Appreciating the World as God Made It, Not as We Think It Should Be

FL Everglades-02Florida is a fascinating place. I was there for a conference last week and took some time to also visit the Everglades. I was not in the national park. The Everglades is a much larger area than the park. It’s headwaters starts up near Disneyworld and is a broad, very shallow, very slow moving river going south of Lake Okeechobee.  Or at least it was. Over the years it has been pretty badly treated, being chopped up with drainage canals, polluted with agricultural runoff, rivers channelized, the soil destroyed and the usual sort of damage we can do to a natural ecosystem. A lot of work has been done in recent years to undo the damage (which also affects the water system of the big cities along the SE coast), though there is still much to be done, and the costs to repair the damage will far more exceed the costs incurred doing that damage.

FL Everglades-04A simplified history: almost 200 years ago, a number of influential northerners came to Florida and fell in love with the warm climate. The problem was there were already people here farming the north – the military ran those “inconvenient” Native Americans off into the Everglades. Then a few years later, those new arrivals began to plot the drainage of the Everglades itself to make the land useful in their terms. And they felt it was God’s will for them to change this “wasted land” into something productive (never mind that this land was extremely productive in terms of wildlife, productive beyond what most people had ever seen). Of course, they often invoked the idea that man was to have “dominion” over the earth. If we saw a man brutally abusing a woman because he supposedly had “dominion” over her, we would lock him up for a long time in prison, though I suppose for the times, people sometimes thought it was okay for man to do that too. I hope we have come much further today in both our connections to fellow human beings and the natural world that is our home.

FL Everglades-03In the late 1800s, Governor Broward said, “The Everglades should be saved. They should be drained and made fit for cultivation.”  Many people of the time felt it was God’s will for man to “tame the wilderness” anywhere they could. The word “saved” was not chosen at random. The Census Bureau at the time announced settlement of the West as so much land “redeemed” from the wilderness. Redeemed also had religious overtones.

It took a long time, but by the 1960s, technology and engineering succeeded in draining parts of the Everglades … and thoroughly messing it up.  One has to wonder a bit about all of this. These were largely folks who believed in God and religion. They saw no problem in totally changing something of God’s Creation and in labeling such Creation as worthless.  How often have we been arrogant about our abilities to do things “better” than God? We definitely don’t put it in those terms, but all too often we are more interested in what we can take from God’s Creation than we are in what we can learn from His work.

The Everglades was and is a very complex ecosystem. Arrogantly, men (and I use the term deliberately because it was almost all men) felt they could change a landscape that was functioning perfectly as it was. They knew better than the Maker, evidently, yet over time, such arrogance has been more than a bit of a problem. As water drained, wet muck dried and became susceptible to fires whose smoke blackened Miami (Broward “knew” that fires were not possible). As water drained, the natural water tables were strongly affected and folks along the coast found their water systems were being invaded by salt water.

I know we look at things with a different perspective today, but it is still more than a bit amazing that if folks believed God created the world (and they did), that they would not pause at least a little to understand His world better before tearing it apart.

FL Everglades-05Have we learned? I don’t know. I still hear a lot of people making claims about our world that seem to be based a lot more on what they want to happen rather than a real understanding of the world God has given us. They choose to believe what benefits them rather than what is written in God’s own hand, His Creation. I am constantly surprised and filled with awe at the amazing complexity of our natural world that has long worked so well without any of man’s help. Maybe that is because God does not need our help to make nature do its best, and our role as stewards of what God has entrusted to us has a spotty record. I believe we can and must do better to honor God’s Creation and to “use” the world as God made it, not as we think it should be used because we know better.

— Rob