Consider the polar bear.
Really it is quite impossible not to do so, since environmental evangelism is all about us. That this is so is one of the best things about contemporary culture. As a Tolkien-nerd, I have always favored the Ents over Saruman.
Traditionalists and liberals may disagree about how to do it, but we agree that being green is good. Phillip Johnson, the Berkeley law professor and gadfly, once noted that the best thing about community radicalism is that it had preserved Berkeley untouched in a 1950′s time warp.
While the means were regrettable, some of the ends were magnificent. Every year my family celebrates the Fourth of July in the all American city of Berkeley with buildings that the Cleavers would recognize and sidewalk hippies the Partridge Family would adore.
It is the West Coast version of Williamsburg.
Traditional Christians know that God’s creation is good and is designed with great wisdom. Fallen men and women hesitate over great changes to Creation. Our first rule as stewards of that Creation, given our vanity, is to first do no harm.
Better to save a tree and lose a strip mall, then quickly to cut down the work of centuries without counting the cost and have our grandchildren regret it.
So both traditional Christians and the rest of America have reason to consider the polar bear.
The Christian conservationist and the secular environmentalist agree that the polar bear is worth considering. While lilies of the field and the polar bears of the ice floe are worth less than a man, beauty of the field and might of the bear is surely worth more than any given gross of plastic parts.
And that agreement should give the secularist pause when he becomes too critical of the Christian God. It is a complex cosmos and God has many cares in it. God considers the lilies, the fields, the bears, and the ice flows. He must balance the needs of each against the greater good.
At the same time, God has made humankind the crown of His creation by giving to men and woman a free will. This further complicates the calculus of the goods of bears, lilies, fields, free will, and men.
Humankind has not even come close to deciding how to do this calculus, but secularists are quick to judge God for any perceived shortcoming. And yet if people concede all these competing goods, we must first know what a better world would look like if we would judge God.
How can we know that this is not the best of all possible worlds when we do not yet have a good idea of what such a world would look like?
How many polar bears does this planet need to be good? How much freedom do men need?
We value polar bears and ice fields to some extent over gadgets and strip malls, but have no real knowledge of the extent we should value them. How then can we judge the justice of God? What is the basis of comparison?
If God stopped a particular hurricane at great cost to the ecosphere, what cost would be too high for the secular environmentalist? When environmentalists are willing to ban DDT, and allow the spread of disease bearing mosquito, the same person must not too hastily judge a God balancing many environments and many goods.
The calculations are further complicated by the cosmos not being the way God made it. Humans put grit in the mechanism which complicates everything. We refuse to listen to caution and build cities where prudence would suggest we should not and then fail to take basic precautions to protect human life in those cities.
When Pompeii is destroyed by yet another volcano, will men blame God? What if volcanoes are needed to keep Italy the way it must be to support its fragile ecosystem? Why have we built a new city there and provided the people in it no adequate means to escape the volcano everyone knows will erupt?
God, and not just Al Gore, considers the polar bears, though God may value Gore more than bears. When I read the work of modern scientists studying the complexities and fragility of even one ecosystem, I recognize how hard it would be for me to see God’s actions in any particular detail of environmental history.
I can see God’s goodness overall in Creation, but the devil has room to roam in the details, cracks created by our sin. To paraphrase Saint Augustine, we can see Providence in the existence of polar bears, but strain to see it in any given day of their, or our, lives.
So consider the polar bears.