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 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.