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“His Blood Cries Out From the Ground!”: Climate Change And Moral Corruption

“His Blood Cries Out From the Ground!”: Climate Change And Moral Corruption January 7, 2022

In ancient Hebrew thought, the health of the earth itself was intimately connected to the morality of its inhabitants. The sinfulness or holiness of God’s image bearers, of mankind, related directly to the vitality of the physical land in which they lived. This idea is conveyed most directly, and direly, by the Prophet Isaiah:

Look! The Lord is about to destroy the earth

and make it a vast wasteland.
He devastates the surface of the earth
and scatters the people.
Priests and laypeople,
servants and masters,
maids and mistresses,
buyers and sellers,
lenders and borrowers,
bankers and debtors—none will be spared.
The earth will be completely emptied and looted.
The Lord has spoken!

The earth mourns and dries up,
and the land wastes away and withers.
Even the greatest people on earth waste away.
The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
for they have twisted God’s instructions,
violated his laws,
and broken his everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.
Its people must pay the price for their sin.
They are destroyed by fire,
and only a few are left alive.

Isaiah 24:1-6 (NLT)

The Biblical View of Nature And Scientistic Naturalism

The Bible consistently affirms that God remains entirely sovereign over His creation and its secondary causes. This means nature is never left to itself (unlike Plato’s theory of unguided “eras”) or entirely handed over to humankind. Nevertheless, man’s participation in God’s natural world affects environmental conditions for better or worse. Unlike contemporary scientific and a-theological accounts of our natural climate, the biblical view of creation tells us it is mankind’s moral actions in light of God’s moral law which, in part, determine the health of the planet in which we live.

This biblical teaching wars against two modern assumptions: first, that nature, or more precisely nature’s laws, are not under divine control. According to scientistic naturalists, while the laws of nature may be “spooky,” they are either (a) necessary, (b) random or (c) man-made conventions, helpful in discussing natural phenomena but not real. What they are not, however, are laws that conform to the intentions and aims of a divine will– a will that constantly presides over them.

There is a much longer discussion to be had here about natural laws, but I will forgo that discussion for a later post. The only point I am trying to make is that the biblical view of natural laws and the scientistic view are fundamentally opposed. Further, being so opposed, the scientistic naturalist will not see man’s moral behavior as directly tied to environmental changes, because man’s moral behavior is not tied to the God who created and oversees the environment in which man lives. This is the second modern assumption the biblical view resists.

This does not mean the scientistic naturalist cannot say there are certain ways we live that have deleterious effects on our natural surroundings. Of course he can do this. But, it does mean he cannot say that those ways of living are aspects of or are related to morality. They are amoral modes of living that have certain amoral consequences. Man does stuff that causes other stuff to happen.

If nature’s laws are necessary, random or simply man-made conventions, then it cannot be that moral behavior has any direct relation to what nature does. Other kinds of human behavior that directly interact with natural objects certainly do affect the environment. But how a husband treats his wife in the home or whether one humbles himself before his Creator has no bearing on environmental health for the scientistic materialist.

The Biblical View and Pantheistic Views

Of course, there is one more assumption that the biblical teaching competes against. It is an assumption made not by scientistic naturalists, and it is by no means modern. This assumption is made by pantheists, panentheists and animists of various religious traditions whose voices now permeate global environmentalism. In regard to those who do not see natural processes as purely physical, what matters is which divine agent has ultimate control over natural processes and what is the source of the moral laws that man transgresses.

Pantheistic, panentheistic or animist views make no distinction between the universe and God. There is no Creator-creature distinction. At face value one might think treating the earth as itself divine would be the best means to solving our climate crisis. But that would be wrong. Earth worship is not the key to a better earth, and one must point out that countries like India, whose entire culture is grounded in pantheistic religion, have been notoriously poor stewards of creation.

There are other theological reasons for pantheism and animism being problematic that I cannot address in detail here. But one might consider that if all of nature is divine, then what would motivate us to prevent viruses like COVID from propagating itself? Is not COVID also part of divinity, and should it also not be allowed to flourish?

But the only point I need to make is that the biblical view and the pantheistic or animistic approaches to nature are also irreconcilable. Only moral behavior in light of nature’s Creator would matter to the health of the creation. Impersonal divinity does not communicate intent to us, nor do spirits indwelling physical objects inspire us to moral goodness.

Therefore, in lieu of contemporary discussions about the causes of climate change and the role of human agency in the earth’s pollution, the Christian must first attend to the biblical data. There she will find the truth about the relationship between God, man and man’s world. Only then might we find a reasonable way forward with regard to the issue of the environment.

Shedding Blood and The Great Flood

Commenting on Genesis 6:13, God’s decision to cleanse the earth with a great flood, Nahum Sarna points out this dynamic connection between man’s morality and the health of the environment:

Genesis Rabba 31:7 interprets that the topsoil of the earth is to be removed [by the flood]. This reflects the biblical idea that moral corruption physically contaminates the earth, which must be purged of its pollution.

Of course, we find this idea earlier in the Old Testament when Cain slays Abel:

Cain said to his brother Abel…and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him. The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” Then He said, “What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground! Therefore, you shall be more cursed than the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. If you till the soil, it shall no longer yield its strength to you.

Genesis: 4:8-12 (JPS Torah Translation)

The first sin of man against man, the sin of murder, poisons the very earth upon which mankind walks. Abel’s innocent blood cries out to God “from the ground.” As sin, especially murder, multiplies over time in the proto-history of Genesis, God ultimately must cleanse the very ground itself. He does so by means of the flood waters, waters whose sole purpose is to re-consecrate God’s creation by sanitizing it of the consequences of immoral human action. Blood shed in unrighteous action necessitates a righteous flood. The human agents who perpetrated the action must be destroyed and the ground that they contaminated must be renewed.

The Universal Moral Law

This connection between human moral behavior, especially bloodshed, and the purity of the earth doesn’t just apply to inanimate nature, like soil. It also applies to the animal kingdom as well. Upon God’s accommodation to allow the eating of animals after the flood, Noah receives the first kosher law. This new law prohibits the eating of live animals and demands the draining of as much blood as possible before the consumption of meat.

While this sounds esoteric to us today, kosher is meant to remind mankind of the value of God’s creation on the one hand and the source of that value on the other. Blood being the source of animate life and God being the source of blood, blood becomes the tangible symbol that points to God as the source of all life. The “life-blood” belongs to God, not man.

Kosher laws thus acted as a polemic against pagan practices, which saw the drinking of blood (both animal and human) as a means to revitalize one’s own life source. The idea that man’s life depended on the God of nature, as opposed to nature alone, is at the heart of this moral law. Naive internet critics who mock the Old Testament dietary laws are simply clueless as to the deeper meaning of the biblical text and its revelation about ultimate reality.

The “Noachide Laws,” which Sarna points out provided a basis for natural law theory, are universal to all humanity. Rabbis considered them revelation in the same sense as the more specified commands given to Moses. However, these general laws were applicable to all nations, not just Israel. In a Christian theological register one might say they are part of general as opposed to special revelation. Either way, they are not reserved for any one part of humanity, they apply to all humans everywhere and always.

Over time, the Rabbis elucidated, based on the Noahic narrative of Genesis 6-9, some basic moral laws. Sarna lists these basic laws as 6 fundamental prohibitions and one injunction:

The prohibitions against (1) idolatry, (2) blasphemy, (3) bloodshed, (4) incest and adultery, (5) robbery, (6) the injunction to establish a court of law [Gen. 9:6]; and (7) the prohibition against eating flesh cut from a living animal.

Sarna, 377

Sarna goes on to say it was these foundational moral laws that were the minimum requirement for “an ordered and wholesome society” (377). Without an ordered and wholesome society grounded in a minimal moral law, not only would there be a breaking of fellowship with the God of nature, there would inevitably be a breaking of nature itself.

Our Modern Malady

Few today might actually consider that our contemporary environmental challenges may be directly connected to man breaking God’s basic moral laws. One doubts such a thought has ever crossed the mind of child demagogues like Greta Thunberg; or, better said, the minds of those who handle her as such. Instead, our modern malady centers on the fact we have relegated our stewardship of creation entirely to the realm of secular politics and endless discussions over how our human technology is utilized. Man, placing himself at the center of a (non)-created order, fails to see that his own morality could possibly be part of the climate problem.

Or, more precisely, he does not see that it is his moral actions in light of a universal and divinely ordained moral law that could be part of that problem. Instead, secular humanists create moral categories of their own which are meant to displace the universal moral law of God. They then use the language of morality to push a particular political ideology, playing off the innate sense of shame and guilt that inheres in each of us.

However, without a universal and divine law, this project devolves into the morality of one subset of society being labeled as the problematic or immoral (usually conservatives or capitalists), while the morality of some other subset of society is asserted to be the solution, or the true morality (usually leftists and socialists). The media then becomes complicit in this game, and then social and political belligerence ensues. Unfortunately, the only arbiter in this battle of whose morality wins out is which side wrests power from the other. In rejecting God’s design for man in nature, we have no reference point other than our own sentiments to determine how we should live with nature.

Transgressing God’s Law and Its Consequences

Unfortunately for secular humanists, transgressing what God has prohibited is the central factor in deleterious environmental change. As such, climate change advocates are barking up the wrong tree (of life) in their attempt to save the planet. By looking to themselves or, possibly, to other gods like those of the animists among them, environmentalists miss the mark.

Is it surprising then that among the so-called “civilized” nations who endlessly debate the reality of climate change, we find an atrocious record on the first 5 prohibitions extracted from the Genesis text?

What do we see in the Western nations especially, except the following: idolatry, usually in the form of secular humanism and its multifarious political ideologies; blasphemy, the cultural manifestations of that idolatry; bloodshed, most poignantly in the destruction of the unborn through legalized abortion; incest and adultery, represented most vividly in the constant attack on biblical marriage and total dissolution of the biblical sexual ethic; and finally theft, most flagrant in unethical business practices by major, multi-national corporations.

What about the final prohibition, the kosher law itself? Although the dietary laws of Moses were lifted by God when He revealed the gentile mission to Peter (Acts 10), perhaps there is still something to glean about our relationship to animal life. In a day when most of us barely, if ever, witness the process of meat production, we might bring the kosher law to mind as we partake of the animal flesh God has allowed us to eat, even the blood. Further, Christians who have not given sufficient thought to the inhumane treatment of animals that still occurs in our times, may need to do some hard thinking in this area.

Conclusion: Our Moral Behavior Matters To Environmental Health

The hard scientific data of environmentalism does not warrant the existential alarmism proffered by today’s global media, even if climate change is real and will affect societies in the future. However, young people around the world experience existential angst as they are told their lives matter to the future of the natural world. But they have been lied to. For they have been told it is their political activity that matters and not their attitude and behavior vis-a-vis God’s universal moral law. Instead they are told to not have children, another transgression of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, and one based on the entirely manufactured myth of overpopulation, a myth that also has racist roots.

So, in sum, as “moderns” and “post-moderns” we expect to be able to save our earth though our intellectual ingenuity, our techniques and our political activism. But we neglect to take into account that maybe to save our environment we should first stop the slaughter of innocent babies in wombs around the world. Or perhaps stop the internment of religious minorities in totalitarian countries like China. Or maybe stop our incessant desire to pursue sensuality in all its forms, most especially in our endless toying with God’s design plan for human sex.

Perhaps we should start here in our noble quest to save our earth. But to do that would be to admit that this earth is not “ours” but His.

 


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