Are we sleepwalking through history?
Lester R. Brown, chairman of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, is among those who think we are. He bases his conclusion on the belief that human demands for resources are outgrowing the capacity of the earth’s natural systems to provide them. He argues that we have the knowledge of what needs to be done, as well as the technology to do it; yet he asks, Can we do it?
Undeniably, the challenges facing humanity are enormous. Some nations struggle to stave off bankruptcy. Others are forced to deal with food shortages, disease epidemics, unbridled pollution, a lack of clearheaded leadership, governments in turmoil, or peace processes stalling or failing. The list is daunting. Clearly there are causes and there are solutions, but until we are prepared to open our eyes and minds, Brown’s crucial question dangles over us.
In many cases, the reason we face such challenges today is that people did not look down the line to foresee the consequences of their actions.
A perfect though almost trivial illustration is the tragedy of a fish found near New Zealand. In the late 1970s the orange roughy was discovered on the deep underwater plateau east of Wellington. The discovery came as supplies of whitefish from the Atlantic were diminishing.
Instead of cultivating this new find in a manner that would sustain supplies, however, greed dominated the drive to cash in on what quickly became a much-sought-after fish in Europe, Japan and North America. Within a decade, fishing practices devastated the orange roughy population, and research now indicates that this fish of the deep needs about 30 years to mature sexually and reproduce. Scientists wonder whether the orange roughy will ever recover. Human greed has brought yet another species to the brink of destruction.
Similar stories abound. For many decades we have paid scant attention to farming practices that are formulated on the profit motive, and now we are faced with declining soil fertility in many places. We cut down the trees that are the lungs of the earth in order to enjoy instant material returns, then we wring our hands at the effects of global warming, holes in the ozone layer and disappearing forests. We rape the earth of its resources, with little regard for the next generation or for the effects of pollution on our health.
We develop weapons of mass destruction and sell to all and sundry for financial gain, then we posture self-righteously about the senseless loss of lives these weapons help bring about. And how many of us have given any real thought to what might result from genetic engineering?
Sleepwalking is so much easier than thinking about the consequences of our actions.
Some may feel that the conditions that exist today are not very different from those that have existed in the past. It is true that history holds some very ugly and dehumanizing events to its breast, but can we deny that many situations, like those cited above, could have been averted with some vision on the part of those involved?
If we’d had a clear view of where our decisions and actions would take us, would we have proceeded with apparent wild abandon? Probably not. If we had foreseen negative outcomes, we would have stopped to rethink, wouldn’t we? Would leaders pursue courses of action that they knew would bring about their downfall? Would captains of industry knowingly make financial decisions that would jeopardize their stockholders?
Surely if we had a clear vision of the future, we would adjust our course accordingly.
Seizing the moment for personal profit without considering long-term results has caused serious problems for humanity. This journal maintains that the world is in need of people with vision. Whether the issues are national or personal, true vision lifts us beyond short-term gain and views the future in terms of a truly sustainable environment, from both a physical and a spiritual perspective. We need people of vision who can help us avoid the pitfalls of human greed and excesses. We need sound leadership and policies at all levels of our society—farsighted people who will exercise forethought so that present actions will not produce harmful results in the future.
Unfortunately the catalog of human history reveals that very few have understood the source of that kind of wisdom.
The Nature of Being Human
Vision is a quality of the mind. Unless this mind is understood and aspects of its nature are addressed, the quality we call vision will be difficult to come by. The good news is that the human mind can be understood and the forces that determine human conduct clearly known. What we choose to do about it then becomes a personal decision. Each of us can become a person of vision—or not. The choice is ours.
Each of us can become a person of vision—or not. The choice is ours.
Have you ever wondered at the power of the mind, by which we have been able to develop highly sophisticated civilizations—with powerful governments, scientific developments, higher education and technological wonders—yet we cannot find a way for people to live in peaceful coexistence? Does it make sense that the world is filled with so much unhappiness, trouble and evil, while at the same time the power of the mind enables us to do such remarkable things as clone life?
Some believe the mind is in a kind of infancy—that if we could throw off our “childish reliance” on religious superstition (which, they suggest, fosters nothing but ignorance), then the power of the mind would enable us to find answers to life’s problems through reason. Others postulate that the problems we have are in fact the result of human reasoning without the benefit of guidelines or moral standards.
Is vision simply the result of human reasoning, or is there an additional source?
There is a missing dimension to human knowledge, and the absence of this dimension restricts visionary ability and produces the kind of shortsighted actions cited above. To understand this missing dimension we need to go back to the beginning, because humans were not created with the nature we now have. An all-loving, all-merciful, almighty God could not—did not—create humankind with a heart of hostility, envy, greed and selfishness.
The Bible reveals the high points of human history, especially in its early stages. Toward the end of the creation week as cataloged in Genesis, God created the first humans. Plant and animal life had been created after their kind, but God created humankind in His image: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). As God looked over the results of this creation week, including that first man and woman, He concluded that everything He had made was “very good” (verse 31).
There is absolutely nothing in the written account to indicate that Adam and Eve were created with the kind of evil, hostile, rebellious nature that soon became evident. It is also clear that they were not imbued with the kind of mind that was set on obeying God either. It appears that they were created in a kind of neutral state, without any strong inclination toward good or evil.
Adam and Eve had an intellect, and as free moral agents, they were intended to use their minds to make decisions.
However, being made after the God kind, they were created with a superior mind instead of simply with instinct. They could think, reason, know and understand in a way animals cannot, as their initial interaction with God makes clear. They had an intellect, and as free moral agents, they were intended to use their minds to make decisions, to make choices and, in the process, to develop the mind and character of God.
To Eat or Not to Eat
The first choice placed before Adam and Eve came in the form of two trees, each symbolizing a way of life. These first humans were told that they could eat of one tree but not of the other.
The symbolism of these trees is very interesting in the scheme of human life. Through these trees, and Adam and Eve’s decision regarding the fruit of each one, we come to understand that there are two spiritual dimensions that interact with the human mind.
The first tree mentioned is the tree of life. This they could eat from, and in fact it was God’s intention that they should eat the fruit of this tree, because it represented something not inherent in humans—something we were not created with: God’s Holy Spirit. This tree represented the indwelling love and power of God’s Spirit, which would have imparted to them the divine nature of God.
The second tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of this tree the first humans were told not to eat. It is in relation to its fruit that we are introduced to another spiritual dimension—and to a being who was determined to oppose the God of love. He is identified in the Scriptures as Satan the devil, the great dragon, and the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9). The fascinating story of how this powerful angel, a created being, became the god of this world can be covered at another time. But in the Genesis account we see him interact with the first man and woman as a serpent, in the role of the great tempter, convincing the woman to eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam and Eve's decision is well known, even if the implications of that decision are not.
Adam and Eve’s decision is well known, even if the implications of that decision are not. They chose to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, bypassing the fruit of the tree of life. Thus they rejected the opportunity to partake of the divine nature of God through the conferring of His Spirit, which would have imparted spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
Instead, our earliest ancestors were connected to the spiritual influences of the god of this world, and we are left in no doubt as to the nature of those influences. Genesis 3 records the change in the nature of the human mind once Adam and Eve had made their choice. They had taken to themselves the knowledge of what is good and what is evil—the right to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. We are told that their eyes were opened. The spirit and attitude of rebellion had entered their minds as they chose, in essence, to take on Satan’s nature rather than God’s.
This quality of the human mind is known as human nature, but it is not merely human, for it comes from Satan himself. His spiritual influence broadcasts attitudes of self-centeredness, greed, envy, pride, jealousy, resentment, competition, bitterness and hate (Ephesians 2:2–3). Of course, this nature is expressed through a broad spectrum of personalities that are the result of both heredity and environment. There are “good” people and there are “bad” people, but the underlying motive of human nature is to promote self. And it is this selfish outlook that encourages actions based on short-term advantage.
An example of this in recent years is the economic difficulty that spread throughout Asia as a direct result of the Thailand domino. International speculators, money funds and hedge funds pumped money into the small Thai stock market, creating a “bubble”—raising market prices without raising the underlying value—thus creating a short-term boom for speculators by causing even more money to flow into the country. But the funds were not invested in long-term projects. Investors were interested primarily in skimming the profit, not in encouraging development. Thailand’s boom was a fictitious wealth rather than an indicator of real productive capacity: short-term gain at the expense of long-term responsibility.
A New Human Nature
There is a way to break this cycle of cause and effect based on selfishness. There is a way we can develop prescience, farsightedness, wisdom—in other words, vision. Human nature can be changed. The choice is ours, however, just as it was Adam and Eve’s, and it is difficult.
There is a source of moral guidance—environmental, industrial, governmental; personal and collective. We have been provided with sound principles to guide us in our quest for healthy and sustainable living.
Some years ago, former Look magazine editor George B. Leonard wrote: “We have moved enough mountains, rechanneled enough rivers, leveled enough forests, gathered up enough gross physical energy. There must be some larger destiny for humanity. . . . I want to dream of the kind of personal and communal transformation that may lead to the unification of the world, not by conquest or politics, but by the emergence of a new human nature” (The Transformation: A Guide to the Inevitable Changes in Humankind, 1972).
Leonard’s wishes will be fulfilled, but not in the manner he might expect. A new age will dawn and human nature will be changed. Humanity will begin to move in the direction of its “larger destiny.” Yet this change will not be the result of human social evolution. It will happen because there is a transcendent Being who will bring it about. This God, in whose image humans were created, will set His hand to change our very nature. Humanity will once again be invited to eat of the tree of life and partake of the nature of God via His Holy Spirit.
Human nature will be changed. Yet this change will not be the result of human social evolution.
Looking into the future, the prophet Ezekiel was inspired to write of this in principle: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19–20).
The missing dimension, the Holy Spirit, will be readily available. In fact, it is already available to some today. Peter wrote that Christians become “partakers of the divine nature.” This mind—the mind of Christ—is produced in the Christian by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The apostle John wrote, “By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us” (1 John 3:24, New Revised Standard Version).
An amazing attribute of God’s Spirit is that it gives the human mind the ability to see and understand the future. In fact, much of Christ’s work on earth involved the revelation of knowledge of future world events. Christ came with a message: the good news of the future kingdom of God. To those without God’s gift of spiritual insight, this knowledge of the kingdom of God remains a mystery. However, to those who choose to live God’s way of life, this mystery is opened and the truth of the kingdom is revealed (Mark 4:11). The Bible also reveals events that are to unfold prior to the establishment of this kingdom on earth, and God’s Holy Spirit shows the relevance of these events to our lives.
Along with knowledge of events taking place, the Bible imparts information, wisdom and understanding regarding human nature and how it can be constrained and changed for the better.
Are we sleepwalking? Understanding and applying these principles will lead to that much-sought-after quality, vision. It will make us visionaries, and our world is desperate for visionaries.