Published: October 2007
For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermix'd
With scruples, and do set the word itself
Against the word ....
Shakespeare, Richard II
At the height of the panic during the late August forest fires in Greece, an Orthodox priest was shown on the TV news, robed and holding aloft his crucifix as he stood on a hilltop overlooking the terribly destructive fire. He seemed to be praying that God would stop the fire. It raged on. In the Old Testament story, Elijah prayed successfully to his God to bring rain and ease the drought while the prophets of Baal failed in the same task. By this theological logic, the Greek God and/or his priest failed.
A major-league athlete prays for victory before a game. One wonders what he thinks will happen if a player on the other team prays for the opposite result. Amazingly, grown men seem to believe that God concerns himself with the outcome of games.
It's easy to mock the thoughtless and selfish prayers of others, but most of our prayers demonstrate a similar understanding of God. We pray earnestly for our family members and friends in times of illness, believing that God will intervene on their behalf. We pray to God our Creator and Sustainer, terms that suggest a belief in Creationism rather than Darwinism. We still think in the old way, seeing God as a loving but strict father who is on our side, the God in the sky who fights for us in time of war and who has given us the one true faith and the right to "have dominion over" other species.
To consider our image of and language for God involves our image of and language for nature. When we re-examine our age-old faith in the God of our forefathers, we do so with a sense of urgency because not only is our God's created world helplessly suffering but also our God's churches have been deserted by the secular majority of the people.
Some of us respond like ostriches, clinging ever more vigorously to old theological concepts and refusing to acknowledge that there is a crisis in our planet's well-being. Some of us insist that the crisis exists and that it is God's punishment for human sin.
Others look for new ways of naming and worshiping God and new ways of respecting creation. We have learned that Teilhard de Chardin's understanding of God as the "ground of our being" is the basis of one of the most credible modern theologies. This new metaphor for God, however, bewilders us. Few of us can understand modern theology and we turn away, calling it sacrilegious. We lack the intelligence, imagination and discipline to conceptualize our God in such modern terms.
Likewise, does any of us grasp the enormity of the ecological crisis? Most of us can see the problem for a few minutes, but our brains can't handle the terrible thought that we as a species might be rushing towards our own extinction. Again we turn away and go about our daily business.
If we really understood the crisis, we would have not allowed it to happen. In the early 1970's when a few prophetic voices warned us, we would have, collectively, moved to limit the population explosion, nuclear technology and pollution. We didn't do this because our human brains have not evolved beyond the capacities of our ancestors of Old Testament times. We still think short-term, we react with fight or flight instincts, and we cling to our families and possessions for our identities.
While listening to David Suzuki and his colleagues we might briefly focus on their prophetic warnings and feel enough guilt and concern to resolve to take action. But the next minute, as if we have Attention-Deficit Disorder, our minds wander and we slip back into old patterns. Like Jesus' disciples wanting to know who will be awarded the highest privileges in His kingdom, we are motivated by selfish needs. It seems that we just cannot do what we need to do....
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