From 1971 to 1980 the Ford Pinto was designed to compete with Volkswagen and other Japanese imports. Lee Iacocca, the product manager had ordered that the Pinto was not to weigh an ounce over 2000 pounds or cost a penny over $2,000. In order to meet these specifications the gas tank was mounted on the rear of the car. This technical design was an invitation to disaster resulting in at least 500 burn deaths. In preproduction, a different gas tank placement was considered but rejected because it took up too much trunk space. The problem could also have been solved at the cost of $11 per car with a fire-prevention device in the gas tank. That option too was rejected. Ford’s decision not to fix the problem was based on a cost benefit analysis.
The cost benefit analysis calculates potential benefit and the potential cost for each available option. In the case of the Ford Pinto’s cost-benefit analysis the following came to light through litigation. At that time it was revealed that the potential cost of the $11 fix was expected to come to $137 million over the time the Pinto was being produced. The potential benefit of not using the fire protection device was $49.5 million. Ford came to the conclusion that approximately 2,100 vehicles would burn without the fire prevention device resulting in 180 serious burns and 180 burn deaths. The burn injuries were estimated at $67,000 while a burn death, the cost of a human life, was estimated at $200,000, which was only slightly less than the $200,725 value that was used in a 1972 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Before we get too quick to point fingers at the price Ford put on a human life perhaps we should just look around us and see how quickly it has become acceptable to push the homeless out with the excuse they hurt property values. Look at the barricades that were put around 1411 Locust to keep the homeless off the sidewalks while those with money are invited to sit at tables on the sidewalks on Washington Street.
There are two religions at work today in America. The first one is the religion of self-centered consumerism; the looking out for number one. The second is true Christianity which stands directly opposed to the false religion of consumerism because it calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God and not our own self interests. True Christianity takes Jesus at His word when He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt.6:19-21).
Calvin B. De Witt stated, “A perplexing puzzle exists. Those who follow Jesus Christ largely neglect the claims of Jesus Christ on the world as Creator, Integrator, and Reconciler. Instead, many Christians overlook, neglect, and in some cases even despise Christ’s creative, sustaining and reconciling works in creation. These beautiful works of Jesus Christ are expressed in the beautiful hymn of Col.1:15-20. Jesus Christ is Creator, Integrator, and Reconciler yet many, who call on His name abuse, neglect and do not give a care about creation. That irony is there for all to see. Honoring the Creator in word, they destroy God’s works in deed. Praising God from whom all blessings flow, they diminish and destroy God’s creation here below. The pieces of this puzzle do not fit! One piece says, we honor the Great Master! The other piece says, we despise His great masterpieces! Creations degradation by those who confess the Creator while trampling, muddying, and degrading the Creator’s works remains a great puzzle. Why should those who love and honor the Creator act in creation as though they despise God’s masterpieces that are displayed across the great canvas of the biosphere and the heavens beyond?”
How can we put a cash value on creation and all the life it brings forth. After all creation is the manifestation of God’s work (Gen.9:12-17, Hosea 2:21-22, Matt 5:45). It is good and valuable (Gen. 1:31, Job 38-41, Ps.148:1-10) and connected to God by His word (Gen.1:3-9, John 1:1-5, Heb.1:3). “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’” (Gen.1:26). Each and every human being is made in the image of God. It is for this reason that as much of society puts a value on human lives we are advocates of justice, working to help the poor, homeless, fatherless, widowed, elderly and others in need. As believers we realize that each person regardless of his or her social status is invaluable because they are made in the image of God.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(Eph.2:10) We are God’s invaluable work of art. We are His masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus and given the opportunity to join Him in the work of creation through the good works He has prepared for us to do. What a privilege it is to serve the Lord by caring for God’s special people in need and God’s creation.
We cannot afford to ignore this privilege. We must realize that putting a value on life affects the most vulnerable in society. This includes the poor, elderly, sick and hurting children.
Jesus offers freedom for those who are so possessed with their possessions that they no longer value the hurting and homeless. Those who do this are the big losers who Jesus says in Luke 12:32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” In order words, don’t be afraid. Let it all go. Let God deliver you and set you free. Then He goes on and tells us how to experience this freedom. It is so simple that the possessed often refuse to believe it. Jesus declares in verse 33, 34, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Only as we take literally the words of Jesus and let Him deliver us from our addictions to things can we be set free to have a true relationship with God, His people, and the rest of creation.
Jesus completely identifies with those powerless people that society gives very little cash value when he describes events at the last judgment in Matt.25:31-46 and declares, “As often as you have done it to the least of these even so you have done it unto me.” Rosemary Ruether explains, “The environmental movement needs to be more than saving seals and defending public parks from lumber companies, although these are worthy causes. It needs to speak of environmental racism and classism, about the poisoning of the environments, where poor black, Latinos and indigenous people live—in inner cities and rural areas. By dumping their toxic wastes in these areas, companies maximize their profits while passing along the costs to those assumed to be the most powerless. An environmental movement that does not make these connections across class and racial lives is escapism for hikers and not a serious call for change.”
The redeemed can no longer remain silent as countries like Africa are turned into toxic dumps for rich industrialized nations. Wesley Granberg—Michaelson states, “The urgency of the environmental crisis, the rise of “green politics” and the commitment to save the earth plead for an understanding of how economic life can be molded by ecological wisdom to sustain creation.”
The time has come for us to recognize that Biblical justice is based on the deeper principal that equitable sharing of the earth’s resources stems from the fact that God is the source of all and desires His love to be shared with all. Every human being regardless of economic status is valuable. They are granted by our Creator with the right to pure air and water, adequate food and shelter that is uncontaminated and habitable. They have the right to possess adequate energy resources, adequate clothing and health care with meaningful work that protects and preserves creation from which we draw our well-being.
As the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”(Psalm 145:13-16)
As we try to understand the Lord’s faithfulness in the provision of creation and our role as faithful stewards, Ron Sider points out that “the environmental crisis is not a silly fiction created by mad scientists and political demagogues. There are dangerous holes in the ozone layer. Our water, soil, and air are polluted. Spreading carbon dioxide emissions from our cars and factories threaten to cause global warming that could raise ocean levels, flooding vast land areas and destroying some of our great coastal cities.
In the last forty years, we also have lost one-fifth of the entire world’s topsoil. Make no mistake: a spiritual battle is raging; Satan would love nothing better than to persuade modern people that the best way to solve our environmental crisis is to abandon historic Christian truth. The way to defeat Satan is for all Christians to become committed environmentalists and to ground their struggle to save the earth on solid Biblical foundations. To be honest with you, I don’t know how to plead with Christians forcefully enough to reject today’s affluent materialism.
We have Jesus warning that if we don’t feed the hungry we go to hell. We pastors and teachers have the Biblical warning that if we fail to say as much about God’s concern for the poor as the Bible does, we are heretical, timid shepherds, responsible for our people’s materialism. We could do so much more. And I fear that we are losing the battle. Is it not true that most Christians today are more trapped in a practical materialism that treasures things more than Jesus? Were previous generations of Christians as captivated by materialism, as we are now? It would be especially hypocritical if we condemned New Age environmentalists for their worship of the earth and then continued rushing madly down our present path of ever increasing, idolatrous consumerism!”
Ron Sider goes on to say in his work, Tending the Garden Without Worshiping It, “I’m afraid that one reason Christians fail to live more simply for the sake of the poor and the environment – one reason we persist in our practical materialistic worship of things – is that we don’t really love Jesus very much. We substitute lukewarm faith and more tradition for a passionate love for the Lord and a radical commitment to worship and to obey Him at any cost. Colossians 1:18 says, Jesus is to “have the supremacy.” Is that true for you and me? Is that true for our people? This Jesus who calls us to save His creation, empower the poor, and work for peace is the Maker of the galaxies, the one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This awesome sovereign will not settle for one-fourth or one-half of our lives. He wants to have first place in everything we think and do.”
Does He have first place in your life? Is Jesus Christ your Lord and your Savior? Have you dedicated your life to serving Jesus by caring for His people and His creation according to the word of God? If so what are the results? The hour is late and now we must realize the reality of Jesus words when He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt.6:24).
The Scriptures are filled with the cries of the suffering and the groaning of creation. It is the voices of the hurting which the Holy Spirit often uses to awaken us to the just and creative solutions provided by God Himself. These sounds of suffering can break through our walls of indifference so that we become the salt and light that Scripture speaks of.
When the poor and elderly cry out, and the special interests of those profiting from the existing system are disturbed, the police are called out to arrest the ones who are disturbing the peace. If the cries are too loud, the one who is crying out could even be put in a psych ward, in jail or locked up in some nursing home. The goal for many is to keep the cries of the those they have put a low cash value on out of sight and out of mind. Even in the church many desiring to be blessed don’t want someone to stand up in the middle of the worship and cry out, “I am worn out crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal” (Psalm 69:3, 4) see also Psalm 102:19, 20).
As believers we need to ask ourselves what causes the prisoners, poor, homeless and elderly along with the rest of creation to cry out for help. Instead of asking such and declaring war on poverty, it is all too easy for us to join the status quo and declare war on the impoverished. This is done by excusing our indifference, by finding fault with those who are crying out and blaming them for the problems that they are experiencing.
Jesus knew that hearing the cries of the hurting under the anointing of the Holy Spirit would develop a passion within the soul resulting in direct action. He compared such passion, which would ultimately be an enemy of a society which puts a cash value on life, as salt and light. In Matt 5:13-16 Jesus declared, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men (and women), that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Jesus knew that it was critical that believers in the God, who heard the groans of those who have a low cash value placed on them, did not lose their ability to penetrate like salt. This salt was to penetrate the rottenness of the imperial economic system which thrives on a permanent underclass. Jesus tells us we must let our light shine. He knew that the light of our good deeds in this dark world would cause the corrupted imperial cockroaches to run whenever the light came on in the darkness of their evil deeds.
The halls of power don’t want to hear the cries of the poor. Imperial economics is designed to keep people drugged so they do not notice the pains they are experiencing. Their policies are to block out the politics of the denied ones and see to it they do not get the health care and other assistance they need. The religion of those who want to push the poor and homeless out of sight and out of mind is a religion that is a drug of indifference so that no one will be able to discern the misery of the hurting or hear the voice of God given direction on how to respond. This is not the Biblical way. In the Bible when a cry goes forth it is not swept aside or silenced. “Then the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground’” (Gen.4:10).
We feel uncomfortable when we must face the fact that things are not right and injustice is taking place. We don’t like to think that the things we refer to as blessings often come at the expense of great suffering to others. The lack of lament in the worship in church eliminates the questions of justice. As a result issues of structural violence get accepted and legitimized. God’s response is, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from your; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight. Stop doing wrong, learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the cause of the widow” (Is. 1:15-18).
When we stop putting a cash value on life and start responding to the cries of the suffering and the groaning of creation, we open ourselves up so the Holy Spirit can bring forth transformation, renewal and restoration to our lives. The cries of human and ecological suffering are both a sign of judgment and hope. They call the Body of Christ to question the structures of power until they seek God for answers and then by His grace step out in faith to bring about those solutions.
All of creation along with those in need is groaning for the redemption of humanity. As a part of the redeemed may we get quiet before God until we not only recognize the needs around us but also seek Him for creative solutions in response to their cries that are going forth. As we open our hearts and minds to the leading of the Holy Spirit in this culture which constantly puts a cash value on life, we will indeed see the Lord do a mighty work through in us and through us.
Yours in Christ,