Is God Possible in a Dying Environment?

Is God Possible in a Dying Environment? July 3, 2014

Dear Rabbi,
I believe the world is dying, that we humans are destroying it Is God possible in a dying environment?

The assumption implicit in your question is that God’s possibility—which I take to mean God’s existence—is tied to the health of earth’s environment in such a manner as to make the death of earth’s environment proof–positive that God is impossible, i.e. that God doesn’t exist.

In other words, the only way your question makes any sense is if I imagine an all–powerful God whose very being necessitates a healthy environment. Then, given your notion that we live on a dying planet, I might argue that this God doesn’t exist, because if this God did exist he or she would heal the environment, something for which there is no evidence whatsoever.

In fact, given that the earth will die sooner or later—sooner if we continue to poison the oceans and pump greenhouse gasses into the air, later when our sun turns into a red giant and then collapses into a white dwarf leaving no life in our solar system at all—the idea of an all–powerful God bound to the health of the earth is a very difficult idea to defend regardless of the current state of our environment.

But all these problems go away if I imagine a different God.

If, for example, I imagine that God is the creator of the universe with its billions of stars and millions of planets, and I know for a fact that the vast majority of these planets are dead, let alone dying, I would have to admit that dying and dead environments have no impact on God what so ever.

Or if I imagine that God is a transcendent self–conscious and all–powerful being who created the earth as the one planet in all the universe of which he or she would take note, and who chose the Jews—my people—as his precious ones, and who chose to incarnate as one of my people—Jesus— to bring salvation to the only species of life on the only planet in the universe (let’s not even entertain the multi–verse) that mattered to him, then I might also imagine that this God would be troubled by the way we are killing his world, but imagining a troubled God would only affirm God’s existence again make the state of the environment irrelevant to the possibility of God.

I could also imagine a God, not dissimilar to the God of the Hebrew Bible who plays favorites among his creations, but in this case chooses not the Jews of earth but some other species on some other planet, and who has no more interest in our world than the Hebrew God seems to have interest in worlds other than ours.

Or I could imagine a God who would like us to thrive in a healthy environment but lacks the power to intervene to repair the damage we have done. Our dying environment would sadden this God but not render God impossible.

Or I could imagine the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva: God as Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer. God knows that everything must die eventually, and that humanity is simply reaching the end of our run.

My point is, the possibility of any of these Gods is unaffected by the fact that our environment is dying.

In fact to think that what we do to our world somehow speaks to the existence or nonexistence of God in any way suggests a theology so narcissistic as to be laughable.

But I don’t believe in any of these Gods. God for me is what the Jewish mystics call HaMakom, literally The Place in which, out of which, and as which the universe happens. Or to borrow from St. Paul in the Book of Acts, God is “that in whom we live and move and have our being.” Or to borrow from Hinduism, God is Brahman, whose relationship to the world is captured in this three–verse teaching: Brahman alone is real. The world is entirely unreal. Brahman is the world. Or the Buddhist notion of Sunya, emptying, about which the Heart Sutra says: form is forever emptying, emptying is forever forming; it is not created or uncreated, neither pure or impure, neither increasing or decreasing: it is the larger field in which all these things happen. God is this field, The Place in which and as which reality happens.

The dying of the earth matters to some of us because we know that we die with it. The dying to earth doesn’t matter to God for whom birthing and dying are simply part of God’s being.

So is God possible in a dying environment? Yes, though perhaps not the god most of us want to imagine.

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