What Dr. Luke has to Say About Deforestation

Wang Jin was a 52 year old farmer.  Last year he lost his farm due to drought, but mostly due to deforestation.  When he was a boy his father wondered if one day the desert would take over their farm.  Sure enough that day came.  Last year he had virtually no crops and he and his family had to move due to the desert coming slowly over the years and destroying his farm.  His father had said years ago they had a lot of trees.  However, they had been cut down and the desert had slowly taken their farm. Now the desert had total control of the farm.  They had tried to plant some trees several years ago but it was too late.

Just as they were moving Wang Jin had listened to a radio broadcast about deforestation.  The man began a long discussion about the loss of trees in China.  He also talked about something else which Wang Jin thought was equally bad or worse than the loss of trees, the desert coming onto their land and the loss of his family's farm.  Listen to what the broadcaster said.

In this broadcast I would like to share with you some of what I have learned about deforestation and some of the problems associated with deforestation.  Deforestation is one of the most serious environmental problems in Southeast Asia, according to many environmental scientists from around the world. In 1982, less than 20 percent of the region was covered with forest and this figure has decreased at an estimated rate of 0.6 percent per year.

On a worldwide scale, tropical forests cover an estimated 900 million hectares, with 58 percent in Latin America, 19 percent in Africa and 23 percent in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Two thirds of the world's tropical forest is rain forest and consists of trees that never lose their leaves. The rest is moist deciduous forest where trees shed leaves annually. Rain forests are wetter, warmer, denser, darker and more diverse than deciduous forests.  Deciduous forests are more open to sunlight and have denser undergrowth. They include monsoon forests in Burma, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Deforestation is a critical problem not only because it depletes a natural resource of critical importance to the people of the region that cannot be replaced overnight, but also because of its far-reaching side effects. Deforestation is a major factor contributing to a variety of other environmental problems, including desertification, soil erosion, flooding, mudslides, siltation and sedimentation, habitat destruction and species extinction, and salt and chemical degradation. It is accompanied by economic, health and social hardships brought about by people trying to live and cope with a drastically changed environment.

Deforestation in Asia is caused mainly by the collection of fuel wood, commercial logging, shifting cultivation and degradation through grazing and fire.

Examples of the percentages of fuel wood cut in some countries, as a percentage of each country's total, include: Bangladesh, 96 percent; Bhutan, 91 percent; Burma, 84 percent; China, 70 percent; India, 91 percent; Nepal, 88 percent; the Philippines, 77 percent; and Thailand, 89 percent.  Demand for fuel wood is far greater than the resources available to meet that demand. Scientists estimated recently that India, for example, needs 133 million tons of fuel wood, but has only 33 million available. Fuel wood consumption in Thailand was 25 million cubic meters, while annual production was estimated to be only 16 million cubic meters. This means that perhaps as much as 9 million cubic meters were removed illegally from Thai forests.

Commercial logging not only depletes the forest resource, but also affects its ability to regenerate. Selectively cutting an individual commercial grade tree invariably damages several trees surrounding it. Logging roads are cut into tropical forests so that tractors and log-haulers can get in and this causes major erosion problems. Changes in the tree canopy caused by cutting alter the forest microclimate and affect the diversity and growth of other trees, low-growing plants and wildlife.

Indonesia is an example of how fast change can occur. Logging increased six fold between 1961-1965 and 1976-1979. During the same period, wood exports increased from 125,000 cubic meters to 19 minion cubic meters. Domestic processing increased from 5,000 cubic meters in 1968 to 526,000 cubic meters a decade later (Caulfield).

One half of peninsular Malaysia's rain forests have been logged during the past 20 years. Some scientists and foresters forecast that the remaining rain forest would be exhausted by 1990 (Caulfield).

An ever-increasing population puts greater pressure on people to clear forests for cultivation because the demand for land no longer lets them practice shifting cultivation on existing lands. Shifting cultivation is the practice of leaving cultivated land fallow for several years to allow it to recover its fertility before being cultivated again.

The same population increase that leads to clearing forests for cultivation also leads to using forests for grazing. This destroys undergrowth and seedlings that replace mature trees cut for fuel wood and other purposes.

I recently read this article Written by Adam Brooks with the BBC; the story is about a small Chinese village and how it is being affected by deforestation.

The Chinese capital, Beijing, has this year experienced a series of exceptionally heavy sandstorms.  The Chinese government blames them on a process of desertification that is taking place across north China.  Chinese leaders are now calling for drastic measures to stop the spread of China's deserts.

A Beijing sandstorm feels like a biblical curse.  An eerie yellow color stains the sky.   A fine, strangely pungent grit burns the eyes and skin.  It coats absolutely everything.

This year the sandstorms have been the worst in living memory and large parts of north China are turning into desert.  The sandstorms are threatening to swallow the village of Longbaoshan. The first of its houses will begin to disappear beneath the dunes in about two years time.

Digging has become a way of life for Li Ming Jiang, a farmer. His house will become the first to vanish under the encroaching sand.  He will lose his apple trees and his modest living.  "The dune was way off over there," he says pointing to a sand hill over his right shoulder.

"But just in the last few years, it has begun to move towards us, very quickly."

The dune crawls closer, by 20 meters, every year. The villagers can only wait and watch as this silent invader creeps down their streets and into their homes.

They say that they do not know where they will go or how they will live.

This is the human cost of deforestation and overgrazing. When the grasslands and forests disappear, the desert begins to move, carried on the wind.

An anxious Chinese government is demanding tree-planting campaigns.  Around Longbaoshan schoolchildren are speckling the plains with skinny saplings in the hope that they will take root and tie down the shifting sands.  There are logging bans too. The government is offering free grain to farmers who turn over their fields to trees.

China's leaders admit publicly that these efforts are not enough.  Across China the deserts are growing by 200 square km every month.  In Longbaoshan the future is forfeit to environmental degradation - and the ever-shifting sand dunes.

When the land is deforested, it reminds me of the coming harvest that is referred to in the Bible.  In the Bible we know that when we die that we will meet a God of Love and Justice.  The best example of Godís love for us is that He gave His one and only Son to pay for our sins and anyone who accepts His son shall not perish, but have life everlasting.  However in this broadcast I want to concentrate on the God of Justice.  If you have not accepted Godís Son then when you receive Godís Justice you will experience Godís wrath. Most people do not want to think of Godís wrath at all, preferring to think and speak of Godís love.

Those willing to accept that God is a God of wrath are sometimes eager for the wrath of God to be viewed as primarily something from a long time ago which has no bearing on today, like a myth. 

An ancient prophet in the Bible called John the Baptist was the last of the ancient  prophets of which the Bible speaks, we almost expect him to speak of divine wrath. But when John spoke of the wrath to come, he did so in relationship to the coming of the Christ. According to Johnís teaching, divine wrath was related to the coming of Jesus Christ  in two ways. First, he spoke of Jesus Christ coming to experience the wrath of God. Second, John spoke of Jesus Christ as the One who would execute the wrath of God.

When John the Baptist first saw Jesus and recognized Him as the promised one, He spoke of Him as the Sin-bearer who was to experience Godís wrath as the ďLamb of God.Ē

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ďBehold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!Ē (John 1:29).

The expression, ďthe Lamb of God,Ē to which John referred has a rich  background in the older part of the Bible.

Here is why the Jesus Christ could say in the just before he was executed by crucifixion, ďMy soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death . . .Ē (Matthew 26:38), and why Luke could tell us our Jesus Christ's sweat at that time became as ďdrops of bloodĒ (Luke 22:44). Who more than Jesus Christ knew the wrath of God toward sin and sinners? Yet He was obedient to the will of the Father to suffer that wrath in the sinnerís place.

One of the most beautiful truths of the Bible for the sinner deserving Godís wrath is summed up by the phrase 'turning away God's wrath.'   This phrase speaks of the satisfaction of Godís holy wrath.

24 Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as turning away God's wrath in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26).

 The first and most obvious implication of this teaching of divine wrath is that sinners desperately need to repent of their sin and place their trust in Christ, who bore Godís wrath for their sin on the Cross. Let me make it more personal. Have your sins been forgiven, or is the wrath of God your fate? The solution is as simple as acknowledging your sin and trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in your place.

Once we have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, we have this confidence:

9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Romans 5:9).

The Bible's teaching of the wrath of God should motivate people to turn to Jesus Christ as their Savior:

22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).

The Bible speaks that Jesus has promised to ďconvict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgmentĒ (John 16:8-11), and thus this message must focus on sin, righteousness, and judgment

The wrath of God is a reminder of the holiness of God and a measure of Godís hatred of sin. Godís. The immensity of Godís wrath toward sin is an indication of His holy hatred of sin. We should hate it as well.

The wrath of God should make us uncomfortable with sin. In addition, we should never forget that our sin resulted in the suffering and agony of our Savior on whom Godís wrath was poured out. To think lightly of sin is to take Christís suffering lightly. To sin willfully is to come dangerously close to crucifying afresh the Son of God (Hebrews 6:6).

 While the wicked may appear to be getting away with evil, they will come under the wrath of God:

16 When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight 17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. 8 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form (Psalm 73:16-20).

Let us take Godís wrath seriously. Let us neither neglect nor conceal it. Let us regard it as a part of the goodness and glory of God. May Godís wrath be an incentive to make us turn to God's love through Jesus Christ through whom we can have eternal life.

The Bible is clear that the wrath of God will come. Sin is simply doing what God does not like.  Further, like the loss of land from deforestation and more deserts taking the land, God's wrath is just as destructive.  Both result from not doing things right. Deforestation and more deserts in China are from poor land management.  The wrath of God is from ignoring God and our sin.  Both can be corrected. Deforestation can be corrected by planting more trees and not cutting so many down.  God's wrath can be avoided by placing our trust in Jesus Christ who already on the Cross took away our sins.

Don't wait and be like Wang Jin.  Don't wait until it is too late to plant trees to help China avoid more desert so it can feed its people. Also, don't wait to confess your sin to God before his wrath catches up to you.  Wang Jin did not.  After listening to several broadcasts he placed his faith in Jesus Christ, gained peace with God and avoided God's wrath. He thus gained an eternity with God through Jesus Christ.