because the assumption is that the time we have on earth is the only time we have got. A position that runs contrary to spiritual perspectives that Christians (and others) posit in which:

Life => death => afterlife

Imagine a caterpillar on a branch being watched by someone – let’s call the person Jim. As Jim watches, the caterpillar slows to a stop. A few days later, he returns to the place where the caterpillar was last seen and sees that all that remains of it is a lifeless, indistinguishable object on a branch. Around the body a hard layer of shell has formed, disfiguring the caterpillar’s shape. Outraged at this outcome for the poor defenceless creature – okay I’m going a bit over the top here  – the person speaks out angrily at the unfairness of life and the cruelty of a God who would create an insect whose life was so limited, only to bring it to  an ignominious end. Jim’s rant complete, he enters the house and thinks no more of it until….

… a few days later, as he walks along the path close to the tree and notices that a chrysalis shell has formed around the lifeless body of the caterpillar. Moreover, there is a hole in the shell. As Jim watches he sees the shell being discarded by a beautiful butterfly which eventually spreads its wings and flies away. It’s metamorphosis now complete.

Reflecting on events, Jim sees that the caterpillar has been liberated in a way that could not have initially been imagined. Now, he is forced to rethink how that which was once considered tragedy, is  instead a transitory stage to a different life altogether.

Why do I tell that story?

Well…the Christian belief that death is a stage or transition point by which people transfer from this world into the next, challenges the ideas that some people have concerning the necessity for longevity of physical life. Indeed, it could be argued that this future life (the other side of death) brings release for people who are experiencing pain and suffering in this world right now, then death is not necessarily the bad thing that people might suppose it to be. Moreover, it comes to be seen as a staging post through which people pass into a different type of existence. A transition that carries a degree of fear because death is the great unknown but not necessarily the end of life per se.

Could it possibly be that God’s larger plan does not consider death in the same way that humans see it? Might it rather be a staging or transit point from the physical world into the spiritual realm? If so, then death is no longer a tragedy but a positive and one that provides hope and comfort to people in their times of suffering and grief.

 

Why does God allow illness?

Research over the years has helped researchers to understand diseases and find cures. One example is leprosy which, if left untreated, affects the person’s nervous system, causing damage to skin, limbs and eyes. Although, leprosy was recorded in biblical times, it was not until the last century that it was found that bacteria was responsible for this condition. Before this, many people considered it incurable and managed leprosy by keeping the infected individual separate from everyone else. However, Norwegian physician Gerhard Hansen’s discovery that it was caused by a particular bacterium (Mycobacterium leprae) has since advanced so that today we use multidrug treatments to cure individuals with leprosy.

Here it is important we consider a different issue about the nature of these constructs within our world. We encountered this in a previous post considering the advantages and disadvantages of gravity. Just as the benefits of gravity far outweigh the disadvantagesso too our understanding of bacteria. Given that humans are dependent on bacteria which affects human health (in quite positive and negative ways) we might question:

‘would humans truly want to live in a world devoid of bacteria?’

Indeed, we might also ask if:

‘bacteria is not part of the way that God has designed this world to operate?

Recent research suggests the survival of each species is dependent on genetic anomalies that enable them to adapt to new or changing environments. So, in a barren area, the giraffe with a longer neck that can reach the highest foliage hanging from a tree is more likely to survive than the giraffe with a shorter neck. If our tall healthy giraffe then mates with another tall-necked giraffe, the offspring will carry the parents’ enhanced DNA, increasingly the likelihood of producing tall offspring who will be able to survive in future droughts.

The observation that species develop at the expense of others has led some to speculate that a specific ‘selfish’ gene exists within the DNA of every surviving species. A gene that selfishly seeks its own genetic construct be advanced at expense of everything else. From this, it is easy to see the problem facing the Divine. If God creates a world that is too tight in its structure, human life might not emerge. However, if God creates the earth in a less deterministic way there is a risk that it will facilitate a variety of other things in the food chain that will also grow and develop. Things that  may cause disease, illness and death – a world in which humans may flourish along with giraffes, bacteria and other viruses – but at a price.

So in summary, if God makes the world too precisely, there is a risk that life might not emerge. However, if the Divine loosens up control of the world, then there is a different risk that other things will emerge that may develop and survive at expense to human life and existence.

 

 

‘Can all illnesses be attributed to humans ‘meddling’ with their environment?’

Many diseases and illnesses occurr in history at times when there was no obvious link to human activity or interference. Here, my intention is to provide some instances by which we might reason that illness might be a necessary part of the world we inhabit though I also appreciate some may disagree with the argument that follows – and that’s okay.

Over time, there are clearly strains of virus that repeat and modify themselves. One example is influenza – a viral infection that has the capacity to adapt and develop into more virulent strains. Although the recurrence of these viruses can be quite frequent, they may also occur in more haphazard ways, by which they develop into and/or become pandemics.

This is a major concern for governments around the world who are currently aware of the risk carried by bird flu which has accounted for millions of deaths over the years. A characteristic of the virus is the way it develops in other creatures first and only passes on to humans at a much later stage that may have skipped several generations. From this, it is apparent that humans cannot be held responsible for the way the virus develops other than that they are unwitting recipients and hosts, carrying it from one person to the next. This aspect of how infections are passed between people leads us onto our next aspect – the human immune system.

While it is apparent that the immune system of a human is generally robust in dealing with infections, it is clear that there have been periods in the human lifecycle when the body has been less able to manage these events. Two such times are: infancy when the body is learning to fight infection; and old age when the body is not so strong. Another time when the human defence might fail is when a new virus is encountered which the immune system has not had experience of before.

A classic example of this occurred in New Zealand in the late 18th century with the arrival of colonists from Great Britain, who unwittingly introduced the indigenous Maori population to a range of infectious illnesses. These viruses, such as chicken pox, measles and the common cold, had never been encountered by the Maoris before and many were unable to fight off these infections with the result that a sizeable proportion of this indigenous population died within a decade.

Nowadays, humans have developed antibiotics to assist the immune system ito fight infection. However, although penicillin and other antibiotics have saved many lives, present day medicine advises against the repeated use of these drugs for fear they will inadvertently weaken the immune system’s defences. The problem being that the virus – also a living thing – desires to survive and so adapts to these new antibiotics creating even more complex infections that may one day go beyond the capacity of the human immune system to adapt. Of course, a different problem that arises from this is the failure of humanity to keep pace with these viruses, which continually require new antibiotics to be developed and manufactured.

From this, I think it is unfair to attribute all illnesses to human meddling as clearly some viruses originate within the animal kingdom. However, perhaps more interesting is the innate resourcefulness of our immune system that fights, protects against and adapts on our behalf to ensure that humans survive. Perhaps a case of in-built human resilience in a world that is good for sustaining life but never harm-free.