IMAGINING ETERNITY. Part 2: Setting the stage.


It’s truly amazing how history is going full circle today. The Bible starts with, “In the Beginning the earth was formless and empty”. Formless means no shape, no order, no law, no structure, amounting to nothing. The word NIHILISM has at its root ‘nihil’ which means ‘empty, nothing’. Nihilism typifies today where much of society lacks cohesion and purpose and stability.

In the Beginning: Chaos. Then God spoke – Psalm 33:9 – and chaos became cosmos. Cosmos is the opposite of chaos. Cosmos means everything chaos is not: purpose, logic, harmony, cooperation. No wonder God loves COSMOS – John 3: 16!!
The Garden of Eden symbolized all that: perfection in spades.

That state of serene wholeness did not last long. Almost immediately after the FALL humanity imposed its will upon creation with such disastrous results that today again we have CHAOS, needing complete renewal. This means that everything is going full circle: from CHAOS to COSMOS to CHAOS to COSMOS.

J.H. Bavinck in his “BETWEEN THE BEGINNING AND THE END” puts it this way:

“The end time again picks up the threads which have deter¬mined human life throughout the ages; in the end-time all things return to their beginning. Just as the book of Genesis paints us paradise, the place where human life started, so the book of the Revelation of John brings us back to that same place. End time and Urzeit are indeed intimately related. In short, the end time reveals again the realities of the Urzeit”.

We have seen in Part 1 that Abel was killed by his brother because of different views of the future: Abel envisioned an organic development, in tune with creation, while his brother Cain favored ‘dominating’ creation. Guess which force is dominant today?

The dispute between two brothers basically was a religious matter: ever since, religious wars have been the most atrocious and long-lasting.

Primary Productivity again.

At the time of Creation the entire budget for life, its Primary Productivity, the total amount of planetary mass, for One Hundred Percent, was directed to maintain all of Creation. Everything and every creature flourished. Cosmos meant balance, meant complete harmony, total shalom for trees, plants, animals, people. People then learned the secrets of plants, the edibles and the medicinal value, the pros and cons of certain trees and shrubs. They were the original Nature-Gatherers. There was symbiosis, absolute affinity between plant, animal and human.

The way I picture Paradise, the Garden of Eden is having total respect and complete comprehension of all created matter, treating everything as equals. I can imagine how humans, desiring a certain fruit, would ask the trees for permission.
It could quite well be that the original sin was to grab fruit without properly asking, asserting that humans were the dominant force in creation, rather than the servants in chief.

As we have seen in the previous blog, Dr. William Rees has calculated that we, the human race, now need 98.5 percent of all of life to satisfy OUR own wants and needs. That include the domesticated animals we (ab)use for our consumption, as well as the house pets we keep. All this leaves little or nothing for the original wild life and other species, much of which has disappeared.

This astounding number – 98.5 percent – explains why the current extinction rate is 1,000 times that which existed before human domination of the planet. We, 7.5 billion of reckless and feckless fools, have simply stolen the food, the rich – that means us – a lot more than others.

Destroying the earth has a long history.

Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived in the fifth century BC, a contemporary of Socrates, reported that there had been a time when a person could walk across North Africa from the Atlantic to the Pacific and always be in the shade of trees. One look at the world map tells me that this covered Morocco, Algiers, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Today, most of this is endless emptiness of undulating waves of sand, unforgiving sun, oppressive heat and desperate people.

So, what spurred the shift from woodland to wasteland?

A new study suggests humans played a big role. Author David Wright, an environmental archeologist at Seoul National University, says that as humans spread west from the Nile river 8,000 years ago, they brought with them sheep, cows, and goats that gobbled up, mowed down, and trampled over native vegetation. This transformed the landscape and altered the local climate.

When God created, the earth was perfect. Not anymore.

Six thousand years before sodbusters broke up Iowa, our Caucasian ancestors broke up the Hungarian plain, an area just northwest of the Caucasus Mountains. Anthropologists call them the wheat-beef people. These early Europeans had a full set of domesticated plants and animals, but wheat and beef dominated. All the domesticated animals came from an area along what is now the Iraq-Syria-Turkey border at the edges of the Zagros Mountains. This is the center of domestication for the Western world’s main crops and livestock, ground zero of catastrophic agriculture.

I don’t know when Job lived (if he ever did), that fellow now famous for having ‘the patience of Job’ – not altogether correct, but that is beside the point – but, good man as he was, he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, and thousands of oxen and donkeys. Fine and dandy, but this is exactly the reason why we now have deserts.

Reading Genesis, when Abraham and Lot dwelled in what today is Israel, they then too had trouble finding adequate pasture for their huge herds. I imagine the NEGEB desert found its beginning there.

Don’t look to the Bible for guidance on sustainability. Another example of misguided practices is found in Joshua 17:14-18 relating to the period around 1400 BC. There Israel’s leader, Joshua, the successor to Moses, instructs the tribes of Joseph to clear the trees from the hill country to have enough land for his tribe. This practice was clearly unsustainable; it would lead to erosion of the soil on hilltops.

For ecological guidance, for all matters scientific, we must not go to the Bible, but to God’s Primary Word, his creation. The one explains the other: they go hand in hand. If you don’t believe what God’s creation tells us then you can’t understand the Scriptures.

In other words, The Bible is not to be used as a guide for environmentalists, nor to follow for health rules.
I often have a glass of wine, but as a cure for stomach trouble? Yet the apostle Paul recommends to his young friend Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

Back to the church which still thinks strictly in anthropocentric terms.

I just looked up Exodus 20, the chapter where the Ten Commandments are listed. The commentary on “you shall not misuse the name of God”, says that ‘swearing falsely by his name is sin’.

That is the way the Church explains this, the anthropocentric –man – centered reading. If, however, we believe that God is the creator, this really means that God’s name, his signature, is on every created item. To abuse any part of God’s creation is ‘swearing falsely by God’s name,’ something we do all the time.

Seen in that light we do a lot of swearing, constantly taking God’s name in vain. The result is that all systems are threatened, not only the air, but also the 70 percent of the planet, the seas and oceans. “Oceans are under greatest threat in history”, warns Sir David Attenborough. The BBC shows in its Blue Planet 2 series lay bare the shocking damage humanity is wreaking in the seas, from climate change to plastic pollution to noise.

Of course our land mass too is poisoned. Take growing crops and keeping life stock. We can give it a pious twist, but fact is that farming has been disastrous for the earth.

Iowa is a more recent example. The state used to be beautiful prairie land occupied by millions of bison with the native people killing the odd one for meat and other uses.
Iowa is almost all agricultural fields now. Little prairie remains, and if you can find what Iowans call a “postage stamp” remnant of some, it most likely will abut a cornfield. Walk from the prairie to the field, and you probably will step down about six feet: that’s how much topsoil has disappeared since 1900.

Plows destroy the deep mat of prairie roots that hold the whole business together, triggering erosion. The Dust Bowl was no accident of nature. A functioning grassland prairie produces more biomass each year than does even the most technologically advanced wheat field. The problem is prairie grass is mostly of a kind that humans can’t eat.
So what did we do? We replaced the prairie with our own preferred grass, wheat, corn and soybeans. Never mind that we feed most of this to livestock, even though that livestock is perfectly content to eat native grass. And never mind that there likely were more bison produced naturally on the Great Plains before farming than all of beef farming raises in the same area today.

Just imagine the folly of industrial farming: 40-60 million bison freely roamed the immense grasslands of North America. We now grow grains to feed captive cattle, jail them in feed lots with hundreds of heads crowded together, emitting a terrible stench, exposing the cattle to immense pain and suffering, injecting them with antibiotics, and producing a substance – red meat – that causes strokes and heart attacks, taxing the medical system where – at least in the USA – it bankrupts many, as the cost of healthcare is so high.
The process poisons the soil, killing the Gulf of Mexico with the fertilizer overflow, kill people: all that evil, while nature provided free-ranch for the bison.

We still call the human race: homo sapiens, which means ‘the wise human. This same human race has abandoned God, even though honoring him – loving his creation – is the beginning of wisdom. No wonder we travel:

No doubt today we live in CHAOTIC times. All steadiness has disappeared: no more steady jobs, no more steady climate, no more steady families, no more steady politics: everything is in a flux.
The CHAOS is not confined to matters of soil where we have switched from a soil-based diet to an OIL-based diet.
Take a look at your kitchen: every food item there has been shipped from far away, has been grown on oil-based fertilizer, worked with colossal equipment, processed by machinery, transported by truck or train or plane to your home, wrapped in oil-based plastic.
It is no exaggeration that we use TEN energy-carbon-based-calories for every ONE food-calorie we consume. If we want to stop Climate Change we have to stop eating or grow your own.

Politically, socially, religiously, financially, instability reigns. The weather is weird, earth tremors abound, warning us of greater quakes to come. Greenland last week saw temperatures 30 Celsius above normal. Chaos is now universal.

So what are we to do?
Godspell comes to mind, that musical with the catchy tune, “Prepare ye the Way of the Lord,” sung by John the Baptizer.

We live in times not unlike 2000 years ago when Jesus appeared on the scene, his coming announced by a crazy character, a nature-gatherer, in direct touch with the earth. Does that give us a hint? Then the official church also ignored Jesus, even as three kings from the East came to honor him, and the lowest rank of people, shepherds having nightshift, were the first to be informed.
Today total CHAOS calls for total renewal, a restored COSMOS.
I was greatly encouraged reading Barbara Kingsolver’s FLIGHT BEHAVIOR, a novel squarely dealing with Climate Change. I was delighted to read how in that book the author has a church minister in the Baptist South proclaim from the pulpit that “A love for the Creator means we love his creation.”

In next week’s Part 3, I imagine a sustainable nature- gathering society, Chapter 20 of my 65,000 words novel DAY WITHOUT END.

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