In the last blog, I talked about how the Western Religious Right’s claim to orthodoxy is dubious. This blog starts on this series of sample misquotations of Scriptures in one particular evangelical theologian’s work that has plagued the wider Western church world (and even in Asia). The reason I use his work is because his works are widely used by evangelicals. This blog is about understanding of the environmental issue. We shall see in this blog that the Bible does not answer some of the hard questions we face. We may choose to use common sense or our limited knowledge from other disciplines, but not so much the Bible. Especially important is the way I have seen this author uses one text below. In this blog, we will learn that the spiritual lesson for the church is not found in each word of the text, but the intended force of those words. The rhetoric assigns meaning to the message.
Here’s a great sample. Discussing the anxiety over environmental concerns and weather pattern, one author puts in bold letters, “People displease God when they fail to acknowledge his control of the weather.” Really? Displease? His citation is Jeremiah 5.23-25 as follows:
“But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away [that is, the rains and the harvest seasons], and your sins have kept god from you.”
I’m not an expert in weather or environment. This blog will not address this problem, but will address the way the problem is being addressed. The writer interprets the sin to be worries about the weather. The fact is, the weather is not the focus at all. Jeremiah wrote this book progressively all the way to the Babylonian exile. Judah was exiled because, according to Jeremiah, of idolatry. The entire context has nothing to do with environmental concerns.
The poetic section starts with Jer. 5.20 and runs all the way to 6.30. It is a series of parallelisms that have nothing to do with weather but almost everything to do with idolatry. Even the language God used to describe the blindness and deafness resemble the idols in Jer. 5.20. The people had essentially become like those idols they worshipped. It is part of God’s law suit (note the lawsuit language of 6.18) against Judah based on the covenant God had made with Israel long ago. The fact God used “Israel” instead of the expected “Judah” in some places (e.g. Jer. 5.9) points to the covenant nation of Israel before the kingdom had split into two. My point is, a careful reader will not find that passage to be mainly about weather. Why talk about weather then?
Weather is symbolic of the religions of the Near East. The worldview of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE henceforth) is that people worshipped the gods so that the gods would provide good weather for one thing and one thing only, good harvest. In other words, the patter situation there had to do with how people worshipped, and not environmental concern. The Lord is reminding Judah that the false worship had caused in this case weather problems. The very fact the Judeans worshipped the Canaanite gods is because, according to many ANE experts, the Canaanite gods promised good harvest. God was basically saying, “Look at how messed up your weather is. How is that working out for you wishful thinking idolaters?”
Consequences of Misreading
We no longer have that worldview today. I’m pretty sure God might speak to use in variety of ways in regard to why we sometimes suffer environmental damage. The ANE religious paradigm is not the ONLY way. It WAS for the Israelites because that’s their world. We’re now in our world. I don’t doubt that some of these disasters are man-made. I don’t doubt that some man-made disasters were indirectly punishment from God (well, at least I leave that possibility on the table). Jeremiah 5 does not concretize the author’s conclusion. I’ll let his words speak for themselves.
“This passage sounds remarkably similar to the proponents of dangerous global warming today – they fear a fragile, out-of-control climate pattern that will destroy the earth, but ‘do not say in their hearts,’ ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season.’ This suggests that the underlying cause of fears of dangerous global warming might not be science but rejection of belief in God.
We learn from this rhetoric three fallacies: 1) Unbelief and not scientific ignorance is the root cause of all human problems. 2) Those who have environmental concern must not trust God. 3) Concern over environment shows a small belief in God. I certainly do not agree with any of these ideas. Besides their circular logic (i.e. if you think our environment has severe problem, you must not believe in God. Due to your unbelief, that’s why you have an environmental concern), the biggest problem is the lack of support from the main thrust of the biblical passage. One lesson we learn from the three fallacies is that we can’t MAKE the Bible say what it does not intend to say. If the interpretation does not deal with the main issue the author was trying to address, the interpretation is wrong. So is the application.
On one final word, if this author does not think we should worry about over the air and weather pattern, he may need to travel to China more and do some studies there. I’m sure in his revised version of this book, he’ll think differently.