Thursday, February 07, 2008

Seeing the Unseen

Tragically, last week an unusual storm system for the winter produced at least 68 tornadoes in the south, leading to widespread destruction and the loss of life through states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee. Even as we pray for those who are dealing with the aftermath of this worst outbreak of tornadoes in twenty years, have you noticed what people are saying regarding the unseen source of these storms?

Of course, many of our modern prophets such as Senator John "Elisha" Kerry (friend of Al "Elijah" Gore) quickly arose to proclaim to us the reason these tornadoes were sent was because of global warming. Do these men not appear as hypocritical televangelists, flying around the world in private jets with red-faced anger, warning the masses of the great apocalypse that is coming unless we all repent of our sin of driving an SUV? Is not their message a twist on the psalm, "Who understands global warming's fury as they should?" One wonders how many carbon credits (I prefer the term "carbon indulgences") Archbishop Gore thinks it takes to stop a tornado from forming. I imagine more than I can buy. These men would do well to recall Churchill's words when asked what qualities being a politician requires: “The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen.”

On the other hand, at least one politician was reported as pointing to another source. The New York Times quoted Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee as saying that these whirlwinds were a display of the "wrath of God." However, they later corrected their article as this quote was not from this year, but occurred in 2006 when Governor Bredesen stood beside the ruins of a home that had been stricken by a tornado. Most likely the Times, whose own public editor was not ashamed to admit their liberal bias, made this error in their rush to made the honorable governor appear foolish in his assessments.

These examples demonstrate how one's worldview, with its inherit presuppositions, impacts everything we see. Believe in a naturalistic universe, and you will credit an amorphous Mother Nature's hot flashes as the culprit behind a tornado even as you mock supernatural explanations. Believe in a Creator, and you understand why even insurance policies will still not cover certain "acts of God." Theologian and philosopher Cornelius Van Til said, "I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this (Creator) God. Can I see the beams underneath the floor on which I walk? I must assume or presuppose that the beams are underneath. Unless the beams were underneath, I could not walk on the floor."

Instead of giving carbon the credit for these tornadoes, God does not back away from taking it. Through his prophet Isaiah He proclaimed to a disobedient people, "From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, with whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire" (Isaiah 26:3). He took his true prophet Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind (II Kings 2:11), and spoke to another one named Job from one (Job 38:1), all the while claiming His power over winds and every other act of nature.

We have been sowing the wind as a nation for quite some time now. Is it not about time we finally see we are reaping the whirlwind He promised He would send (Hosea 8:7)? We better, for think upon what yet another prophet named Nahum was saying when he declared, "In whirlwind and storm is His way, and the clouds are the dust beneath His feet" (Nahum 1:3).


Jon said...

You present two explanations for this tragedy, supporting one and attacking the other. What "inherent presuppositions" lead you to believe that both cannot be true?

Barry York said...


As you suggest, my own presuppositions could have led me to make the logical error of offering the dilemma of false alternatives in my blog, i.e., not considering global warming as God's means of bringing these natural disasters. Please understand that I do accept the generally reported number of an average rise of one degree Celsius in the earth's temperature over the globe the past century. However, I offer two reasons for why I do not think we should blend in the views of the men such as the ones I parodied in my blog with a Christian worldview regarding these matters.

First, the scientific community is highly divided over the impact of global warming on the weather. For instance, the models of many meteorologists predict that global warming could actually bring about less severity and frequency of hurricanes, not more. Yet those I parodied in my blog regularly assert fatalistic weather predictions or use these tragedies to build support for their political ideology. See
(especially pages 8-9) for a scholarly call to consider the true scientific evidence of global warming's impact rather than follow the popularized politics of our day.

Also, those who are the chief advocates for environmental policies to reduce carbon are themselves attacking the sovereignty of God over His creation by ignoring it or outright denying it. They present this world as so fragile that if it is to be saved, man must do it. Though certainly we are to be faithful stewards over the earth, the Scriptures teach that the Lord Himself rules over the earth and its nations. He will preserve and redeem this present earth.

Barry York said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon said...

Barry --

Thanks for your clarification.

I should point out that I'm not interested in arguing that the tornadoes were the direct result of human-produced global warming. Although I'm limited to a lay understanding of the environmental science, I understand that any given set of weather events in any given year cannot be offered as "proof" of global climate change. Even the broader changes that are observed (shrinking glaciers, for example) cannot be offered as definitive proof either of unidirectional global climate change or of a primary human cause.

That being said, I really have no interest in whether human-produced global warming is "true." Global warming is a particular kind of apocalyptic narrative, and, as with all apocalyptic narratives, it generates political effects--many of them harmful, particularly when the narrative is divorced from a broader concern for justice and our love for the neighbor. Global warming activists, and the environmental movement generally, have often been accused of elitism. All too often, these accusations are valid.

That being said, the narrative of global warming can also point us towards significant, ongoing injustices. We don't know (and won't be able to know for some time now) whether human-produced global warming is the significant problem it has been made out to be. We do know, however, that our poorest neighbors are often unjustly saddled with the burdens of "economic development" in ways that limit or eliminate the kind of free-choice the article you recommended offers as a solution.

While speaking, ostensibly on behalf of the world's poor, many organizations (including many evangelical groups) seem far more concerned with the maintenance of a particular political platform or the more general maintenance of American comfort, regardless of the cost. As you know, we are accustomed to a "qualify of life" in the United States that is simply not reproducible on a global scale. I know of no estimates that suggest the rest of the world could sustain American levels of fossil-fuel consumption, for example. We routinely waste electricity and gasoline in ways that are inconceivable in other countries. We needlessly ship food across the country, wasting fuel and encouraging inhumane conditions for animals and human workers. And most of the burden is borne by the poorest members of our increasingly global economy.

Certainly, I'm over-generalizing, and there's plenty of room for debate on the details. The primary issue, for me, is thoughtlessness. It is possible that our "always low prices" and relative wealth are the unproblematic result of God's blessing. It is also possible that, like many other nations throughout history, we have built up an exceptional quality of life often on the backs of the poor. If "the plunder of the poor" is in our houses (Is. 3:14) it may be easy to speak of hard work and free choice, while not seeing how our decisions as individuals, communities, and a nation rob others of the "choice" we enjoy.

I should say that I in no way consider myself a model for thoughtfulness on these issues. My wife and I both struggle with increasing our awareness and working out the role of church, community, and government in responding to these issues. Government cannot and should not be the "solution" to all such problems; however, as Romans 13 argues, there are certain things that only government can do. Again, there's plenty of room of ongoing discussion over the details. My point is that this is a discussion all Christians should seriously and thoughtfully engage with.