February 13, 2014'Beautiful, but hostile' – there's something about high mountains that bring those two adjectives in obvious juxtaposition. The terrain, constantly changing environmental conditions and light make the highlands very beautiful, but also hostile toward life. The high country breathes life into my soul, but at the same time it's hard to breathe! I experience that same paradox everyday in the beautiful, but hostile environment of my everyday world.
As the leader of a church in a small town, I see so much that is beautiful. I see benevolent evidences of the life giving elements of love, joy, service, and goodness in the actions of others – everyday. Like oxygen, water, food, and shelter – these sentiments and actions give and sustain life. The recipients of the help and encouragement will often say, "Thank God, you showed up. I don't know what I would have done without you."
I get a front row seat for much that is life giving, but I also know where all the bodies are buried. While there is much in this life to appreciate and admire, there is also much that makes me shrink back in disgust and horror. I see the hostile nature of our terrain when I look into the desperate eyes of the parent of a terminally ill child or the tormented eyes of a now forty-year-old victim of child molestation. The first hand experiences of pain, the burdensome weight of sin and the randomness of death make my heart heavy. In those moments I tend to believe, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that gravity doesn't really exist, the earth sucks. While the earth is often described as a life giving 'mother,' she often proves herself inadequate to the task – and death prevails. It makes me wonder. Who's in charge? Is it Gaia, or Medea?
The beautiful, but hostile conditions we live in has created a debate among scientists. The discussion is framed in these terms: Is our beautiful earth inherently supportive-of or hostile-toward life? Drawing from the metaphor of the benevolent Greek goddess Gaia who is depicted as the origin, sustainer and protector of life, atmospheric scientist Dr. James Lovelock contends that the earth is inherently supportive of life. Lovelock argues with rich and poetic imagery that there are life-giving forces at work, which create an environment where life always finds a way to prevail.
University of Washington and NASA astrobiologist, Peter Ward, offers a counter point in the rhetorically provoking image of the Greek goddess Medea. Ward contends that 'mother earth' is better viewed as Medea, a symbol of death, who notoriously murdered her own children. Ward believes that Lovelock and his adherents are naive in their hopes and have allowed their dreamy imageries to skew their scientific assertions.
Both men agree that human beings must take decisive action to be extricated from the ecological damage that has been done to the planet. They differ, however, in their beliefs about final outcomes. Lovelock clings to the hope that the destiny of the earth is to sustain life. Ward, ever the optimist, believes that the inherent physical forces at work, doom the world to its eventual return to what he believes was a lifeless rock, eternally tumbling through the purposeless void of space.
We find ourselves in an environment that is at times life giving, and at other times life killing – beautiful, but hostile. What is the dominant force? Is it the hostile side – death? Or, the beautiful side – life?
The Bible offers an ancient framework for this whole discussion. It describes the earth as a beautiful and inherently good place that has become hostile toward life. It says that at each stage of God's creative process he declared what had been made as "good." And, when the totality of the process had been realized in all its complex diversity it was proclaimed "very good." The earth in its primal state was designed to be completely life sustaining – possessing life that simply went on and on and on… Then, something horrible happened. A fundamentally destructive influence infected God's good earth, spoiling its life sustaining qualities. This evil influence not only brought moral disruption, but also physical decay and a failure to sustain life at a cellular level.
The Bible gives an accurate assessment of what it is like to live in this world and a surprisingly simple solution… It is to do the one thing everyone can do, but so many won't. Simply, admit your need and bend your knee to the giver of life, the giver of all that is good. Turn to God's solution to the problem. And when this hostile world finally fails to continue to sustain your physical life, you will find yourself in a place that is more beautiful than you can imagine. A place where the beauty of life goes on and on and on…
If you are inclined to do some of your own research about your environmental conditions go to biblegateway.com and read Genesis 1-3, John 1:10-13, Romans 8:19-21, Revelation 21:3.