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Himalayan Prophets and Shepherds


A large chunk of a glacier broke off the Himalayan mountains in northern India last Saturday causing major mudslides and flooding, leaving more than 100 people missing. The missing persons were mostly workers in two hydropower plants on the Dhauliganga River.


This disaster is raising fears of what is to come. Scientists, who said the breaking of a glacier in the middle of the winter appeared to be a result of climate change, have warned that rising temperatures are melting the Himalayan glaciers at an alarming pace. The glaciers, which supply water to tens of millions of people, could be mostly gone by the end of the century.


I have read the following words from Psalm 46 at many funerals: "Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging" (vv 2-3). I interpreted these words as metaphorical language, intending to comfort people and assuring God's presence in the face of death and grief. As I read them today in the light of the Himalayan disaster, I saw them more as literal prophetic language, depicting the ramifications of humankind's exploitation of creation and arrogance in disregarding the laws of nature and nature's God. The government engineers were warned by the scientists that climate change had made the Himalayans, once a mighty fortress, into a vulnerable mass of ice, rock and dirt. Hydropower plants needed to be moved to safer locations, but the warnings were ignored. Like the builders of the tower of Babel (Gen 11) they sought to create their own platform where they might exercise God-like control of creation. And like Babel, the people were disbursed, as warning to work within God's laws and not flaunt those laws.


Modern day prophets, who study God's laws within the natural (supernatural?) world, continue to offer us warnings and remind us of our call to tend to the earth like a sacred garden rather than exploit it. We sometimes wonder, don't we, why God's chosen people ignored or killed the prophets in ancient times who came proclaiming God's message. The prophets would speak and the leaders would respond, "Hoax. Hoax." The message of the prophets was inconvenient, requiring a change of behavior and a humble submission to the God who brings desolation to the earth. The leaders were addicted to their autonomy and the power they imagined holding. The truth of those biblical narratives plays out again and again in our own times in all regions of the earth. The prophets are speaking from the mountain tops. The people are ready to listen, but they must be led by shepherds who care more about the sheep more than their own lives.


Prophets and shepherds have the capacity to help the people follow the ways of God and avoid the desolation lurking under trembling mountains. Prophets and shepherds, scientists and pastors, are both needed to guide us to safety and peace. If we are to live in God's garden in peace and prosperity, as God originally intended, we must be partners. Our people of science and people of faith must join heads and hearts for the sake of a healthy earth. Otherwise, there's some property east of Eden that surely has our name on it.

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