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Now, at last, the heavens and the earth were successfully completed, with all they contained. … The Lord God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate the soil and to take care of it (Genesis 2:1, 15).
But the day of the Lord will come, unexpected as a thief and the elements will disintegrate in fervent heat. The earth also and all the works that are upon it will be burned up. Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what devout and dedicated lives you should live (2 Peter 3:10-11).
These two Scripture passages give us the beginning and end of our planet and the cosmos that surrounds us. Is this at odds with what we see happening in our physical world today? There is no question that the reckless use of chemicals, irresponsible disposal of waste, destruction of natural environments, and foolish release of toxic, corrosive, and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is causing a plethora of changes. A massive percentage of diseases like cancer, mental disorders, and allergies of all kinds are linked to what humans have done, not to some personal design issue. The evidence is undeniable for climate change and the consequences it is having for all life on the planet.
It does not seem that we can stop selfishness, greed, and participation in power struggles. For many hundreds of years, the teachings of Jesus Christ were accepted by enough people that the events that would kill massive numbers of people rarely happened. Now the unbelieving segment of our population is such a strong force, and the teachings of Jesus have been so diluted and discarded that nothing can stop our world from stampeding to total destruction. Is that destruction inevitable? The answer is NO! For two reasons:
REASON 1: DESTRUCTION” — YES. ANNIHILATION” — NO. Somewhere back in my graduate student days, I remember attending a symposium on the future of planet Earth. One of the speakers (and I think it may have been Albert Einstein) said: “If we have a World War Three fought with nuclear weapons, World War Four will be fought with clubs.” We can destroy modern civilization, but life is resilient, and it will go on. We know that matter is essentially a form of energy. E=mc2 is simply a description of that fact. 2 Peter 3:10-11 and other passages talk about the end of time and the dissolving of all physical matter. The Greek word used in 2 Peter 3 is not used anywhere else in the Bible. Most concordances indicate the word translated “to loose” means to go back to its original state. The matter of which the cosmos is made ceases to exist” — it is loosed to its original state” — God. In reality, all scientific evidence dictates a dimensional change. The debate would center around whether that dimensional change is to God or some mathematical construct.
Destruction is a whole different matter. We humans are destroying the planet. If we succeed in making 90% of the planet inhospitable for life, and 98% of the humans on Earth are killed, the planet will still be here. We will not accomplish the annihilation that Peter describes. We will simply destroy the beautiful world that God created and gave us with the instruction to take care of it.
REASON 2. THE RESILIENT DESIGN OF PLANET EARTH. Nobody can deny the capacity of humans to destroy things. This past year I had the opportunity to be in California when human-caused wildfires reduced massive amounts of land, cars, and homes to dust. The devastation of World War II has been the subject of numerous articles, and in 2019 there were survey visits to some of those places where a whole island was denuded by human violence. Many years ago, I was allowed to snorkel in an old volcano crater in Hawaii, which had been stripped bare by locals who captured the sea life and sold it to tourists and even blasted corals, so the seafloor was completely clean of any sign of life. We have been privileged to be at Mount St. Helens before and after its eruption in 1980 and again in 2010. In my graduate work, I saw Ducktown, Tennessee, and Sudbury, Ontario, where atmospheric contamination from careless smelting had scorched the land so that nothing would grow, not even crabgrass.
In all of these cases, it seemed that it would take centuries for the area to recover, if it ever would. A recent visit to California saw poppies growing in the scorched earth. National Geographic and Smithsonian have shown dramatic pictures of how the jungle has reclaimed even paved airfields in the war zones of the Pacific. The Hawaiian crater is now a showcase of marine life that tourists come to see. The recovery of Mount St. Helens has been so complete that fish are back in the lake at the foot of the mountain. Ducktown and Sudbury have recovered and have young forests growing all around what was once a wasteland.
God's design of the Earth has included an incredible number of organisms and processes to repair what humans have done. We now know of organisms that can process plastic and eventually may undo the incredible waste we have placed into the ocean. Climate change is not all bad. Some areas that have been deserts are now biological meccas as new plants find ecological niches into which they can fit.
Does this mean we should not try to stop our abuse of what God has given us? Absolutely not! Why would anyone want to inflict pain, starvation, and poisoning on innocent animals and human beings? Can we not see the human toll as diseases from cancer to genetic disorders run wild because of contaminants that humans have put into the environment. Christians can and should lead the way to protect the environment. The gentleness and care that Jesus taught should motivate us not to participate in a “survival of the fittest” culture where selfishness and greed determine who survives the next disaster.
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Scripture links/references are from BibleGateway.com. Unhighlighted scriptures can be looked up at their website.