From Sin to Environmental Degradation to Societal Disruption and the Fulfillment of Prophecy – How it Works

The link between sin, environmental degradation, and societal disruption that fulfills prophecy is not obvious.  But as with almost any emerging trend or event, once it is pointed out and explained, it is easy to detect.

To build the case for linkage and causation between sin and environmental degradation we have to go back to the beginning or, at least, very shortly after the beginning.  We have to go back to when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and changed everything.  We know that, through their choice to disobey the law of God, Satan became the “god” of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that creation was to a degree separated from its Creator because when Satan conquered man he took the dominion which they held.  Adam and Eve sinned and the result of their sin was death (Romans 6:23).  What is less commonly understood is that, with everything on the earth suddenly subject to death, the earth itself – our physical planet – also became subject to death.  The argument for this is fairly straightforward:  if all the living things that God created are suddenly subject to decay, decline, and death, and if these living things together make up some or much of the vast and perfectly balanced systems that God created to sustain life on this planet, then, as the effects of sin are increasingly manifested in the earth and God’s original design and balance are increasingly departed from, then we will see accelerating disruptions in the natural world culminating in unprecedented disasters.  This final description of the planet, as any student of prophecy knows, is exactly what prophecy calls for, particularly Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24: 6&7.  In my book, Planet In Distress: Environmental Degradation and the Great Controversy (Review and Herald, May 2012), I explore this topic fully and provide an abundance of references from scripture and from inspired writings.

But even having an intellectual understanding that sin – which separates us from God – impacts and degrades everything on earth is usually not enough to grasp the mechanics at work.  With that in mind, lets look at a couple of real-time examples of environmental degradation leading to societal disruption and the fulfillment of prophecy.  And lets start in degraded, chaotic, virtually lawless Haiti.

Ask a number of  international development professionals what are the two worst places in the world to live in, and they will reliably tell you Haiti and Mali, with the ranking of the two interchanged depending on the person.  Haiti is an extremely poor and extremely dysfunctional country, but more to the point it is a country where just about everything was done wrong in terms of facilitating environmental sustainability:  hills were stripped of plant cover by overgrazing and fuel foraging, freshwater sources were fouled by pollution, including sewage, crop lands were overused and overfertilized and poorly managed and degraded soil was washed away by storms.  Add to this the legacy of a kleptocratic government and the series of natural disasters that have struck the country (notably the 2010 earthquake which killed over 300,000 and from which over 300,000 people are still living in tents), and you have a country teetering on the brink.  Now it seems the country has been pushed over the brink.  Hurricane Sandy devastated Haiti even though the eye of the storm did not make landfall there.  Haiti suffered landslides, flooding, and crop destruction.  Among these, the flooding is the biggest immediate concern and the crop destruction is a very, very major near-term concern.  As a result of the flooding and sewage being mixed with flood water, cholera has been rapidly spreading.  It is unknown how many hundreds or thousands will die of cholera (over 7000 have died from the disease in the last two years).  But a bigger threat is stalking Haiti:  Famine and violence.  The island nation was already the scene of riots and demonstrations over rising food prices.  Now, with the islands major crops destroyed by Sandy, there is not enough locally-produced food to be had at any affordable price.  The path from here is easily definable:  malnutrition, violence, increased disease and death, decreased governmental stability.  Haiti is “Exhibit B” for a country in the process of unraveling.  “Exhibit A” is Syria.  More about that country in a moment.

But what, you ask, does the situation in Haiti have to do with the fulfillment of prophecy? Plenty.  Matthew 24:6-8 talks about famine, disease (pestilence), conflict, and earthquakes (or, more broadly, disasters or “troubles” – see Mark 13:8).  The earth truly is groaning and travailing in pain as a result of in (Romans 8:22). We see all societies on the earth today trending toward their destiny as outlined by Christ, with the weakest societies leading the way.  Ultimately, it is sin in human society and  the crumbling of the systems that underpin life on this earth that is at the core of the problems of countries like Haiti.   To get a look at what we can expect more and more of, lets look at “Exhibit A” – Syria.

In a previous post (“Resource Constraints and Societal Instability“) I talk about the case of Syria, where significantly  increased food prices have made people far more willing to rebel against their appallingly bad government.  That post covers the situation pretty well and provides a link to an excellent academic paper – you may want to read that post as a companion to this one.  What that post does not do, however, is take a look at the reason food prices in Syria have gone up so much in recent years.  For that information, we have to understand what has been going on in Syrian society (and in the broader Middle East) for years now.  Essentially, it boils down to this:  crop production has collapsed and most herds have died, leaving hundreds of thousands of farmers with no food and no money.  The collapse has been brought about by “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the fertile crescent…” according to a truly excellent article by The Center for Climate and Security.  You can find the article here.

Essentially, the destabilization of Syrian (and Middle Eastern) society comes from a combination of very poor government and economic devastation brought about by long-term weather patterns.  In the graph above, you can see the changes in winter precipitation for the period of 1971 to 2010 compared to 1902 to 2010.  What you see is that the Middle East has experienced tremendous drought and a collapse of agriculture and is experiencing tremendous societal upheaval as a direct result.  The war (yes, it is a war) being fought in Syria now looks set to expand tremendously and pull in Lebanon.  Recall that “Wars and rumors of wars” is a critical part of the prophecy that Christ made.  With Syria in expanding civil war, we have traced the full effect from sin through the effect of sin down to fulfillment of prophecy.

There is a point – a tipping point – where a society goes from well ordered to chaotic as it loses its food and economic security. I admit that I do not know where that tipping point is, but I assume it is a function of complex inputs, including the relative wealth of the society and the strength and capacity of the government.  Thus, if food prices increase by, say, 40% in the next three years (as they very well might – see graph in my “Resource Constraints and Societal Instability” post), the amount of societal disorder in Mali, to choose a country at random, will differ considerably from the amount of societal disorder in the United States.  And yet people in the United States should not make the grave mistake of assuming they are not subject to distress and disruption – the effects of sin on the world will surely affect the United States as much as other countries and I assert that the disasters the US experiences will only hasten the establishment of Sunday laws and all that that implies.

If you take a look at the graph below, you see the projected drought conditions in the world in the 2030-2039 decade – in other words the relatively near future.  And, of course, if the projections are correct there will be significant and progressive drying between now and 2030.  The illustration comes from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and it was used to

drought map 2 2030-2039

validate the studies of the drought now affecting the Middle East.  Note that a significant portion of the globe is projected to be in unprecedented drought.  I do not use the term lightly.  Note that much of the US is projected to be in -2 to -8 drought severity index range, while much of the Middle East is in the -6 to -15 range.  Such readings are literally unprecedented.  During the “dustbowl” decade in the US, readings spiked briefly to -6 but otherwise never exceeded -3.  For more commentary on the above graph, please visit this site.  What you will find is a repost of the Center for Climate and Security article – scroll down to the end of the article for an addendum and analysis that includes the above graph.

If rain patterns change as predicted, much of the world’s population will be facing food shortages and societal stress that will take them well over their tipping point.  In other words, famine, death, pestilence, and wars are in our immediate future.  For some, they are here now:  of the 7 billion people on earth, 3.5 billion people make $2.50 a day or less and are totally incapable of absorbing increased food costs.  For them, increased food costs mean tremendous suffering and perhaps death.  And though most people in the US are completely unaware of it, we have been in a food supply and food cost crisis since 2008.  To get a fuller grasp of the situation, all you have to do is visit the FAO website.

The truth is, while most Christians have been sleepily enjoying a few decades of relative peace and security, the forces that are driving many end-time events have not only progressed but have accelerated. Whether prophecy is fulfilled through a devastating storm (the tipping point in Haiti) or through a long-term drought (the tipping point in Syria) is not as important as the fact that countries (and regions) are being pushed over the tipping point.   With Christians having been asleep, there is now less time left in which to spread the word of God and daily the environment in which we can work erodes a little further.  Now, more than ever, is the time for Christians to awake and engage.  Is there famine and every reason to believe famine will increase?  Check.  Are there wars and rumors of wars and every reason to believe conflicts will increase?  Check.  Is there pestilence and every reason to believe pestilence will dramatically increase?  Check.  Are there increased earthquakes?  Check.  Disasters on sea and land?  Check.  For a graphic representation, here is a graph of reported disasters from 1900 through 2011.  The graph is courtesy of the good folks at EMDAT.

So there you have it:  An entire planet that is seeing the very systems that support life in accelerating decay due to the effects of sin, with disasters increasing in a similar manner, accompanied by resource constraints, famine and disease on the rise with massive conflicts escalating.  Ponder this, then read Matthew 24:6-8 and ask yourself this question:  does your sense of urgency for spreading the news of Christ’s soon coming match the visible fulfillment of prophecy?

Scott Christiansen