The Holy Spirit and the World

by Ahn Jae-Woong


Scripture: Romans 8:12-17

I. Introduction

Let me share with you a couple of concerns which I find challenging as we look into ourselves in preparation for the coming years. I find Norman Myers’ book The Gaia Atlas of the Future World giving us much detailed information about what is happening and what is going to happen in this world. Some of the images of the future he invokes are described below.

II. Global Warning

A. Population

Sixty years ago the global population was two billion. Today there are more than five billion people on the planet. By the year 2000, there will be six billion; and by the year 2025, there could be more than 10 billion. As a result of this population explosion, this single species is already consuming 40% of the worldwide plant growth each year. This means that the other 30 million species on Earth have to survive using the remaining 60% of plant resources.

Overpopulation will eventually lead to mass poverty and mass migration. Therefore, population growth is one of the important factors in global warning that we must consider.

B. Climate

There has generally been a moderate amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere throughout most of the biosphere’s history. During the millennium before the Industrial Revolution began, CO2 in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million (ppm). Today the level has risen beyond 350 ppm and is building at 2 ppm per year. It is projected to double beyond the 280 ppm level by the year 2050 causing the temperature to rise by 2o C to 5o C. In addition, the greenhouse effect will cause an ozone-destroying reaction for 100 years or more. The thinning of the ozone layer will permit an increased transmission of ultraviolet radiation which, in turn, will devastate plant and animal life.

All hinges, therefore, on the amount of heat that the atmosphere retains, which depends on its mix of gases. The proportion of these gases is a natural climate regulator, and an increase in greenhouse gases means an increase in average global temperature.

C. Forests

The Earth’s forests are disappearing at the rate of 142,000 square kilometers of tropical forests destroyed and another 150,000 square kilometers grossly degraded. This covers a total area equivalent to the whole United Kingdom. Outside the tropics, we are losing vast tracts of forests to acid rain and overlogging. As a result, there is a disruption of convection currents, wind patterns and rainfall regimes.

Our atlases traditionally feature a vivid green band around the equator denoting the lushest vegetation on Earth. We may soon have to recolor this band with dirty brown to depict the death of the greatest celebration of Nature ever to grace the face of the planet.

D. Pollution

Thirty years ago there was pollution everywhere, but it was localized and confined to parts of individual nations. Today it knows no frontiers: acid rain spans entire regions while the depletion of the ozone layer and atmospheric warming affect the whole planet.

Industries worldwide directly spew into the air and dump into bodies of water about 70,000 different chemicals that are largely untested for their environmental consequences.

CO2, which causes almost 50% of the greenhouse effect, stems mostly from the combustion of fossil fuels in power plants, factories and vehicles.

In summary, our poisoned planet reflects a combination of the world’s major challenges: our demand for energy, an adequate food supply and utilization of land resources. Air pollution, land pollution and ocean pollution will be, or rather are, a serious problem.

III. Global Effects

The greenhouse effect will alter the face of the planet more widely than any event or phenomenon for the last hundreds of thousands of years. On average, the global temperature by the mid-2000s is predicted to rise by an estimated 3o C to 5o C above the level prevailing in recent centuries - a variation compared to the change of 4o C in the other direction that was enough to trigger the onset of an ice age. While the tropics are likely to see little increase, the temperate zones may well witness a rise of 5o C to 7o C and the poles a vast 6o C to 12o C change in temperature.

At the same time, sea levels will rise by 0.5 to 1.5 meters, not because of the melting of glaciers and ice caps (this will come later with far larger increases), but because warmer temperatures will cause the upper layers of the ocean to expand. Coastal megacities, such as Shanghai, Calcutta and Lagos, will start to disappear under the waves; the same too for Tokyo, New York, Rotterdam and many others.

The greenhouse effect will cause radical changes. The North American grain belt may start to become unbuckled while the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) will have plenty of space to move its wheat belt and perhaps grow tropical crops on lands presently devoted to wheat. Thus, the CIS may become the world’s breadbasket.

IV. Global Interdependence

For 400 years, the nation-state system has dominated international relations. However, in the last 40 years, international trade in manufactured goods has increased seven times, and there have been manifold increases in investment and capital flows. There have been similar revolutionary increases in air travel and telecommunications. This all translates into national borders that are increasingly becoming porous.

Now the primary thrust is economic interdependence which implies political interdependence. At the same time, we are experiencing environmental interdependence as evidenced by the acid rain phenomenon, marine pollution and the greenhouse effect. Still other manifestations of interdependence arise in regard to terrorism and drug trafficking.

V. Toward 2000

As we head toward the new millennium, a number of organizations have been making ambitious plans. Perhaps health for all to ensure primary health care for every person, although this would require huge expenditures, would be one of the major concerns of people everywhere. Other major concerns may include:

  • Education for all to ensure that basic education for every person will be provided as a major element in the process towards reducing inequality and achieving self-sufficiency;

  • Family planning for all to ensure that fertility in the developing world will be reduced and that a smaller number of children per family will be the norm of societies.

In addition, tropical forests should be protected to save threatened species, and climate change should be properly controlled through intergovernmental strategies and the collective efforts of concerned groups.

Many people have suggested the following 12-point priority list of concerns:

  • Slow population growth;

  • Reduce poverty, inequality and Third World debt;

  • Make agriculture sustainable;

  • Protect forests and habitats;

  • Protect fresh water quality;

  • Increase energy efficiency;

  • Develop renewable sources of energy;

  • Limit air pollution, notably "greenhouse gases";

  • Reduce waste generation and increase recycling;

  • Protect the ozone layer;

  • Protect ocean and coastal resources; and

  • Shift military spending to sustainable development.

VI. In Search of the True Spirit

When we survey the general trends in the global village today, we find human beings trying to dominate (Gen. 1:26) all of the living creatures under the sea, on air and on Earth so that eventually human destiny is seriously challenged. Biblical passages tell us that, if one lives according to human greed, one dies (v. 13). In other words, if one-lives selfishly to satisfy one’s desires, he or she contributes to the destruction of the Earth.

However, those who are led by the spirit of God are able to subordinate their human nature to God’s will as God’s spirit unites with them and makes them His children (v. 16).

Here we see a sharp contrast of possibilities. If we live according to worldly behavior, we perish; but if we live by the grace of God’s spirit and put to death our sinful actions, we will have life. The condition for life is God’s spirit being able to control us in order that He can keep away our sinful actions.

We are naturally concerned about the deathly ways of human beings all over the world. In the name of "progress," "stability ,""development" and even in the name of ‘‘peace,’’ human beings justify their destructive ways. In reality, it is not progress or development that is assured but the destruction of the Earth and the human community.

In fact, the issue is that we have turned away from God. We can only right our relationship with God and with the whole Creation if we recognize the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As the entire Creation groans, we seek reconciliation with God; and in doing so, we will find peace with the world.

In recent history, ideological confrontation between East and West created many problems for the world’s peoples. These Cold War ideologies have ceased to exist or are declining at the moment. We perceive the alternative ideology to be environmentalism. It is inclusive of our global concerns and helps to restore our relationship with Nature. Environmental consciousness enables us to overcome the deathly nature of human selfishness. It gives us a new hope for all those who are willing to live in peace and harmony with Creation.

Therefore, God’s spirit will lead us to discern environmentalism properly so that this alternative ideology may serve to fulfill the joyful future of the Earth’s inhabitants.

Future eco-technology will permit many economies to grow. However, if we lose the true spirit and hold high technologies as some sort of god, then we will certainly perish.

In this new dawn, everyone seeks the true spirit. Some will be blessed, and others will not. According to K. C. Abraham in his booklet Eco-Justice, economics, ecology and ecumenism should be an interrelated concern. These three important words are rooted from the Greek word oikos, which is translated as "dwelling place," "living place" or "house." Therefore, the ecumenical world should reflect on the wider relationship of people and the place that God has given us to live. We pray that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do our task at this juncture of history.

(Ed. note: This reflection was presented as a part of the Bible studies of the Executive Committee meeting of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) held at the CCA Center in Hong Kong in June 1993.)