Friday, March 22, 2019

Storm Watching

The last twelve months have had some especially wild weather. I’m sure we all remember the devastating wildfires in California and the hurricanes that hit the southern United States. But even my little corner of the world has had unusual struggles with the elements since last spring. We had record precipitation in 2018, flooding and landslides throughout the year, extreme temperature fluctuations this January, and a freak windstorm a few weeks ago that downed trees and left hundreds without power for days. Those are just a few examples to illustrate the point that nature has seemingly turned against us. And of course, each event big or small is illustrating how our infrastructure is having trouble keeping up with the damages.

The Politics of Weather

Bringing up infrastructure means bringing up government, and bringing up government means bringing up politics. Weather has become a sharply divisive issue in our political landscape over the past 15 years or so. More specifically, the argument is supposed to be about climate. Individual weather events are often pointed to by both sides to “prove” the other does not have a leg to stand on, but that does not really mean much. A cooler than normal August does not disprove global warming, and a year with a few more hurricanes than the average does not justify climate change alarmism. Trends have to be tracked for a number of years before anything is really known. But when you have a year like this one, it does get you wondering if something unusual is going on.

I do not want to run too far ahead of my expertise, though. I am not a meteorologist. We are often told that the majority of scientists believe that global warming is occurring, and I am willing to concede that. Note, I did not say agree. I do not know if they are right. I am simply saying I would be out of my depth trying to discuss it.

What I would say matters more, and what I can speak more confidently about, is policy. If we are experiencing climate change, what is causing it? There are a number of factors that determine the earth’s temperature. What percentage of that effect is caused by greenhouse gases? No one seems to be able to say, but you cannot even stop there. You then also have to ask, out of all greenhouse gases, what percentage is the result of human industry? Policy makers are not meteorologists, either, but they have to insist on getting answers to these questions. Science has to provide a measurement of our responsibility before we can attempt to solve it.

Speaking of which, what would be the solution? Our way of life depends on fossil fuels. Should government mandate that we use less energy? Or should it raise taxes on energy consumption (which would not likely lower consumption by much but would increase revenue)? More efficient technologies should be developed, but how do you encourage their research and use? Do you punish people for refusing, or reward them for implementing “green” options? Should the market get to decide, or does the government deserve full control? Meanwhile, this is all solely looking at American society. What can be done about developing nations elsewhere in the world that do far more polluting than we do? What is their part in climate change, and what can we do about it? What do we have the right to do about it?

These are complicated questions, and I am not here right now to undertake answering them. I am just trying to point out the complications. Many people afraid of global warming think the crisis is at the gate and we should do “whatever we have to” to fix it. They seem less willing to say what fixing it would look like. In fact, most do not seem to have given it any thought. I hope they will take these questions into consideration and recognize that for many people, a loss of freedom is a nonstarter. Rather than trying to force us to submit, they should put their energies into coming up with liberty-positive solutions.

The Theology of Weather

At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with the Bible. After all, Quest Forums is a ministry. As I have often pointed out, however, religion and politics frequently intersect. The biblical worldview has a few things to say about wild weather and our place in the environment.

As you may know, that is quite an understatement. You do not have to go farther than Genesis 7 to see the human role in climate change. The whole earth was flooded and almost all life was wiped out because humanity had called down the wrath of God through their constant corruption. We had been created to care for the earth (Gen. 1:28). Instead, we destroyed it.

You could consider that a warning for Christians, though in my personal experience Christians are pretty good about it. Scripture is very clear that the world belongs to God (Job 41:11; Ps. 24:1). What we possess is really just held in stewardship for a short time. We have a responsibility to use it wisely. Reasonable preservation of the environment should be an emphasis of Christians, and it largely is.

But it was not pollution that led to the Flood. It was sin. Pollution is arguably sinful, but it is not the only sin and not the sole cause of environmental wrath. When we face destructive weather, we should be willing to confront the possibility that it is coming in judgment.

Allow me to be clear and say that I am not a prophet. I do not have a message from the Lord explaining that “disaster x” is the result of “sin y.” Moses, Elijah, and Joel did that (Ex. 9:13–35; 1 Kings 17:1; Joel 1:2–20, 2:12–14). I can’t. I can only speak indirectly to note that it has happened before and it is a natural consequence of wrongdoing.

Humility and Dignity

Secular humanism might scoff at that, but I see an irony in anyone doing so. The idea that destructive storms may be the result of sin is laughed at by the same people who insist that global warming is our fault. How does it make sense? It is saying that we are not responsible, but we are responsible. And yes, that confusing sentence says what I meant it to say. It is a confusing concept.

The explanation for it comes from our very different views of humility and dignity. In the secular worldview, humanity is insignificant. Our existence is random, brief, and inconsequential when compared with the size of the universe around us. But that hopelessness leads to a perverse pride. In an aimless universe, we can create purpose. An accident led to the rational mind, and now that mind can master nature. We can damage the environment almost irreparably through our carelessness, but with a little scientific know-how, we can confidently control it. So put another way, humanity is so worthless that it is all-powerful. That is the paradox at the root of modern thought.

Christianity takes a very different view from the same starting point. We look out at the ocean or at the expanse of the stars and realize that we are minuscule. When the storm comes, it reminds us that we have absolutely no control. And yet, tiny as we are, God loved us enough to redeem us. As small as we are, that makes us significant. When we know that we are valued, we see the One who values us has all of creation in His hands. Our power over it is nothing in comparison to His. That teaches us to respect Him and His world, while also being assured of His concern for us.

Oddly enough, Christianity and humanism are in agreement right now that we might be responsible for bad weather. I hope that can provide something of a bridge between us. If you believe that we are causing global warming, then what you are saying is that you believe in natural consequences. Does that not beg the question of how nature can have laws, and how lawbreaking can be punished? Because that is, in essence, what you are saying.

It is not too far from there to see the Creator who set everything in motion and keeps order in the patterns He established. Once you do, you can move deeper. The natural law is one thing to risk upsetting. The moral law is even more dangerous. Bad weather is only one disruption that comes from breaking it. The only way to find rescue from it, and from other far worse consequences, is repentance for all the ways we resist God.

When we give up on our own destructive paths and follow God’s will instead, that does not guarantee an immediate fix. The rain will keep falling and fire will keep burning. But in immediate circumstances, it can lead to a reduction in severity. And above all else, it does guarantee security. Whatever happens now, we can know that we are God’s. We cannot control the weather, but we do not need to. We can trust His promises to end all of life’s storms and give eternal peace. If we humble ourselves, He will lift us up (James 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6–7). Nothing can drown that promise. We need to let it guide us in whatever weather we face.

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