A Christian Response to the Oil Spill

Is the oil spill a sign of the apocalypse or just a wake up call to Christians?

What does the Gulf oil spill symbolize to you? Perhaps American consumerism? Maybe the incredible potential of human beings to destroy creation? What about the coming apocalypse? According to a recent Newsweek article by Lisa Miller entitled, “Blood in the Water,” some Christians see the oil spill as a sign from God that the end is near.

Numerous Christian blogs have inferred and many others have outright declared that such may be the case. One Louisiana minister named Theodore Turner told CBS he was sure this tragedy is a sign of the last days. But he’s encouraged. “The Bible prophesized hardships,” he said. “If we believe the word of God is true—and we do—we also know that in addition to prophesying hardships He promised to take care of us.”

Turner and others like him cite Revelation 8:8-11 as proof:

The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. (TNIV)

The foul water in which living creatures die that the Apostle John wrote about, they say, is the oil-ravaged Gulf of Mexico. Many have reported that the oil in the water has even given it a certain redness, which some Christians see as an allusion to the bloody water talked about here. They say this is enough to conclude that BP and the oil crisis is little more than God’s way of heralding Planet Earth’s final days.

There are many problems with such a view. First, Christians should always be careful when making rash judgments about present events based exclusively on imagery-rich apocalyptic literature. Older Christians may remember the handful of pastors over the last century who used Scripture to predict an exact date for the Earth’s demise. None of their predictions have come true.

Additionally, as Miller points out, God’s judgment in the end times is most often understood to be punishment for unrighteousness. If this were such a punishment, it might perhaps be seen as an indictment against Americans for the way we’ve consumed earth's resources, with oil as chief among them. Such an indictment would not bring comfort to many of those same Christians who’ve been chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill” at Sarah Palin rallies. Viewing the greatest environmental disaster in our nation’s history as a sign of the apocalypse turns out to be a double-edged sword.

If it’s not a sign of the end times, what should Christians make of this crisis?

The opportunities

The oil spill in the Gulf provides Christians with several opportunities. First, it should drive us to pray. Will Rogers once said, “The trouble with our praying is, we just do it as a means of last resort.” In dire situations such as this, we must collectively cry out to God for wisdom, guidance, grace and mercy. We must pray not only for the environmental crisis but also for the affected communities.

Second, we must mourn. In a recent article for The Washington Post’s “On Faith,” I asked the question, “Why Aren’t Christians Mourning the Oil Spill?” I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many Christians weeping over these events. “We are tempted to see this as merely an economic crisis, focusing on the nearly one billion dollars of oil lost and the way this might affect domestic gas prices,” I wrote. “But the Christian tradition tells of a God who is more concerned about whether or not life flourishes as he intended.”

The Scripture says God loves “all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). When the things God loves unnecessarily suffer destruction, does it not grieve Him who made it? Surely, and it must also grieve those who claim to follow that same God. The book of Genesis tells us God has given human beings the job of stewarding creation (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:15). Have we failed our job through our insatiable oil addiction? If so, it would indeed be an occasion for mourning.

Yet, prayer and mourning are still not enough. We must also act. We must act to restore the lives of those in the Gulf region, many of whom were already suffering. We must act to restore the creation the Bible says should be declaring God’s glory but is currently only telling the story of human greed, consumption and mismanagement. We must act by rethinking the way we consume resources like oil in our own lives each day. And when all is made right, we must force our lawmakers to act to make sure such an atrocity never happens again.

As Winston Churchill beautifully said, “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” In this critical moment, may Christians prove to be wise men and women who pray, mourn and act when necessary so when the end does come, we will be found faithful.

Jonathan Merritt is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet and a regular contributor to RELEVANT magazine.

31 Comments

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gateway2wisdom commented…

James, I don't see the correlation between what I said and what I believe is a false and lazy assessment that human ignorance is somehow God's judgement. I won't repeat what I said above but let me expand on what I said by highlighting 2 common responses and the problems inherent therein:

1. There will always be those that conclude that natural disasters like this are God's judgement. The problem with accepting this reading is two-fold - a) it allows us to let ourselves off the hook because we can shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves that if its gods will then theres nothing we can do anyway, and b) it allows those who claim these disasters are gods judgement to make religious capital off the back of natural disasters, which compounds the point above.

2. when I was a youngster growing up in Africa, it seemed everyone was waiting for the last days and never doing anything about the now days. It is I believe a fundamental misunderstanding of God's character and a severe misappropriation of the word of God to look to him in times like this and stay passive. We look to him and say - there is nothing he can't fix and then we sigh like phew - I know god'll sort it out without me needing to do anything be it to pray, lobby, educate people about it, donate money to the clean up efforts etc.

If our treasure isn't here on earth then we may as well stop caring about the widows and the orphans...but wait...whatsoever you did to one of these you did to me. Here's a question - does God care about nature and the environment as much as he cares for widows and orphans? you know what, I think he does, which could only mean one thing - that he wants us to care about what he cares about. I don't purport to know God's heart but I am seeking it and choosing to wrestle with the difficult questions that it raises with regards to how I live out my faith. I'm yet to learn much, but this I know - passivity is a sin and so is any mindset that encourages passivity!

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Anonymous commented…

It will have to be a new earth because according to Rev 11:18 God is going to destroy those who destroy this earth.

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Davidroberts68 commented…

Please don't forget that it isn't a greed for oil or consumerism that led to this tragedy, it's the environmental regulations forcing oil platforms out that far where it's literally too deep to control a spill of this magnitude. A similar spill in shallow waters would have been plugged within a day or two. Please don't forget also that there are 1,000 more rigs that have been drilling without incident for the last few decades. Some of those rigs are drilling in our gulf are Russian, Chinese, Cuban and Vietnamese. These rigs are not affected by the knee-jerk Obama moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. The fact that this is the worse oil spill in 30 years, rather than being a purely negative focusing on the spills, tells us that for 30 years there were no spills.
Remember that the Gulf is going to get drilled, if not by us, then by another nation, if this spill had been of a Chinese or Vietmanese oil rig company do you think any efforts would be made to get it cleaned up?
Remember too, that since the spill started that: One, the government failed to initiate the plan that was already in place to burn the oil off. Two, the government stopped the use of chemical disbursing agent. Three, sent a skimmer that was working on the problem back home because the ship didn't have enough life jackets. Four, stopped Louisiana from building the sand barriers for fear of where the sand was being dredged from. Five, refused to allow the skimmers that are waiting right now to start cleaning up the spill to do their job. And six, the government seems to relish in the committees, meetings, etc, anything but actually getting the job done. The government is just as much to blame as BP at this point.

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handh1 commented…

There is no possible way to dismiss this in any form or fashion. It is clearly a "Revelation". We are in the last days. We will see the Antichrist within the next 10 years; I believe that whole heartedly. The ID thefts, illegal immigration, tax fraud, check fraud, theft of checks, counterfieting, the worlds failing economy, are all prerequisites of what will convince society; and will appear to be a solution to all the problems: RFIDs radio frequency identification devices, the size of a grain of rice, implanted in the hand. The end of currency, the end of all the problems listed. . . . the mark of the beast. . . . the end of the world. Obamas health care plan has paved the way for the implementation of such devices to identify health care patients. Its coming people, get ready.

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MaryLynn commented…

I agree with all who say we should pray. Let's pray for Jesus' return. He said when he returns there will be a new heaven and a new earth. I love this earth, truly love it and everyhing in it that God has made. We who care have tried to stop all the companies that are harming and destroying our environment. I just watched the "Gaslands" documentary yesterday on HBO. It's about all these companies who are setting up gas rigs up and down New York, PA and DE, along the Delaware river and other waterways. They are drilling for gas and now most people who live up in that area where they are drilling now have gas and about 900 other chemicals in their water. The companies put over 900 chemicals, which have been identified (turpentine being one), in the wells that they drill. The homeowners in that area can literally light the water that is coming out of the faucet on fire if they hold a match near it. They can't shower, bath or even wash there dishes in it. They are all getting sick. No one is doing anything about it. President Bush signed into legislation when he was in office that NONE of these companies who are drilling (Haliburton, and more) have to report ANYTHING to the Environmental Protection Agency, they are not regulated by them and don't have to answer or let them check their work.
I love this earth and don't want to see anything bad happen to it, but there are those who are obviously out to destroy it. It's probably the anti-christ who Christ describes; how the serpent will have power over the earth. But Jesus is coming in all his glory with his Angels and his Army and he's going to destroy Satan and throw him in the lake of fire. Jesus said we are protected so we have nothing to fear. When he comes there is going to be a new heaven and a new earth, better than the one we have now. I can't even imagine that! This earth is so beautiful and incredible, I can't even imagine how beautiful the new heaven and earth are going to be. It will probably take your breath away. I can see pink, yellow, and blue flouresnt flowers that glow and blink in the dark, but there will be no darkness.

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