When Will We Reach The Tipping Point?
What a fascinating time to be alive.
Right in front of us, the earth and human society are as one in accelerating decay and on a terminal trajectory while we as a society are doing pretty much…. nothing. At the same time, and of magnitudes of order more importance, some 7.7 billion souls hang in the balance and are on a terminal trajectory while the bulk of the global Christian community does pretty much… nothing. The situation is not sustainable; which of these frozen states will be the first to go?
The Bible provides some hints. Actually, more than hints. But before we get to scripture, let’s take a look at what science says is happening to the earth and, by extension, human society.
An interesting report came out recently in the very respected journal Nature, and what it said is basically what I’ve been saying for some time: that all global systems are in rapid decline, and that the decline of each system in turn accelerates the decline of all other systems. Quoting from the article, it says that we are now in a “state of planetary emergency” that is “an existential threat to civilization”.
The article goes on to describe nine systems that are at tipping points – the destruction of the Amazon, the reduction of Arctic sea ice, large-scale coral reef die-offs, the melting of the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets, thawing of permafrost, destabilizing boreal forests (ie, drying, dying and burning), and the slowing of ocean currents (I’ve covered all of these over the years, but in my opinion we can add the slowing of the jet stream and the epic change in water distribution over the continents, as well as the slow failure of our agricultural systems). The team of scientists who wrote the article say, essentially, that each system, when it tips into failure, brings every other system much closer to its tipping point. They also say that the time left to avoid tipping systems into failure is somewhere close to zero, while the time needed to meaningfully impact the our global systems is something on the order of 30 years. In other words, if human society immediately stopped doing all the bad and selfish things that it does, it would still take 30 years to notice a system-wide improvement.
So, what is human society doing in response to this planetary crisis which threatens our existence? Well, let’s look at Brazil. For more than 150 years, and in particular for the last 50, the Brazilians have been cutting and burning their amazing rain forest (called “the lungs of the world” for all the oxygen it produces) so that profitable cattle and soybean ranches can be put in place. As a result of this sustained attack, the rainforest has been tipped into a very delicate state where it is subject to drought, drying, and massive fires. Brazil has been under global criticism for its management of a global resource, and it has deeply resented this criticism. About a year ago, and in line with global trends, the country elected a very right-wing, strong-man president named Jair Bolsonaro. Mr. Bolsonaro has been called “the Trump of the South” and his first year has been marked by an unleashing of angry right-wingers, as well as an unleashing of corporate interests, including the very interests that have been so diligent in destroying the Amazon. More than anything else, Mr. Bolsonaro, like Mr. Trump, has tried to form and shape public sentiment into a weapon aimed at his opponents: particular people, particular institutions, and particular people groups are, he says, responsible for the large, complex, and long-term problems besetting the country.
This past week, Mr. Bolsonaro said it was American actor Leonardo DiCaprio who was responsible for the burning of the Amazon because Mr DiCaprio had funded environmental organizations that were trying to protect and preserve the Amazon.
The deeper we sink into global environmental crisis, the deeper we sink into blame that uses Orwellian logic as a weapon against enemies of the powerful. And here is the thing: As the environmental crisis increasingly becomes a societal crisis, we should fully expect the same Orwellian logic to be used against the enemies of society. And who are the enemies of our global and increasingly secular society? Well, the Bible says that those who follow Christ will be declared the enemy of society, particularly in the final days of the earth.
In Matthew 24, Christ gave an extremely clear and detailed picture of what things would be like just before He returned. In verses 6-8 He told of massive disruptions and failures in the natural world as well as widespread conflict. Then in verses 9 and 10 He said this: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.” This is followed by a “great tribulation” where natural disasters, violence and conflict basically explode (verse 21), which in turn is followed by a description of the return of Christ (verses 29-31) and multiple exhortations to work, watch, and be ready for His sure return, and to not lose faith or fall into sinful practices (verses 32-51).
But here is the thing: Christ did not end his stunning description to his disciples at the end of chapter 24. Indeed, all of chapter 25 is an integral part of what Christ was trying to tell His disciples. Chapter 25 contains the famous parable of the 10 virgins (churches, or believing people-groups), in which they all fell asleep waiting for the Bridegroom (Christ). Half of the virgins had a sufficient amount of oil (the Holy Spirit) in their lamps, and half did not. Half went to meet the Bridegroom, and were left outside. But here is what most readers of the parable miss: All the virgins were asleep just before the Bridegroom came.
So there you have it: we, the sleeping virgins, awake with a start at the same time the earth is spinning out of control. Are we in the group that has the Holy Spirit?
We are told that in the last days, we will know and understand much more, and with this increased understanding of our situation will come a full panic (juxtapose Luke 21:25 and Daniel 12:4). This will be enough to start all Christians awake and put some of them to work proclaiming salvation through Christ. But a full-blown crisis, while a good time for harvesting for Christ, is a very poor time to be planting seeds for Him.
Those who have the Spirit, those who have a heart for Christ, should shake off their lethargy now, while effort among those who do not believe can still bear fruit.
Every scientist worth their salt, every environmentalist worth their salt, and every crisis and conflict specialist worth their salt all point to a gathering global crisis. It is time to awake, and time to work – while we still have the freedom to do so.