Is Scarcity a Dangerous Idea?

Dr Robert Zubrin concluded the above presentation at the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention with a passionate address on what he perceives to be the greatest threat to humanity:

How you conceive of the far future will control what happens in the near future. Now people talk about threats to humanity today: global warming, resource exhaustion, asteroid impact, overpopulation, whatever. I don’t think any of those things are the real threat to humanity today. Some of them are issues that need to be dealt with, some are overdrawn, but the real threat to humanity comes from bad ideas.

Humanity did not have catastrophes in the 20th century because of resource depletion, global warming, overpopulation, or asteroids. It had it because of bad ideas and in particular, one bad idea—with a number of variants to it. And that bad idea is that there isn’t enough to go around.

Dr Robert Zubrin, Mars Society, The Case for Space

He explains how World War I and World War II are examples of nations acting on this bad idea—the former being “the seminal catastrophe of the 20th century that sets in motion most of the rest.” We pretty much created hell on earth.

It is simply not true that humanity is composed of nations or races in a struggle for existence over scarce resources—that is a false point of view but nevertheless, if it is embraced it has the capability of causing absolute catastrophe.

Zubrin

In recent years, he has heard scarcity again being given as a reason for an “inevitable” war—this time between China and America. To my relief and delight, he powerfully and succinctly refutes that logic:

Now, this is a false point of view. I mean the fundamental point of view is Malthusian, “There’s only so much resources… population increases, standards of living go down…” In fact, history shows the exact opposite—as the world’s population has gone up, the standard of living has gone up! Why? Because consumption depends upon production. Production is people times technology.

Zubrin

The more people there are, the more inventors there are, and inventions are accumulative—that is why people create resources. There’s no such thing as a “natural resource”, there’s only natural raw materials. They are turned into resources by resourceful people.

Zubrin

It’s not that we’re gonna get oil from Mars, it’s that we’re gonna disprove a fallacy. We’re gonna disprove this fallacy that there’s only so much to go around—that there’s a roof on the Earth. There’s not a roof on the Earth—Earth comes with an infinite sky and it’s wide open. And that’s The Case for Space.

Zubrin

Serendipitously, The Bible Project also discussed scarcity in their recent video on generosity.

Creation is an expression of God’s generous love. He is the host and humans are his guests in a world of opportunity and abundance.

Dr Tim Mackie, The Bible Project, Generosity

While this was God’s intention, they acknowledge it’s often not how people think and act.

The story of the Hebrew scriptures [claim] that our “scarcity” problem isn’t caused by a lack of resources. Rather, the problem is our mindset that God cannot be trusted.

Once we are deceived into that mindset of scarcity, we can justify the impulse to take care of me and mine before anyone else. That leads to envy, anger, violence and a world where it seems like there is not enough.

Mackie

Now, I’m excited that Zubrin encourages going to Space to “disprove this fallacy that there’s only so much to go around” but I’m even more excited that for thousands of years God has been working on proving that there is more than enough for everyone, as Mackie goes on to explain. Unfortunately, the the nation God initially engages doesn’t get it and become another example of war resulting from the idea of scarcity.

[The Israelites] act like [the land of abundance] is all theirs and like there is not enough. It leads to war and Israel’s self-destruction.

Mackie

Thankfully, God is more persistent than us and made his surprising next move—poetically, giving us the most generous gift of all, himself, in Jesus.

Jesus lives with the conviction that there is enough. And that our generous host can be trusted. His mindset of abundance allowed him to live sacrificially and generously even towards his enemies.

Mackie

Despite personally experiencing poverty, Jesus viewed the world differently:

[Jesus] would say things like this: Look at the birds. They do not store up food for themselves, yet they have enough. Or, consider the wildflowers. They are beautiful and abundant. And they do not stress about their existence. And you all should live that way, too.

Mackie

Jesus encouraged us to follow him in trusting in God’s abundance.

That is why he said things like, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” Or, “Do not worry about your life.” He is inviting us to live by a different story. One that is built on trust in God’s goodness and love.

Mackie

However, change takes time.

Jesus knows we are all hopelessly deceived by this lie that there is not enough.

Mackie

We need to expose that lie, reforming our thinking to make this world less hellish and more harmonious for all.

So, that is what Jesus was doing when he gave us the gift of his life. Jesus’ death was the ultimate expression of God’s generous love.

Mackie

We are all called to live in the light of this, whether that be building rockets to Mars or simply through our hospitality to those around us.

Yeah, and when you believe there is enough, you start seeing opportunities for generosity everywhere. With our time, money, and our attention.

Jon Collins, The Bible Project, Generosity

Coleridge: transformation through participation

I spend days working on this video for Gospel Conversations as transformation through participation really resonates with me and the more times I watched Sarah unpack Coleridge’s, This Lime Tree Bower My Prison, the more I got out of it. Brothers and sisters, I hope you find it as edifying as I have.

When we make—whether that be a cup of tea, whether it be a meal, whether that be a sculpture, whether that be poetry—we are participating in that great act of making in the beginning of Genesis.

Not just participation but transformation!

God makes the world anew, even as we participate in it.

Dr Sarah Golsby-Smith

Living in the Light of the Future: Universal Restoration and Practical Theology—Robin Parry

Robin‘s final talk in our [Hope and Hell conference] series explores perhaps the most significant question of all: “How does a belief in universal salvation influence my life and service in the world—including things like evangelism, counselling, and taking funerals?”

Robin is a pastor as well as a theologian, and he brings a wealth of practical experience to this huge question. Does universal salvation mute the gospel and just make us melt into a kind of uncritical pantheism? Robin argues that universal salvation, far from muting our voice in the world, amplifies our voice, and the many ways through which we can bless the world.

Tony Golsby-Smith, founder of Gospel Conversations

This podcast episode was originally published on PodBean.

Does Christian Universalism take God’s holiness seriously enough?

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole world* is full of his glory.

* His glory doth not only appear in the heavens, but through all the world, and therefore all creatures are bound, to praise him.

Isaiah 6:3, 1599 Geneva Bible with their footnote

The Bible reveals that God’s holiness is so seriously awesome that it eradicates all evil, which brings forth the wholehearted praise of each and every being/creature that ever exists—the only type of praise befitting God. This glorious telos is progressively revealed throughout the Bible—culminating in Christ’s ministry, atonement, Temple/Church, and return. The Bible Project does a brilliant and succinct job explaining this in their 6 minute summary:

God wasn’t content to leave the cosmos in an unholy mess and revealed in Isaiah that He spreads His holiness by removing iniquity and atoning for sin:

He touched my mouth with it and said: Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.

Isaiah 6:7, CSB
God’s holiness purifying Isaiah. Image from The Bible Project’s Holiness video.

Ezekiel unpacks this further, with the image of God’s holiness flowing out of the sanctuary—the “Holy Place”—of the temple, bringing life and healing to the desert and eventually, even the Dead Sea (the Lake of Fire cf https://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/lake-of-fire.html).

And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

Ezekiel 47:12, ESV

Jesus’ atonement—removing iniquity and sin—fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy. Holiness in the form of life and healing flowed out of Jesus during his earthly ministry, beginning to fulfil Ezekiel’s prophecy. He continues bringing life, healing, and hope through his people—the Church, the ultimate Temple (Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:4-5, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Tim 3:15, John 7:38).

Life and healing flow out of Christ’s Church. Image from The Bible Project’s Holiness video.

Finally, Revelation 22—drawing heavily on Ezekiel 47:12—reveals that Jesus (“the Lamb”) completes the fulfilment by imparting life (v2), healing (v3), and flourishing (v2) to all sinners. I say all sinners because up until this last scene, the “nations” in Revelation were those opposed to God, who ended up in the Lake of Fire but God’s holiness will overflow and transform even that “dead sea” as Ezekiel 47:8 foretold. In this way, God eliminates Adam’s curse and everyone comes to delight in following and worshipping him (v3).

Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him.

Revelation 22:1-3, CSB
God’s holiness overflowing into all the cosmos. Image from The Bible Project’s Holiness video.

The last pages of the Bible end with a final vision about God’s holiness… And in his vision we see the whole world made completely new. The entire earth has become God’s temple. And Ezekiel’s river is there flowing out of God’s presence, immersing all of creation, removing all impurity and bringing everything back to life.

Rev Dr Tim Mackie, co-founder of The Bible Project

The Story of Salvation: A Narrative Theology of Hell—Robin Parry

Photo of Robin Parry giving talk

In this third talk of our Hope and Hell conference, Robin paints a sweeping picture of the story of salvation beginning with creation and ending with the eschaton. He then poses the significant question—which fits best into this picture—hell or universal salvation?

This talk is quite awe-inspiring—not because it advocates universal salvation (which it does) but even more because it stretches our horizons beyond individual redemption into the purpose of the cosmos. In developing his theme, Robin draws heavily on the magnificent Patristic fathers and their grand conception of the irresistible goodness of God. 

Tony Golsby-Smith, founder of Gospel Conversations

This podcast episode was originally published on PodBean.

Hermeneutics and Hell: Biblical Interpretation and Universal Salvation—Robin Parry

Universal Salvation raises the critically important question of how we read the Bible—or ‘hermeneutics’. That is what Robin covers in this talk. He sweeps us through a big landscape in three succinct waves—each bigger than the one before.

First, he confronts the foreground question of biblical texts—and he makes the point that everybody has problems here. How do we reconcile God’s love with his omnipotence?

He then moves onto slightly broader terrain—we need to read texts in their context BUT the meaning of the texts will often be bigger than even the author intended or realised.

Finally, he finishes with a new horizon of interpretation—the future. He talks about the ‘trajectories’ of the biblical canon, which stretch beyond themselves for future generations—like ours—to articulate. He uses the development of the doctrine of the Trinity as an example.

Tony Golsby-Smith, founder of Gospel Conversations

This podcast episode is also on PodBean and is the second talk from the Hope and Hell Conference.

Universal Salvation: A Whistle-Stop Introduction—Robin Parry

Tony introduces Rev Dr Robin Parry by explaining what Gospel Conversations is all about—expanding our view of God and that means inquiring into mystery. The best way to inquire is to firstly map out the landscape of a debate and see where it takes us—and that is exactly what Robin does in this marvellous talk. He gives us a birds-eye view of the long debate over universalism.

But he goes further—and he gives us a map to navigate the territory. He defines what universalism is and is not. He explains the different pathways that have led many orthodox Christians to consider it seriously—Bible, patristics, experience, and ‘gospel logic’. This takes a lot of confusion and heat out of the debate and gives us a clear view of the topic. But it also hints at a bigger view of God, and a broader view of Christian thinking. Robin gives us the gift of years of learning and thought in one hour.

Listen to the podcast episode:

The slides for the talk are available here. This is the first talk from the Hope and Hell Conference.