Will God put out the fires?


The impasse in efforts to reverse global warming requires collaboration between the scientific community and the faith community.

(John Hendricks | Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal via The New York Times) A ​​photo provided shows flames and smoke from the bootleg fire in southern Oregon, July 14, 2021. Floods swept across Germany, fires ravaged the American West and another heat wave loomed showing the reality that the world’s richest nations are unprepared for the worsening effects of climate change.

Our tiny blue-green sphere has dutifully revolved around the sun for billions of years. We can safely assume that Earth’s unimaginable journey through the universe, with or without us on board, will continue indefinitely.

Our slow response to the devastation of global warming, as if we were being invaded by unexpected news, puts human travel in space at serious risk. Incredibly, we are divided not only by how best to mitigate the daunting prospects of a dysfunctional biosphere, but also by those who raise the ghost of whether we should act at all.

While some of us are ready to redouble our efforts to reverse global warming or to minimally contain the damage at its current levels, others are placing our fate in the hands of God. The premise that divine intervention will bring salvation, as was once the case in biblical stories, calls into question the scientific mindset.

However, it would be a mistake to ignore religious sentiments altogether. We need all hands on deck to figure out how best to do in our race against time. Should God even be included in the conversation? I think so; the sooner the better.

It is imperative to examine the religious dimensions of today’s difficult impasse. The claim that God will never fail us reminds me of the time I sat faithfully in the stands until the finals and my team left 13 runs behind. Belief in miracles does not cure desperate situations, no matter how compelling it is to believe in divine intervention.

However, when it comes to changing the direction of the earth towards its catastrophic fate, how long can we wait for divine power to intervene? Is that really our best remedy? Blessed with God-given intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity to effect change, we cannot deny that we have some responsibility to make the earth habitable again.

Any theology that informs all religions of the world, including Christianity, basically agrees that God is unknowable. This is a good starting point for those of deep personal faith as well as religious progressives. We need to process our apparent limits in realizing God’s thoughts. God’s purposes for Homo Sapiens, past, present, and future, have no definite timetable.

And yet God is still surprisingly present in public discussions today. Enough people of faith, with their own personal interpretations of God’s multidimensionality, manage to leave scientific solutions inadequate. By placing the future of the world in the hands of Providence, they disrupt human efforts to make radical change. To reach consensus on strategies to reverse global warming, we need more certainty than private belief in God’s mercy.

Who could seriously believe that God would be offended if we put human ingenuity into the equation for responding to global warming?

Rather than treating the subject as a dichotomy between faith and science, it would be more beneficial to have honest conversations about the harsh realities we all face. With fires rampant around the world and alarmingly scarce water scarcity, a human response regardless of religious leanings is warranted. However, science must honor the importance of God in people’s lives, especially in dangerous situations. And for those whose faith depends heavily on trusting God in terrible times, the veracity of divine intervention deserves greater openness.

God as the creative force that sets all life in motion must not be confused with the personal wish for a happy ending when the script calls for a miraculous way out of the dilemma. Waiting for God to answer prayer can be problematic. Very likely, the Almighty or the Indescribable measures time differently than normal mortals. But it is also important to emphasize that science does not exclude God. Everyone understands quite well that we are busy fixing a tiny part of the “mysterious tremendum” (awesome secret) that we have put in danger.

A moral discourse community cannot be selective about who participates in it. The scientific and religious communities must speak to one another and at the same time accept a plural world. If this mission really cares about all of God’s children, not just Christians in the United States, then we can work more effectively across the spectrum of faiths. Once the divine is perceived as the architect of possibility rather than the advocate of one’s own belief, we remove personal blinders for wider universal appeal. Wouldn’t the universal application of our efforts bring us closer to the divine?

God interacted with a changing world in biblical history. Prophets were inspired and the Red Sea parted. In more recent times, however, God has been strikingly silent in the struggle for genocide. Explanations for the legacy of human suffering and God’s absence in times of fear remain incomplete. We struggle to accept human responsibility and the consequences of human malice and greed. After all, we are blessed with the gift of awareness and passion for the truth. With these insights at our disposal, we cannot expect God to be in one-sided control. It was and always is a process between a human race with excessive hubris and a greater power that tries to convince rather than force them.

Life on our tiny sphere that miraculously races through space has never been static. There have been changes since the moment of creation. The earth is always in the state of becoming. The connection of all kinds to the preservation of life fills us with astonishment. Allowing human greed to decimate the sacred soil of life fills us with remorse. Our destructive course must be responsible for our grave mistakes.

It will take self-discipline and sacrifice, as well as a great deal of personal inconvenience, to restore the earth to its former paradise. It’s not about waiting for the improbability of God to interfere with us. It is about reading the conflagration of the earth as a divine message: time to wake up and become the keeper of the miraculous gift that was given to us long ago.

Tom Goldsmith Senior Minister First Unitary Church, Salt Lake City

Tom Goldsmith is Pastor Emeritus of First Unitary Church in Salt Lake City


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