Notre Dame on fire ...
A neighbor, leaning over my fence while our dogs played, said: “The world as we know it could not exist without insects, but the world without humans? It would be better, infinitely better, than the world as we know it.”
He’s well read and well traveled, but in my heart I know he’s wrong. God pronounced creation “good,” that is, until He made man. On that day, he surveyed a world where men and women were fruitful and multiplying and having dominion over “every living thing”—and for the first time He pronounced the world “very good.”
But, whew, what a wreck we make, right? I walked from the fence past the plants dying of neglect on my porch, into my messy kitchen, before confronting the laundry and unpaid bills. My neighbor’s words played against images of San Francisco’s broken streets and too many homeless. There my husband and I recently were robbed two times in 14 hours (with no lasting damage, thank you). Most of us don’t have to look far for man-made ruin, starting at our own doorstep.
Too easily we put man and the material world at the center, rather than God, and then our focus goes haywire. Christians led early scientific gains that today’s New Atheists use to stake their belief in no God.
Politics and grievance are the cheap substitutes for cultivating young minds when meaning and theology have left the building.
In her excellent 2019 book, Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin unmasks the limitations behind such efforts to divorce science from God. “The measurable script and the meaning script do not jostle for position. Both are needed,” she writes.
In Genesis God was fully capable of giving a scientific description of creation, but He chose instead to give a detailed account of who we are and why our lives matter in relationship to Him. Those who take the observable world as the measure of all things are left without anchors when it comes to drawing moral imperatives. Writes McLaughlin: “Using evolution to blast theism leaves the secular humanist stunned by the kickback.”
Despair is what results, and it’s what I heard beneath my neighbor’s lament. Such despair and empty moral imperatives also are on display in global protests over climate change.
Yes, our planet appears to be in a period of warming. But why have the children been dismissed from school with homemade posters to go “on strike” “in protest” over it? Why are students sent into city streets to “raise awareness” on a topic any child already knows?
Because politics and grievance are the cheap substitutes for cultivating young minds when meaning and theology have left the building. Activism replaces wonder and God-centered inquiry.
In September the Finnish secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, said climate change “is not going to be the end of the world.” The expert criticized “doomsters and extremists” for making its real challenges harder with radical calls for zero emissions and zero childbirths.
Force-fed doomsterism, students carry posters like “You’ll die of old age, we’ll die of climate change.” News media make an icon of 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who at age 11 dropped out of school and stopped eating and talking, she says, over her fear of climate change.
We have a God who ordered a universe to generate life—a starting point that makes global warming more complex and more hopeful. Bill Gates, who calls nuclear energy the “ideal” way to address climate change, runs into obstacles left and right with his potentially promising “traveling wave reactor.” We can model wonder and hope for the next generation.
In Oakland, Calif., I saw a young woman be baptized. The pastor asked, “Do you acknowledge your need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?” Before he finished the question, she raised her arms and shouted, “I do!”
The counterpoint to the world’s despair can’t be found in a world focused on the world. It’s in saying “I do!” to the life-giving word of God, the work of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit living in God’s people. It’s not the insects or man who make the world great. It’s God who makes the world great. It’s the world without Him that cannot survive.