Entering the Twilight Age

The energy problem comes full circle, exposing our sin and greed.
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In the year 2000, the supplies for the earth’s seven billion inhabitants will have to come from the same planet Adam and Eve’s supplies came from. Because there will be so many needing food, clothing, and shelter, just living will be far more difficult for some than for others.

Currently Americans have it easier than people on other continents. The United States is sprawled out over 3.5 million miles of the earth’s surface. The density of our population is 60 people to every square mile—as opposed to Bangladesh where the density is 1,461 per square mile. The Republic of Singapore houses ten thousand people per square mile.

We have not only room, but we also have the energy we need. According to a survey, energy consumption for the average middle-class family in our part of the world is equivalent to 200 personal servants for every citizen! Yet this is true for just 6 percent of the world’s population.

Out of all of this affluence has come a startling statistic: Today, in the industrialized countries of the world, man himself does less than 1 percent of the total work. Machines do the rest.

How many adults do you know who do not drive? For every square mile of land in our country there is a mile of paved roadway. America is crowded with an unbelievable flow of traffic. Every weekday fifty million cars carry the driver alone. Transportation uses one-fourth of all our energy.

We buy things that are convenient. We eat more than we need. Expensive packages and containers become trash. And so it goes. As victims of an easy lifestyle we have unthinkingly perpetuated a problem that is fast becoming a crisis.

Somehow, we have to convince ourselves that even though things seem right, something is very wrong. How did we manage to acquire so much that other things ceased to matter? Do we have a monopoly on natural resources? No; we just happened to be at the right place at the right time in history to take advantage of cheap, plentiful energy.

We are now in the midst of an energy crisis, one that means more than just a shortage of gasoline. We can hope it’s a mistake, an error in calculation, or another scheme to gouge the public. Even experts disagree. But a reasonable analysis has begun to emerge: the energy crisis is for real.

More petroleum has been used in the last 10 years than in the preceding 100 years. If we continue what we’re doing for 10 more years, the U.S. will be using the last of its own oil. And in another 10 years, supplies will begin to diminish throughout the rest of the world—even the Middle East.

Petroleum, half of which is imported, supplies 46 percent of all our energy. Twenty-seven percent comes from natural gas, 20 percent from coal, and the remaining 7 percent from hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermal, solar, wood, and waste sources.

Unless we do something about our oil and energy consumption, it could be disastrous. We must not bury our heads in the sand and pretend the shortage isn’t there. We need to stay informed, face the problem, and then act intelligently.

The industrialized world is caught woefully short of an easy solution. The only thing we can do right now to make a difference is to stop wasting what we have. It just might give us the 15 to 20 years we so desperately need to find and use something to take the place of petroleum and natural gas.

The energy problem should remind us that human solutions have human limitations. We are in a dying world. But how can Christians respond to the energy crisis? First, they should look to God to bring them through the stormy seas that may lie ahead. Our confidence is in the Lord, come what may. He is sovereign, and he can be trusted.

Second, Christians need God’s help to be examples to the world. Wasting energy is as much an act of violence against the poor as refusing to feed the hungry. Since we know that what we have is out of proportion to what other people have, it should make us uncomfortable, motivated to take action.

Writing on ecology, Dr. Francis Schaeffer points out that exploitation comes basically from greed and haste. In the end, he says, those who take too much too fast find the problems they have created return full circle to themselves. Dr. Schaeffer reminds us that the church is really God’s pilot plant—his living, small-scale demonstration of the world as it should be. We dare not live selfishly. We must be examples of those who see and face the issue clearly, who restrain our self-desires. We should walk as children of light.

In the end, even such seemingly secular matters as the energy crisis have their roots in the motives of the human heart. Only God can free the heart from the shackles of selfishness and sin. We must exercise stewardship concerning energy. We have a responsibility to be examples of wise, careful users of God’s gifts.

George Sweeting is the sixth president of Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. His article is based on information in the film, Energy in a Twilight World, released last month by Moody Institute of Science.

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