Where is God in All This?

Shrinemont Virginia open air church

The following passage is taken from Chapter 7 of the book Faith in a Changing Climate.


When I started writing this book a friend at church who is very aware of the issues described here asked, “Where is God in all this?” Basically, his question was a version of the perennial, “How can an all-powerful God of mercy allow people to suffer?” In the context of this book the question would be, “How can a good and all-powerful God have created humans to be so clever, yet also to be so stupid and short-sighted?” We are entering a time when society as a whole will be asking questions such as these. Which means that the church needs to have a response if it is to provide leadership. The starting point for such an effort is to develop an intellectual and spiritual framework — in effect, a theology for out times.

In this chapter I provide some thoughts as to what form such a theology may take. In the next chapter — The Church’s Response — we consider some of the practical actions that the church can take in order to provide badly needed leadership.

Theology has, of course, a specifically religious meaning. But many of the people who write about Age of Limits issues recognize that, even though they themselves may not hold religious beliefs, there is, nevertheless a spiritual and moral component to their work. For example, one of the leading writers to do with Age of Limits issues is Chris Martenson. In his post Living with Integrity he says,

My ultimate diagnosis of what’s going on in the United States culture and . . . probably in other cultures . . .  is that they lack integrity. Now, integrity isn’t simply “Oh, I don’t lie”. Integrity means that your actions are for the greater good. Sometimes there are acts of integrity which actually are not optimal for you; they’re optimal for the larger society around you.

Integrity is thinking out seven generations. Integrity is saying that beauty matters in our life, and that when we take out a species, we’re taking away something extraordinarily beautiful. Maybe we shouldn’t just spray fungicides across thousands of acres in a single go. Maybe we shouldn’t spray herbicides across millions of acres in a single go. We don’t know what these herbicides are doing and fungicides and pesticides beyond the immediate use we’re putting them to. They have all these ripple effects that go on and on and on. And we don’t know what those are.

So integrity would include a sense of humility. Full integrity is saying “I don’t know”. We should be saying more of that. And integrity would include listening more carefully and deeply. Integrity would mean that we are operating in a way that is right for the other species around us, including humans. That we strive to do things that are right and good.

That part of ourselves that’s calling for our hearts to be involved in the world and to believe in something that’s larger and more profound than ourselves is really an essential concept. And everything about our current culture is cheap, demeaning, unfair. It’s not building towards the directions that I think any of us can really believe in, and we know that we have to go in a new direction.

The New Normal (8) – The Good Old Days

Virtual church service

Last week I attended a nation-wide webinar entitled the ‘Digital Gathering’ organized by the ‘Invite Welcome Connect‘ team. 1,800 people signed up, and around 1,000 attended. The attendees were Episcopalians from the United States and Canada. My estimate is that about half of the attendees were ordained clergy.

The theme of the webinar was to “present best -practices for a welcoming church in our new paradigm”— the new paradigm being the virtual church that has been forced on us by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar was built around three panel discussions, each of which had three speakers. Most of the speakers were clergy leading churches, both large and small. The discussions were interesting and useful. But there was a certain wistfulness in them. It seemed as if, by and large, the message was one of,

How do we cope with the present situation until we can get back to normal?

In this context, “normal” would be traditional church services, held in traditional buildings, in which people can mingle with one another as they used to.

But maybe this is the wrong the message, the wrong goal.

Here is the ‘Old Normal’.

The chart shows membership in the Episcopalian church in recent years. The trend line is remarkably steady, with very little scatter. If extrapolated, it suggests that the church will have no members at all by the year 2045, just 25 years from now. In fact, the line will have an asymptote or hockey-stick shape toward the end. But the message is clear: the ‘Old Normal’ is not working, therefore we need to look for a ‘New Normal’. We also need to understand that the pandemic has not created this situation — the decline is a long-term trend.

The pandemic has, in fact, opened up new possibilities.

The following quotation from Fr. Rock Higgins is taken from the June 16, 2020 weekly newsletter of St. James the Less church in Ashland, Virginia.

Both our Sunday and Wednesday Morning Prayers average attendance is TRIPLE those who come when we were doing church in our space face-to-face. What is God doing? We will have to wait and see. Something big is happening. Our Noonday Prayer service was non-existent before this and now averages 67 people a day! I was telling a friend, “I now have a ministry that I did not know I had!” Thanks be to God!

Things have changed so fast and so quickly that no one understands what is going on. But it does seem as if the pandemic has pointed us to what could be an exciting and creative ‘New Normal’. Therefore, instead of hankering after the world that has left us, and that is not returning any time soon (if at all), maybe we should welcome the changes that have been forced upon us; maybe we should welcome the virtual church and the opportunities that it opens up.

Faith in a Changing Climate — 2

Front cover for book Faith in a Changing Climate: A New City of God

This week we release the next ten pages of Faith in a Changing Climate for preliminary review. (For information as to how this process is being organized please refer to last week’s post, Faith in a Changing Climate — 1.)

The releases to date are,

Pages 11-20 describe the use of parables in scripture, and how parables are used in the book. Also covered are the words from 1 Corinthians 13, in which Paul says,

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

The goals of the book are described. They are:

  1. Understand What Is Happening
  2. Develop a New Theology
  3. Determine a Response

These pages close with a discussion to do with the critical role that energy resources play in all of life, and an overview of the ‘300-Year Party’.

Faith in a Changing Climate — 1

Front cover for book Faith in a Changing Climate: A New City of God

We are releasing the sections of the book Faith in a Changing Climate for preliminary review. In this post the following sections are available (.pdf files).

Pages 1 to 10 incorporate all of Chapter 1 and the first two pages of Chapter 2.

Chapter 1 — Dress Rehearsal

Empty subway car during COVID-19 pandemic

Although this is the first chapter, it was the last chapter to be written. In it we consider how the current pandemic may change the way we and respond to longer term ‘Age of Limits’ issues such as climate change, resource depletion, excess debt and population overshoot.

Maybe the most important lesson that the recent events have taught us is the need to be very cautious when we make predictions. Who would have thought just three months ago that more than 30 million Americans would be suddenly unemployed? Who would have thought that we would all be wearing masks wherever we go?

A Bible verse that I keep coming back to is from 1 Corinthians 13.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known.

In spite of his magnificent intellectual and spiritual gifts, the Apostle Paul is telling us that he cannot forecast the future in detail. This does not mean that we cannot see an outline of where we are headed. But we do need to be very cautious about making forecasts. In the words of the proverb,

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Another important lesson is that we are not in control of the natural world; we part of that world. It is this idea that leads to the third of my theological thoughts,

3. Live within the biosphere.

There has been little to laugh about in the last three months, but I have derived some enjoyment in watching politicians try to negotiate with the laws of biology.

In Genesis 9 God says to Noah and his sons,

Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth . . .

Well, we certainly aced that one. Now we need to adopt a much more modest lifestyle.

Another lesson that the pandemic has taught us is the importance of community — a topic that is part of the book’s final chapter, The Church’s Response.

This chapter also discusses the importance of understanding scientific, technological and project management realities.  (Further information on this important topic is available at the post The New PSM Normal (6) — Alternative Reality Check.)

Chapter 2

Christian leaving the City of Destruction in John Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progress

The second chapter of Faith in a Changing Climate starts with an ‘Author’s Apology’, based on the Introduction to John Bunyan’s enormously influential book, Pilgrim’s Progress. The chapter includes a few words to do with my personal background. It also introduces the concept of an Age of Limits.

Elements of the Age of Limits