NATURE: Brief Comments on the God of Ecology (NOT A SCIENTIFIC DOCTORAL THESIS)

Apparently, God is ecological. He sees the system. He is patient because systems take time to change. The world takes time to change. My life takes time to change.

“The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.” Deuteronomy 7:22

Ignoring all of the other questions and ideas that arise from the text, we see that God slowly fulfilled His promise to the Israelites because he was working with a system of environmental factors, not just one prayer or promise.

How many prayers is God in the process of answering, answers that must wait until the system (individual, political system, economic system, ecosystem) has developed? How many truths is God waiting to reveal to me when I’m ready, when I’m to a place where I can begin to grasp it?

“I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you could understand.” That’s what Jesus told his disciples after more than three years together (John 16:12–Contemporary English Version).

In the University of Life, Jesus doesn’t enroll me in Perfect Life 454. He makes me take Humility 101, Hard Work 230, Failure 360, and a whole curriculum that I’d rather skip on my way toward graduation. He understands the system.

He created nature. He created me. He knows what he’s doing.

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Posted in Nature
15 comments on “NATURE: Brief Comments on the God of Ecology (NOT A SCIENTIFIC DOCTORAL THESIS)
  1. Luke says:

    You have no idea what Ecology means, do you…?I agree that God is in control and that he answers prayer in his time but that has absolutely nothing to do with Ecology! Ecology is all about a series of factors interacting in order to maintain a dynamic system. These factors, despite what we all understand as the ‘Balance of nature’, rarely actually balance out and many of the processes are not slow but happen rapidly with major effects. For example, fire. It is an integral part of savanna ecosystems but there is definitely nothing slow or gentle about it!

  2. Helen says:

    I agree, Ecology is not so much the gentle push-pull of forces, slowly changing over time, as much as it is the way a system responds to stochastic and often catastrophic events.What makes a sytem a system is not so much the fact that it is ‘balanced’ but that it is characterised by how some pretty big processes affect it. For example in Savannas, as we’re so very often told here, the big forces are water, fire, herbivory and humans (don’t we love being stochastic events?). the system is never ‘ready’ for something like this, it merely responds in that it is either wiped out, or it responds. That’s why plants and animals have all kinds of different strategies to cope with these processes.I can understand your analogy of the world as a system,in that maybe God is seeing the ‘big picture’ and understand s how various forces interact, but that doesn’t meant hat things will only happen when we’re ready for them, it means that we have to find ways to survive some pretty catastrophic events.P.S I’m soprry about the quick and negative response, it’s just that your blog is being read by people who study natural sciences.

  3. Jeff says:

    Luke, rather than not “having any idea what ecology means,” I think the way I expressed this particular example and then drew a spiritual lesson was not clear because both you and Helen seem to be focusing on one aspect–the rate of change.I understand that ecology is:1. The science of the relationships between organisms and their environments. Also called bionomics.2. The relationship between organisms and their environment.3. The branch of sociology that is concerned with studying the relationships between human groups and their physical and social environments. Also called human ecology.4. The study of the detrimental effects of modern civilization on the environment, with a view toward prevention or reversal through conservation. Also called human ecology.Ecology: God works within an ecological framework (human-environmental interaction: humans & “wild animals” as in Deut 7:22).Deuteronomy mentions two aspects: the rate of change in this circumstance and the fact that God was concerned with human-animal interaction.Do you really think I don’t understand catastrophic events within the natural environment? I work for the Red Cross! Disasters are our business. We know about immediate change and response–both human and natural causes and responses.Gradualism and catastrophism both play a part in complex systems. One blog post wasn’t meant to cover all aspects of ecology. My point was to draw one spiritual lesson and point out one aspect of how God interacts with humans and the “natural” world.The Bible is full of dynamic moments of change (for example, Lazarus being raised from the dead or the flood), but much of what He seems to do in the world is not so dramatic.This is a good place to post ideas. But lets add constructive ideas rather than call people ignorant–either the author or other contributors. Thanks.

  4. Jeff says:

    For the record, I know my comments were an over-reaction. However, I’ll leave them as is. Great song, “As Is” by Ani Difranco.

  5. Helen says:

    Sorry Jeff, I really didn’t mean to be as negative as it seemed, it’s just that a lot of people tend to think that Ecology is something that it isn’t and then link it to whatever they want. I don’t mean that your ideas aren’t valid, but I really can’t see how they fit with ecology, which I would define more as ‘a study of the relationships between systems, the processes that make them what they are, and the interaction between biotic and abiotic effects on the system.’I don’t mean that the rate of change is the only system, just that every system is dynamic to a certain extent and that things happen when the system isn’t necessarily ‘ready’ for them, but whether or not the system, and the organisms making up the system, survive, is a testament to their strength and resilience (and phenotypic plasticity, but lets not go there Luke!). I would think that God’s Ecology would be not so much waiting for us to be ready for something, but rather throwing something crazy at us so that we have to learn to adapt or withstand it.I really don’t mean that you are ignorant, just that I don’t really see the connection. I’m sorry if it came out like that, it really wasn’t my intention.

  6. Jeff says:

    “I would think that God’s Ecology would be not so much waiting for us to be ready for something, but rather throwing something crazy at us so that we have to learn to adapt or withstand it.”I think both aspects are correct. The two verses (Deut. 7:22 & John 16:12) show that sometimes he does wait for the interacting (eco)systems (human–animal system; maturity–new info system) to develop.Your reactions are interesting. Opposite of what I’m used to hearing. I usually hear from Christians that they feel nervous about this idea because they think it opens the door for God to have used evolution, which they are completely opposed to. They would much rather he plopped fully developed creatures into fully developed ecosystems.Maybe he did, or maybe he let the system develop over time or epochs. Maybe punctuated equilibrium has the hand of the Almighty in it. Or could phyletic gradualism be a possibility as well?Given that I do believe God created life (and now I’m going WAY beyond the scope of my original post that was in completely generalistic terms), how much of a system did he develop throughout creation. We can see how the systems build in Genesis, but were they literal days or longer periods? If we see in Deuteronomy that God works within an ecological framework, what conclusions or generalizations can we draw about his other dealings?Maybe we need a broader definition of ecology. And the definition I gave wasn’t my words (my defition would have just been #1). So if it is incomplete, then the larger scientific establishment has errors to deal with.Let’s take it this way: Given (1) The Bible is true; and (2) The definition of ecology I quoted is true. Then my generalized statements are true. Therefore, we can debate the givens (consider the assuptions) and therefore the conclusion, or leave them be and ADD to truth. One blog post is complete with so much great room for additional insight.

  7. Jeff says:

    Also, I think we’re approaching ecology from different perspectives. It’s possible you were looking for scientific theories and hypotheses, while I was approaching ecology from a philosophical perspective.It might be like lawyers reading my Justice Blog. They would want briefs and precedent cases, whereas I write, again, at the philosophical level rather than the technical level. If a lawyer said, “You have no idea what torture means,” I would respond that one doesn’t have to have a degree in law to have informed opinions about it.

  8. Angela says:

    i don’t know much of anything about ecology. when i was in grade school my teacher paid us to read “silent spring” by…rachel carson, was it? i think that was about ecology. annie dillard and barbara kingsolver write with ecological awareness as well. i enjoy my science in story form. maybe that’s why i could relate to jeff’s analogy. plus, i think we all come from different ecosystems. maybe all the ecosystems are shaped in different ways so we have different ways of looking at things. personally, i really resounded with being shaped slowly. right now, i feel like i’m in a slow phase. i’m sure growth is happening, but i don’t feel it changing me right now. i also resound with rapid chage resulting in major effects. last year, the catastrophic interlude with the suv was a major change to my inner and outer landscape. basically, i think everyone’s right and i hope someday we can all be well-watered, flourishing gardens.

  9. Luke says:

    Hi Jeff!I would like to appologise for my comments. It’s been a hectic year.I just get really annoyed when people write about stuff that they don’t understand properly and refuse to actually listen to someone who has spent four years of his life studying the subject (referring to no one in particular…;)’Survival of the fittest’ is a misnomer. It was invented by Darwin’s publicist and has no real meaning in biology. What he meant was that the more babies you have, the more successful you are at passing on your genes. Let’s clear this up…I am both a christian and an evolutionary biologist. Helen insists that I mention that the same applies to her. Ecology is more than just going camping and marvelling at the beauty of nature. There are many processes in play in all environments and situations. Your first and second defnitions (which are essentially the same thing) are fairly close to what we consider to be ecology but are still somewhat limited. If you want a good definition, I recommend looking it up in a library or something. The internet isn’t that great a source unless you are using something like an online journal database or something.Once again I just want to state that I am not intending any of this in a nasty way. I’m simply trying to clarify an idea.Have a smashing day!Ek hou van ystervarke!

  10. Jeff says:

    Different professors in the same field can hold significantly different opinions. That does not make one or the other ignorant.For instance I took Evolutionary Psychology (the evolution of behavior taught be a biology professor) at the University of Lincoln and he was definitely in favor of the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Those who “fit” the environment well are able to pass on more genetic material in the form of surviving offspring. I think the difference is possibly just symantics.I realize ecology is more than camping. I’m not sure there are many people who would confuse the two.So you’re an undergrad? You’ve been studying it hardcore for 4 years. I’ve been taking classes and reading for personal education for almost 15. Certainly more about cosmology and evolution than specifically ecology, but it’s at the core of evolution. Life lesson for “making friends and influencing people”: Start with respect rather than accusations.Do you read a lot of ignorance on the Internet? On blogs, reported in the news, on scientific websites?I would like to see one scientific magazine or peer reviewed journal that didn’t present data that contradicts some opinion held by another scientist. Are they all so ignorant, or is that the nature of scientific inquiry and progress?Hopefully, scientists who disagree with one another can find positive ways to express differences of opinion. This is beyond the context of the current conversation (which feels like it has about run it’s course for profitting anyone).

  11. Helen says:

    We’re not undergrads, we’ve both got a degree already. The university system here is somewhat different to yours I think.The problem with ‘survival of the fittest’ is that ‘fitness’ is a biological/evolutionary term that means having the highest number of viable and reproducing offspring. The animal that ‘fits’ it’s environment best is just referred to as the most adapted. Maybe he was just using it to teach you because you all knew the phrase? It’s definately not just symantics, the scientific world in general, which is mostly based on the central theme of evolution, is pretty universal on this.I really think it’s time for both of you to stop bickering and apologise to each other, I don’t like all this arguing. I also think that I should mention that just because you both disagree with each other about ideas it’s perfectly ok to throw ideas around, as long as you both understand that it’s the idea that may be at fault, not the person who writes them. I’m pretty sure neither of you means it in that way, but it is sounding like it is getting personal, which is probably why you’re both overreacting so much.I’m going to go see my lizards now, at least whne they fight they actually bite each other and be done with it!

  12. Jeff says:

    1. Helen, you were very polite in the way you corrected my false conclusion based on a false assumption (Luke was an undergrad because of assuming a likeness between educational systems).2. Helen, I’m confused by the paragraph about “survival of the fittest.” How you describe it seems to match how I’ve studied it, so I’m not sure where the mix-up or difference is. The professor did mean to use the phrase–he wrote the textbook. His emphasis was on behavior rather than anatomy, but its the same evotionary mechanism. A parent produces numerous offspring that have some genetic differences, or different genetic expression, whether various alleles or mutations or whatever. The offspring that “fit” the environment the best are (by definition?) the ones that are then able to produce the most offspring (usually through living longer, greater virility, immune system vitality, foraging behavior, mating rituals, etc.). This could be anatomical like feather color or behavioral like foraging habits, nest building abilities, or familial warning activies. The organisms that “fit” their environment the best (most adapted?) both behaviorally and anatomically produce the most offspring = survival of the fittest. Which part are we understanding differently?3. In the year or so that I’ve been blogging, this is the first comment series that has been rude (the very first sentence put this on quite a track, and I didn’t help it rebound any.) In the past there have been differences of opinion, but no disrespect.4. Now I know how Jon Stewart felt when Stephen Colbert insisted that he apologize to Geraldo Rivera or go “on notice.”5. But Helen is right, and I apologize to Luke for my patronizing comments and for the ones not typed. 6. In response to this series, I am making a new personal rule for my blogs. Preface: Rude comments will not go uncontested, and they will also not be responded to in the same manner. Rule: Rude and patronizing comments (as I perceive them) will simply be deleted (“You have no idea what ‘x’ means.” “Ecology is more than just going camping and marvelling at the beauty of nature.”)If anyone has something to add, they can do it respectfully or it will disappear. There are plenty of other places on the Internet for negativity. 7. What would Jesus do? He might say to any of us who are so confident in our understanding of these issues:Job 38The LORD Speaks 1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels [a] shouted for joy?8 “Who shut up the sea behind doorswhen it burst forth from the womb,9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place,11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment.15 The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death [b] ?18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.19 “What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?20 Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?21 Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail,23 which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth? 25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm, 26 to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it, 27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass? 28 Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? 29 From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens 30 when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? 31 “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? 32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs? 33 Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s [f] dominion over the earth? 34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water? 35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? 36 Who endowed the heart [g] with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind [h] ? 37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens 38 when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together? 39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions 40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? 41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?

  13. sarah says:

    dear jeffi got your back here… i chastised the 2 scientists for being mean.i know very little about science … apart from what stephen hawkins and bill bryson tells me

  14. Jeff says:

    Bill Bryson kills me. “A Walk in the Woods” is my favorite, but “A Short History of Nearly Everything” was really good too. We listened to it on CD during one road trip. I haven’t read his European travelogues, but Charissa says they aren’t as quality.Sarah, I saw you like I Heart Huckabees. Angela loves that one too. We’ll have to get it on Netflix sometime. Children of Heaven just arrived, so maybe I’ll post a review after we watch it this weekend.Charissa looked into starting an Amnesty International chapter/club where we were living in S. Korea. It turned about to be pretty complicated since we were foreigners, but it should be a lot easier in your home community or school. Coolio.

  15. Jeff says:

    “It turned out…” not “It turned about…” What in the world?I think I’ve figured it out… If I |tab| down the page, then the word verification gets denied, but if I click on the sign in boxes it works. Weird.

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