The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are known for their doomsaying. In books like Jeremiah and Ezekiel the predictions of disaster
go on for page after page. The gist of their warnings is that the idolatries of the people have spawned economic injustice
which will in turn bring God's righteous wrath down upon them in the form of some kind of wall-to-wall catastrophe: usually
drought, plague, famine, or war.
We sophisticated modern people do not have much tolerance for this sort of thing. Therefore, most mainstream preaching
has not dwelt on the imminent end of the world. Such threats seem superstitious and childish to us. Churches have little
credibility with the public when they prophesy coming doom.
That is why the recent report on global warming by the Pentagon gets our attention.* These are our secular experts on
doom and preparedness. Knowing nothing of Jeremiah or Ezekiel, they now forecast a wall-to-wall disaster which could strike
the Earth at any time. It could happen this year, or it could hold off for many years, even centuries. But those responsible
for our national defense seem to think these possibilities are real enough that we ought to be prepared for them.
This report sums up what many scientists have been saying for years. Contrary to the expectations of many, global warming
will not necessarily be a gradual change to which people will have time to adapt. Rosy forecasts of increased agricultural
yields and thriving shipping lanes across the Arctic Ocean are probably misguided. A more sober expectation is for relatively
sudden changes that will overturn many of the climatic standards upon which civilization was built.
It is beyond serious scientific debate that much of the warming in the atmosphere is a result of human activity. Long-term
fluctuations in the global climate are natural. (This is not necessarily a comfort. The historical record shows that the
Earth tends cyclically to descend into ice ages after around 10,000 years of relative warmth... the last ice age ended about
10,000 years ago.) But the warming of the earth has been accelerated by human activity, mainly the profligate burning of
fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Statistics demonstrate a direct correlation
between the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and surface temperatures.
The resulting climate alterations sound like a disaster of biblical proportions. The Pentagon study predicts widespread
flooding, storms of increasing frequency and severity, increased drought conditions, famine and starvation, mass migrations,
war (including the probable use of nuclear weapons), and political instability, with the climate of Europe and eastern North
America becoming more like that of Siberia.
The analysts at the Defense Department are not biblical prophets. They view this emerging situation objectively as a
set of possible military challenges. They do not pretend to care about how we got into this mess, or suggest ways of averting
the likely disaster.
But Christians know how we got here. The biblical pattern that begins with idolatry, intensifies in economic injustice,
and finally erupts in ecological catastrophe, remains intact. Human beings habitually put themselves first -- that is, in
place of God -- and see the Earth and other people as merely a set of objects to be exploited. This idolatrous approach leads
us to reward sins like greed, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Consumption, waste, and senseless growth become our guiding principles;
in the process we disrupt communities and eco-systems, generating economic inequalities and creating phenomena like poverty,
slavery, unemployment, oppression, imperialism, and war.
The divinely ordained beneficial balance of life is therefore shattered, and the inevitable result is that, in redressing
this disorder, the system wrenches through some major changes. These changes serve, like Noah's Flood, to wipe out the corrupted
system, restore the balance, and begin again. In other words, human sinfulness has kicked creation so out of whack that God
is about to hit "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" and reboot the whole thing.
The main message of the Bible, of course, does not have to do with the world's destruction, but with its redemption.
In part, Scripture is a handbook for living within the balance and order God intends. The Commandments are a primary example
of this. And all Scripture is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The life Christ lived, in
humility, justice, love, and spiritual power, is exactly the opposite of the rat-race consumer existence which has forced
us to the present ecological precipice.
It may be too late to avert what is coming. But it is not too late to live transformed lives in Christ's Spirit, which,
in the words of one biblical prophet, is to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God."
* The Pentagon report is entitled "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National
Security, October 2003, By Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall." It is available at several places on the web.