Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Oil Spill

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:1-6

The first commandment is first for a reason. Idolatry is truly and literally the root of all evil. It’s always about worshipping false gods.

When I first began to appreciate Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God, and the biblical commitment to social and economic justice, I wanted to downplay the prophetic concerns about idolatry. To me it seemed like a narrowly and superficially religious issue of form more than substance, and I was frustrated to find it coming up so often. The ancients, I reasoned, were trying hard to establish monotheism in a pagan world, and they could not help themselves. Besides, they were after all ancient thinkers and we would have to excuse their primitive preoccupations.

But in my estimation, the first commandment did not paint a very flattering picture of God, who was apparently just as preoccupied with praise as the human beings he had created.

As it turns out (not surprisingly) I was wrong and the Bible was right. Trouble starts as soon as we forget that God is God, and we are not. It is, after all, he who made us and not we ourselves.

Which brings us to the oil spill.

“They bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made” (Isaiah 2:8).

We worshipped energy and progress, and money and power and technology. We worshipped big oil and everything it gave us in mobility and comfort and lifestyle. We trusted the “experts” who told us that the technology would not fail.

In the New York Times this morning there is an Op-Ed column called, “Plan B.” In the essay several energy and environmental experts offer their advice on what to do about the oil spill and how to prevent another. There is some clean up advice. One suggests using natural fibers to soak of the oil, and another suggests doing nothing because nature can do the job better than we can. A third says to avoid using dispersants because that only makes it worse. Two weigh in on prevention. One says that another safety device would not have helped, and the other says that we should not allow so much outsourcing (BP was not running its own drilling operation) because it minimizes direct responsibility. But no one offers a suggestion on how to cap the well.

BP tells us that we are (literally) in uncharted waters.

Apparently the drilling was approved without anyone answering the question, “What will you do if you have a leak five thousand feet deep on the ocean floor?” The only answer was that the safety devices designed to prevent such a leak would not fail.

When someone began a question to Jesus by addressing him as “Good Teacher,” he said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

And no one is perfect. And no plan is perfect. And apart from God, there is nothing which cannot fail. It is a lesson we forget at our peril. The effects of the Exxon Valdez spill are still felt in Alaska and the effects of this spill may dwarf that one. The commandment warns that the consequences will persist to the third and the fourth generation. Let’s hope that is just biblical hyperbole.

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