Not long ago I was engaged in a heartfelt phone conversation with Laurie David, an environmental activist with whom I share similar concerns. She called me in an attempt to gather information for a book she was writing about the value of the family dinner table. We first met after she had read my book, Saving God's Green Earth, and she asked if I would be a signer on a nationwide climate change initiative her organization, Stop Global Warming, was promoting. I liked her right away because she was a woman with a sincere heart for humanity and a driving conviction to do everything she could to save the planet.
At the end of the interview, Laurie asked me one last question that I knew deserved a straightforward answer. It wasn't the kind of a question that could be skirted or shrugged off. She asked if I thought there was any hope for man to change the state of the world's declining condition and turn things around. I knew by the context of our discussion that she wasn't simply speaking of the condition of the American family, but the condition of an entire world caught in economic, environmental and social crises.
After a reflective pause I said I didn't think so. I could tell by the intensity and hurt in her voice it wasn't the answer she was looking for. Laurie knew how diligently I had been working in the areas of social justice, attempting to sound the alarm among my fellow evangelicals and had how I had been feverishly building ministries to address such atrocities as human trafficking, health, hunger, illiteracy, environmental deprivation and the impact they were having on the poor. I think had been in her mental list of people who were trying to make a difference -- yet I had just confessed that I didn't believe the world would turn around and live in a state of environmental restoration and harmony.
I immediately regretted my seemingly pessimistic answer but my conviction wouldn't let me backpedal my response. Laurie asked why I continued to do the things I was doing if I didn't believe the world could be transformed. And I told her that it was simple obedience to the commission of Jesus to care for broken humanity that motivated me and kept me going. I told her I didn't have much faith in man's human efforts to rectify global crises, but that in the midst of the devastation, godly and righteous efforts would not only do a lot of good but I believed was pleasing to the heart of God. My life's work is not based on any confidence I have in my human ability, by political processes or well-meaning bureaucratic incentives. My only hope is purely centered in the power of God working through folks who have been transformed by his love.
Until the environment of the human heart has been cleansed of toxic waste, there is no hope for the cleanup of the global environment.
The world is in trouble because of man's motivation to be self-serving. The attitude says, "I want mine and I want it now - even at the cost of future generations"; it causes politicians to take perks and unethical earmarks in exchange for passing legislation that is knowingly flawed. It's this attitude that causes corporate America make unethical choices for the benefit of immediate profit rather than for the long-term good of a nation or world. It is this attitude that will often place monetary gain as a higher value than air, water and soil - those things that, in the end, will sustain the quality of life needed for a struggling planet. Without God in the mix, I have little hope for any kind of significant or lasting change because it is only God that can clean up the toxic environment of an individual's heart.
The book of Romans tells us that when man's heart has been impacted by the love of God he then has a transformation of the mind. If this transformation is authentic, his world view miraculously shifts from one of self focus to one that is other centered and other serving. Legislation can't change or turn around the global condition until this transformation happens and some level of unity is regained. When unity is lost and leaders make decisions in reaction to those perceived to be their advisory rather than their brother, then the very thing that once empowered us for prosperity, authority and a reputation of global blessing is lost.
Laws, regulations and certification efforts don't always end up accomplishing the objectives we initially intend. LEED and other green construction certifications are good examples. Two and half years ago my wife Nancy and I set out to build our final home--one that would be sustainable. I had just written "Saving God's Green Earth" and wanted more than anything to practice what I preached. We not only decided to build an energy efficient house but committed to pursue LEED certification to ensure it. Our experience proved to be not only complicated, frustrating and expensive, but a great disappointment. Two and a half years later, we are still sorting out miscommunication and mistakes made. We ended up with a wonderful environmentally healthy house, but we came to realize that very few people would be willing to navigate through all the obscure rules and regulations. Green construction is not for the average middle class American family - yet if we are going to become a nation that is energy self-reliant then everyone wealthy or not must be eligible to play. It didn't take long for corporate America to discover that if products are labeled as being certified "green" they can charge significantly more for them. It should be the opposite. Green building is rapidly becoming a mere status symbol for the rich rather than sustainable, responsible long-term housing.
We are living in a moment of opportunity where thousands of jobless Americans are looking for work. They are living off of government subsidized unemployment, losing hope as they see the inevitable last check closing in. It is time for the government to reinstate programs similar to the CCC as it so effectively served us in the days of the great depression. Instead of outsourcing the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines that could be fitted on every American home, now is the time to seize the moment and develop an energy industry to take the place employing the thousands who lost their jobs in our failed auto industry. Rather than printing and handing out new money that is rapidly losing value, we should give America a functional reason to go back to work. We need fresh vision from the God who established us in the beginning. We need a vision for a hopeful future that has the teeth to engage an unemployed and disillusioned population. We need to regain trust, unity and a sense of purpose. If there is to be restoration, we must first encounter national reformation. Until then our good efforts will continue to backfire and fall to the ground. If there is to be hope, there first must be God.
Tri Robinson is the pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, ID, and author of Saving God's Green Earth and Small Footprint, Big Handprint. He lives on a homestead that is almost fully sustainable and blogs about his adventures there at timberbuttehomestead.com.
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