Live in Peace with Nature

The following is the script from BBC Radio 4 “Thought for the Day”

Professor Tina Beattie – 07/09/2017

I suspect many of us waken each morning with a sense of dread about what the news will bring. Between natural disasters and threats of nuclear war, the world seems darker now than it ever has in my lifetime. This morning, it’s the anguish caused by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.

But natural disasters are not new. Many of us in affluent societies put too much faith in science and technology, not least with regard to harnessing nature’s powers. I live on a houseboat on the tidal Thames, and twice a day the tide surges in with a power that never ceases to amaze me. It’s a reminder of how insignificant we humans are, when confronted with natural forces far beyond our control.

I recently read about how wildlife is proliferating in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, site of a catastrophic nuclear accident thirty one years ago. Protected from human interference, diverse species are breeding and forests are growing in that irradiated landscape. I’m haunted by the thought that perhaps, if a nuclear war obliterates millions of humans, the natural environment might find space for healing and rejuvenation. Maybe in the end the only thing we can really destroy is ourselves.

Modern Christianity has perpetrated the belief that only humanity matters to God and only humans are saved by Christ. I find that profoundly unbiblical. The Bible repeatedly draws attention to all of creation’s capacity to reveal something of the God who creates and sustains it. When Job asks God for an explanation of why he, an innocent man, has suffered so much, he’s commanded to reflect upon the majesty of creation, and to see in that the mystery of the creator. Job is humbled and eventually healed. The suggestion is that suffering takes on a different perspective in the context of a cosmos that far exceeds our capacities for comprehension and control.

As the hurricanes and floods of recent weeks remind us, we humans are not masters of the universe, and our powers are limited. Nevertheless, we’re increasingly aware that everything is connected and interdependent. Perhaps this calls for reflection on what relationship there might be between the violence and alienation of our modern cultures, and the increasing unpredictability and destructiveness of the natural forces we have to contend with. To associate the two may be imaginative rather than scientific, but surely it would do no harm to ask if our capacity to live in peace and justice with one another has some bearing on our capacity to live in peace and harmony with nature.

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