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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Will God Save Us?
distributed 7/19/02 - ©2002

You've probably heard the story, so I'll do the very condensed version:

A town is threatened with flooding, and the police evacuate folk in the floodplain. One guy refuses to leave, saying, "I trust that God will save me." As the waters rise, a fire engine, motorboat and helicopter all try to pluck the doofus from the flood. Finally he is washed away. When he finds himself before the throne of God, he is indignant. "Why didn't you save me from the flood?" he demands of the Almighty. God replies, "What do you think the cop, fire engine, boat and helicopter were all about?"

If you tell the story, be sure to elaborate on the colorful details, because the punch line is pretty obvious.

But then again, maybe the point is not that clear to some people. There are those who continue to insist that we don't need to do anything about the world's environmental crises because God will save us. They probably fall into three loosely defined groups:

  1. There are some who really do believe that God will do what Captain Picard and the Enterprise did in several Star Trek episodes: step in from the outside to miraculously clean the air, replenish the water, and otherwise transcend (or violate) the laws of nature. They believe that, if it is a real problem, then God will stop global warming, clean up the toxic waste, and re-establish the extinct species. My guess is that very few people would admit to such a clear-cut statement.

  2. There are probably lots of people who just have a general sense that God wants good things for us, and so God will not let anything really bad happen. They haven't worked through the details of what such a belief means -- it is just an assumption that shapes their view of the world.

    I've seen this belief lurking in the background in many conversations with skeptics about global warming. They can't say what evidence would convince them of the reality or the urgency of climate change, because they simply can't believe that God will let anything so catastrophic happen. Acknowledging large-scale environmental catastrophes contradicts core elements of their faith, so they deny the facts.

  3. Then there are those who don't look to God to intervene in the here and now to make it all right, but who expect the Second Coming of Christ to happen soon. The don't expect a healing or a transformation of nature, but look for the end of history. This branch of "God will intervene" calls for a more detailed comment some other week!
I haven't seen polling data to suggest how many people believe that we don't need to worry because God will intervene to fix the world's environmental problems, but I expect the numbers are fairly high.

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In our churches, we need to do some very serious education about biblical and theological notions of how God works in the world.

The Bible does have stories of God's dramatic intervention in history and nature. We love to tell those key stories of our faith, especially the Exodus and the miracles of Jesus. There are occasions where God has "broken the rules of nature." As I sift through the Bible, it appears that in every such case of intervention, God's action is to liberate people from oppression, or bring about healing where the inflicted one was not at fault.

But I can think of no case where the biblical faith tells of God intervening to deliver an individual, community, nation or humanity from the practical consequences of their own sin and stupidity. (I don't put the resurrection and its salvation promises in the "practical consequences" category.)

What God does do is provide abundant instruction in how we are to live -- personally and in community, in our religious disciplines, in our political and economic life, in matters of social justice, and in our relationship with all of creation. We are told over and over again that seeking shalom, seeking God's realm of peace and justice, will bring us abundant life. And we are told over and over again that seeking our own power, seeking individual profit at the expense of the community and nature, will bring us to disaster.

And having told us that, God insists that we face the consequences of our own actions.

That is the pervasive theme of the Judeo-Christian faith. We are held accountable for our sin. Those who think that their faith in God will protect them from catastrophe have not read their Bible carefully.

All of our warnings about environmental catastrophe, all of our appeals for just and sustainable living, will fall on deaf ears if the people in our churches believe that God will bail us out when our blunders start to cause serious problems. Calling our folk to a biblical understanding of the consequences of sin may be the essential first step in moving churches toward environmental action.

Telling the story about the man in the flood may be a good start.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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