Are You a “Banana Person”?

A couple protesting air pollution on their wedding day.

In “suburban language,” a “banana person” is a person who wants to “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”

I bring up the matter of building things in view of some controversial projects in my neighborhood. In order to bring wind power to markets where electricity is really badly needed the Rock Island Clean Line electric power transmission line is proposed. Activists are protesting it. Also, in order to bring crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and ultimately to oil refineries as far away as Texas the Bakken oil pipeline is proposed. Activists are protesting that too. A wind power project is proposed for Lincoln county in South Dakota. Activists oppose it. The Hyperion oil refinery proposed to be built near Sioux Falls, South Dakota will not be built. Activists were victorious. (Hence the opportunity to build the Bakken oil pipeline!)

When you pull your car up to a gas pump and fill the tank you create demand for oil pipelines and oil refineries. When you switch on the air conditioning at home you create peak demand for electric power which usually comes from burning natural gas–delivered by pipeline. Then the electricity is sent over transmission lines nobody wants to see to your location. If you depend on reliable electric power for hospitals, flood control, and other vital needs then you create demand for baseline electric power from sources such as coal, hydro (dams) and nuclear energy from refined uranium. When the Uranium is depleted of its energy then it goes. . . well, “temporarily” into a pool of water at the generator site (think Fukushima) since nobody can agree on where to store that waste or how to safely ship it anywhere.

Some people abhor all the negative consequences of using energy, yet blithely fill their gasoline tanks, crank their air conditioners, and expect world-class healthcare, etc. Obviously, I have a problem with that. Sure, I too regret and dislike ugly transmission lines, leaky oil pipelines (with consequent fire risk and pollution of aquifers), etc. But I also recognize the tremendous benefits these also bring.

To help put this in context I’d like to explore the numbers related to the consumption of gasoline in the United States. In the paragraphs below I show that the gasoline we use (just gasoline–not counting diesel, propane, natural gas, electricity, etc.) gives us a tremendous amount of energy that we are dependent on for the food we eat and much more.

In 2013 the U.S. consumed 134.51 billion gallons of gasoline. The population of the U.S. was about 300 million. That works out to about 450 gallons of gasoline per person per year, or about one car’s gas tank filled-up per week per person in the population. But that also means that 369 million gallons of gasoline need to be refined, transported to gas stations, and sold in the U.S. every single day. It takes a little over two gallons of crude oil to make one gallon of gasoline. Let’s just say two gallons. That means 737 million gallons of crude oil have to be shipped, piped or otherwise delivered to oil refineries every single day. A single rail tanker car holds about 30000 gallons. That means, if all oil travels by rail, 24567 tanker cars per day. A train might have 100 cars. That is about 250 trainloads of crude oil per day. I’m sure we would prefer that most of this goes through pipelines instead–if it must be transported at all.

What crude oil does not get made into gasoline gets made into diesel, aviation fuel, asphalt, etc.and shipped out to the population. All this happens quite invisibly, yet our daily lives depend on this flow of crude oil, gasoline, and diesel etc. (e.g. keeping the grocery store stocked) Sobering isn’t it? Even if we cut our driving, flying, purchasing in half in order to cut crude oil consumption in half, the numbers are still staggering.

Gasoline contains about 35 kWH of energy per gallon. (it varies a bit depending on processing and additives. The 35 kWH/gallon figure might be a bit optimistic, but 32 kWH would be about as low as it might go.) Putting this in terms of horsepower, that’s the work of 50 horses for one hour. (OK, actual horses vary in their ability to do work, but those are the numbers and they are ballpark reasonable. Most horses actually cannot produce a full “horsepower” for a meaningful amount of time, so the numbers are optimistic.) So our national annual gasoline consumption works out the the equivalent of 768 million horses working 24 hours per day. But real horses only work 8 hours per day, so we need 2.3 billion horses just to replace our gasoline consumption. That’s about 7.7 horses for every living person in the country. Let’s just say 8 horses per person–and that only replaces gasoline. We would still need to replace diesel, aviation fuel, electricity, natural gas, propane, etc.

Cleaning up after 8 horses per person makes pipelines and rail tanker cars look pretty good I’d say! Not to mention trying to feed and stable all those horses!

The Bible mentions that the Earth has been placed under the dominion of people–all people, not just Christians. (Genesis 1:28) and that it “groans” under the effects of sin (Romans 8:22). As much as I would like the earth to be in some way perfect (would that be “100% natural,” or “pristine?” That’s a debate in itself.) I realize perfection is impossible. We as humans will contribute to the groaning of the Earth. Sometimes we are reduced to choosing the lessor evil, such as pipelines, rail tankers, or gasoline shortages.

If you are inclined to protest the building of new oil refineries, pipelines, electric transmission lines, and more, please be sure you are prepared to live with the consequences. It is not fair for you to drive or fly to a rally in Washington DC to protest an oil pipeline for example. Get on with life without using the products produced by the infrastructure you are protesting. All that said, there is a place for protest. The couple who choose to protest extreme air pollution by wearing gas masks on their wedding day may be heroes. Protest raises awareness of issues that are getting out of control. The protection of the environment in the United States (at least) has much to do with the effectiveness of protests of pollution. It is unprincipled protest that I’m protesting here. It is protesting before any damage has been done (or can reasonably be predicted) that I’m protesting. It is a nostalgic vision of a “100% natural” unblemished-by-sin world that I’m protesting. Minimizing the effect of sin is what I’m advocating.

As for me, the risks of oil pipelines are what I’d prefer compared to rail transportation of oil. The reduction of gasoline consumption is something I’d like too, but like most of us, I consume my fair share of gasoline and can’t seem to figure out how to significantly reduce that, even though I drive an electric car most days. I’m not one to have protested the oil refinery proposed for South Dakota, the Rock Island Clean Line project or the Bakken oil pipeline. I do however support pollution controls and maybe more of them. I support wind power realizing that this will kill some birds and that windmill blades make an annoying noise for several miles around them. (So do freeways!) If windmills eventually cause serious problems for birds, I’ll reconsider.

How do you decide what you support and what you protest? I hope and expect you are not a “banana person.”

Thanks to my daughter, Naomi, for an exchange of Facebook postings that prompted this blog post, and to my daughter Kim who prompted me to add links to show my sources.

Photo credit: HAP/Quirky China News/REX.

Comments are closed due to excessive spam. Find me on Facebook if you wish to comment. Log into Facebook, then use this link:

The Neutrality of “Things” and Technological Obedience

Guest Post: Anthony Maule, Class of 2014 Engineering Graduate

Editors Note: This post was written for an assignment in Engineering 390 “Technology and Society” at Dordt College during the 2014 spring semester. Thanks to the student for agreeing to let us post his reflections.

I came across an interesting quote as I read a chapter from Exercising Our Worldview (Chapter 10: Values and Things) by Professor Adams. The quote is from The Banner, by Rev. Mark Tidd and reads, “Nothing that God created or that those who mimic his creative power have produced by bringing form out of substance is intrinsically evil. Things are things. The thing has potential for good or evil, depending on the handler’s use or abuse of it.” I believe there is definitely something to the claim made by Rev. Tidd, but I also feel that his claim is missing a critical element.

I do agree with Rev. Tidd, things are things. No “thing” is intrinsically evil. I do agree that the issue of neutrality does not lie in the object, but rather in the user’s handling of the object. Considering this, I believe that the claim made by Rev. Tidd is lacking one very important aspect regarding the handler’s use of the object. Rev. Tidd is right to make the claim that, “the thing has potential for good or evil…” however I would contend that all “things” produced by man lend themselves towards either an obedient use or disobedient use. That is not to say that something that lends to an obedient use cannot be used in a disobedient manner, but rather to say that all “things” produced by man lend themselves to a primary use that is either obedient or disobedient. The user can choose to use any “thing” in an obedient manner, however the point that I am trying make is that some “things” are harder to use for good than others. As we consider this idea let’s consider the idea of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy in itself is neither good nor bad, but when harnessed to make a bomb it becomes very difficult to use the energy stored in a nuclear bomb for God pleasing, obedient purposes. The problem lies not in the nuclear energy stored in the bomb but rather in the fact that the bomb lends itself readily to disobedient purposes.

This idea that some objects and technologies lend themselves better to an obedient or disobedient use has serious implications for us as Christians both as designers of technology and also as consumers. Much of technological development in North America is economically fueled. That is to say, if it sells it will be produced. As consumers in the free market we are able to decide whether or not to purchase a product and also what kind of product to purchase. As we look to purchase and use technology we ought to take a normative approach to purchasing much the same as we should to design. By thinking through the various aspects of a product prior to our decision to purchase we are casting our vote. By purchasing, we as consumers are telling designers what it is that we feel is important in a product or technology. Therefore rather than solely focusing on the role of the designer in producing responsible technology, we should also analyze the role of the consumer in purchasing responsible technologies. The problem with technology is two-fold in that there are problems in design and also in consumption. As we consider that all objects can be used either obediently or disobediently and that some objects lend themselves better to obedience than others we must seek to limit the ways in which an object can be used disobediently through design and encourage designers to do this through the responsible consumption of products that seek to accomplish this. As a human activity, technological development is something that we as humans are called to engage in an obedient manner. As a result of this responsibility and call to obedience we are to seek to develop and use technologies to glorify God and not ourselves. In order to develop technologies in a way that glorifies God we must approach this problem from both fronts by engaging in technological design as Christians, and also by evaluating the need for technology as consumers.

Work, Vocation and Management

Guest Post: A Class of 2014 Engineering Graduate

Editors Note: This post was written for an assignment in Engineering 390 “Technology and Society” at Dordt College during the 2014 spring semester. Thanks to the student for agreeing to let us post his reflections.

In the past, philosophers have argued that the best way to live in this world is to live a contemplative life. A contemplative life involves considerable time to meditate and think about life, but it often does little to serve others in a valuable way. For this reason, Martin Luther could not reconcile with medieval philosophies which denounce a life spent working as being a lower calling than a life spent in contemplation. This led Luther to denounce monastic vows because they encouraged people to pull away from the world. Contrary to such vows, the cultural mandate shows that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to work it and to keep it. Thus, work is a calling that we as humans made in the image of God should embrace as a means to unfold creation.

A positive view of work is characteristic in the writings of Luther and Calvin as well as many publications by the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II referred to work as a “divine intent.” He went on to say, “Man tills the earth to bring forth fruit and to make it a dwelling place for mankind…in so doing he is revealing the design, which God revealed at the beginning of time, to subdue the earth and perfect the work of creation.” At this point, one could argue that the story of Mary and Martha disproves the importance of work, since Jesus rebuked Martha for working feverishly while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Calvin rejects that notion while acknowledging that it is more important to spend time growing closer to Jesus than to work. This acknowledgement that it is more important to grow closer to Christ than to work does not devalue the importance of work. Rather, it demonstrates proper perspective, showing that we must seek Christ above all else while recognizing work as a God given calling to develop His creation.

In addition to Luther, Calvin, and the Catholic Church, secular culture also has developed certain connotations of what life is like when one is without work. Numerous comic strips and television shows have depicted people who have lost their job as “letting themselves go,” no longer seeing their personal value without their work. On the one hand, this reinforces the notion that work is an important part of what makes us human and contributes to our self-worth, but on the other hand, we must be careful not to let our work define our success.

A distinction between work and vocation must also be made. While work is useful and necessary in order to provide for one’s family, vocation is defined as the thing that we are called to do. Perhaps someone will use their work as a means to make their vocation possible. An example is a man who simply transports items for a living, then spends his extra time arguing certain political beliefs that he holds to strongly. His work does not directly perform the thing that he is passionate about, but it provides him with the means he needs in order to fulfill his vocation. Ideally, our work and vocation will match closely, allowing us to use our skills to serve our neighbors and the Lord, but it is possible that work could be a means to fulfill our larger calling of vocation. Proper appreciation for the importance of our work as well as our vocation is critical as we consider current and future employment opportunities.

Having established that work and vocation are an important part of being human, let us now consider how workers ought to be treated. If the primary question that an employer considers to be of importance is “How can one, as an employer, get the most out of its workers?” then he or she will likely find little success. Since the “scientization of work” in the days of Frederick Taylor, much effort has gone into determining the best way to be productive and keep employees happy. While Taylor worked ceaselessly to plan out the entire work process into the most efficient process (literally describing the best way to shovel for example), this approach of maximizing efficiency is not the best for promoting the satisfaction of employees.

As noted earlier, much work has gone into studying how to make workers satisfied and productive. One study noted the Hawthorne effect—workers who have choices about their work environment will be more productive, regardless of the environment itself. Another study promoted by Robert Levering states that building a relationship and trust between employees and the employer is the best method to encourage employee satisfaction. However, some employers fear that trusting their employees to be responsible for their own work will cause a drop in productivity. In reality, the best companies to work for—those that trust their employees and give them the freedom to act as humans by exercising intellect in the choices they make—are roughly twice as profitable in terms of earnings per share.

Therefore, the golden rule seems to be extremely appropriate within the workplace. By promoting workers to flourish and act responsibly to reason through their own work, companies can promote employment that does not dehumanize its workers. In addition, this type of employment gives satisfaction to the worker, causing low turnover rates, low absenteeism, and high satisfaction which can lead to productivity. The question should not be how an employer can get the most out of its employees, but how an employer can best make its employees prosper. If this is the question that employers seek to answer and if employees see work as legitimate calling that is part of being human rather than a mere necessity to survive, both the employer and the employee will be in a situation to prosper.

In the Image of God

Author: Professor Kevin Timmer

When asked, “What does it mean to be created in the image of God –to bear God’s image 16(Gen 1:26, 27)?” my engineering students often identify their creativity or their ability to reason as sure signs of God’s image. These are also traits that John Dyer identifies with God’s image in his recent book on technology: “From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology.” While I agree that our rationality and creativity may be part of what it means to be made in the likeness of God, I believe that anchoring our understanding of image bearing in our abilities can lead to several problems. One such problem manifests itself in Dyer’s book resulting in a weakened understanding of our call to develop technology. By focusing on our creativity for example, we can mistakenly suggest, as Dyer does, that every creative act is a reflection of God and therefore brings honor to him. (Dyer 73)  According to this line of thinking, designing effective ways of dispersing serine gas exercises our creativity and is therefore fundamentally a God-like activity, even though the results are horrific. This is a contradiction and it can lead us to view our design of technology as an inevitably lukewarm endeavor, having some good characteristics as well as some bad.

I believe a far better understanding of what it means to bear God’s image is put forth by Douglas John Hall in his book “Imaging God: Dominion as Stewardship.” Hall argues that being made in God’s image is less about describing what we are and more about helping us to understand what we should be doing. He details a biblical basis for claiming that we have been created to be God’s representatives by bearing or reflecting God’s image to the rest of the creation, including our neighbors.  In light of this, everything we do is either an obedient or a disobedient response to God’s call to reflect Him in all things. There isn’t any lukewarm or neutral ground. Our creativity and rationality are not the essence of what it means to be created in the image of God but are gifts from God that enable us to exercise dominion over creation in our role as loving stewards. We are not just called to be creative; rather, we are called to be obedient. It is through perfect obedience to God that we bear His image, revealing Christ, the perfect image bearer (Col. 1:15), in and through the things we do.

Thankfulness: A heart-shaping habit

This year, instead of giving something up for Lent, I gave thanks. I know that the practice of giving something up for Lent is not really a “reformed” thing to do, so before I share my reflection on giving thanks, let me explain why I practice Lent.

People often seem to think that the purpose of “giving up” for Lent is to create in themselves the feelings of loss that God must have felt watching His Son suffer and die. But, as Dordt’s chaplain reminded us at Good Friday chapel this spring, God is not the Passion-week character that we are supposed to relate to. With this in mind, while we can (and should) remember his suffering, it seems absurd to try to evoke His feelings in ourselves through our actions. The reason that I observe Lent is that doing so provides a physical reminder of the ever-darkening road that Jesus’ disciples (the Crucifixion-drama characters that we truly identify with) walked as their Palm Sunday dreams of a conquering Messiah were crushed by the cross of Good Friday. Observing Lent reminds me of the path we walk and of the spiritual weight of Easter morning.

Now, back to the “giving thanks” part; this year I came up with something that I was thankful for each day of Lent. The rules were simple: no duplicates during the six week period, more specific is better, and missing a day meant that I had to remember the day and come up with something specific after the fact (surprisingly difficult, actually!). To keep myself honest I kept a list and shared it with my family regularly. Early on I wondered if I would struggle to find new things during the later weeks, but it turned out to not be difficult to find things that I was thankful for…there are so many blessings – coffee, sunshine, hugs, encouraging words, swimming pools, rainy gray mornings, the list goes on and on – that we never stop to be consciously thankful for. However, the thing that most surprised me about this Lenten practice was the attitude change I saw in myself during the season. As Lent progressed I noticed that my attitude about things I didn’t like was more positive, and that it was easy to find ways to encourage and praise my students and colleagues. I wondered if this was coincidence, but after Easter I stopped disciplining myself to come up with (and write down) something I was thankful for each day, and being positive began to get harder again.

In his book “Desiring the Kingdom,” Jamie Smith observes that our habits are liturgies of practice and as such they shape our hearts’ desires. My experience with thankfulness seems to me to be an example of that shaping. As Christians (and especially as Christian engineers!) we work toward the renewal of God’s kingdom here on earth, and a central piece of that calling is to love our neighbor. In the globally-connected world we have many neighbors and loving them can mean many different things. However, at the center of the multitudinous ways to love is the recognition that all of our neighbors bear the image of God. This practice of thankfulness has helped me see that likeness a little more clearly.

My experience with this thankfulness practice also reminds me that small habits can make a big difference in the orientation of our hearts, and this leads me to ponder the question: what other habits should we be developing that will shape our hearts for Kingdom service?

Already… and Not Yet… (Principle 5)

Authors: Justin Vander Werff and Joel Sikkema

We have worked our way through four principles that arise from a biblical Creation-Fall-Redemption paradigm and directly affect our engineering work. We might view the first principle as the foundation, with the second, third, and fourth principles rising out of that firm foundation. Continuing with this imagery, our fifth and final principle might be thought of as a cloud that encompasses the middle three principles but then extends far above and beyond them. The principle is:

We live in the already and not yet of Christ’s kingdom.

What we are trying to recognize here is that Christ has already begun his reconciliatory work. Although the effects of sin are all around us, Christ’s kingdom is already here. However, the full consummation of Christ’s kingdom is not yet here and will not be realized until His second coming. What the fully consummated kingdom will look like is largely speculative, since God reveals little to us in His Word regarding these specifics. However, 2 Peter 3:10 and Colossians 1:19-20 seem to teach that our current existence will be preserved and renewed in some way, shape, and form (see further explanation in our 2013 CEC paper). We believe that a proper understanding of the final consummation is immensely rewarding and challenging for the Christian engineer. Although we can only speculate on specifics, Christ is certainly using us to accomplish His work, and our day-to-day engineering work is part of His plan.

We want to be careful to not press this issue too far, however. God’s Word is clear and deliberate in presenting Christ as the one and only reconciler again and again (Romans 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Ephesians 2:16, for example) and nowhere do we see humans called to such a task. We, as humans, are not little “saviors,” rather we are entirely dependent on Christ’s saving work. If we lose sight of Christ as our redeemer, then our engineering work loses its meaning. The big narrative becomes disjointed fragments with far less significance if we do our work selfishly for our own benefit, or even only for the good of our neighbor. We must recognize that our work is part of our grateful service for Christ’s saving work and the continuing sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives.

So, there you have it: five overarching principles that arise from a biblical worldview and should have a profound effect on our work as engineers. We hope and pray that in the years ahead we can challenge ourselves and our students to apply these principles in order to grow in our understanding and obedience to Christ in our daily walk and work. What do you think? We’d love to hear from you if you have any comments or suggestions related to applying these principles or refining them to better equip Christians who serve in engineering!

Suffering from sin … it’s not just a human thing (Principle 4)

Authors: Joel Sikkema and Justin Vander Werff

We’ve recognized the ultimate purpose for creation, figured out the role of engineers in it, and then put on restraints to distinguish that we’re not the ones who do the saving. Now, maybe we’ve moved too fast. How can we focus on developing and keeping creation when there are so many things that are already messed up to begin with? Let’s address this question with Principle 4:

Our sin caused creation’s suffering. We have a responsibility to ease suffering by engaging the human and non-human creation.

We agree, the world is messed up. All of it has been corrupted by sin and that’s our fault. All of it? Our fault? Let’s dig into these statements. Genesis 3 describes humankind’s fall into sin. We commonly recognize our sinful nature by recalling Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. But, sometimes we forget that sin didn’t stop with humans—it permeated all of creation! Read Romans 8, which states, “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” and “the whole creation has been groaning”.

Recognizing that sin has messed up the world, what should we do? Ultimately, we look to Christ’s second coming, which will complete His eradication of sin once and for all. In the meantime, we see a directive to ease sin’s effects wherever we are able. There are various biblical examples of this obedient service, but we’re civil engineers, so let’s talk about King Hezekiah. Times were pretty ominous during Hezekiah’s reign. It was clear that the Assyrians were going to lay siege to Jerusalem in the near future. Like today, in biblical times siege=suffering. So what did this king who “trusted in the Lord” (2 Kings 18:5) do? He alleviated this impending suffering by building a tunnel to provide a siege-proof water source for Jerusalem. Of course, alleviating suffering isn’t just an engineering task; consider the actions of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) or the establishment of deacons to help care for the poor (Acts 6:1-6).

Although Christ is the one who will ultimately eradicate sin, we certainly have our work cut out for us today!

We Are Creatures (Principle 3)

Authors: Justin Vander Werff and Joel Sikkema

Okay, we’ve reflected on God’s glory and sovereignty over His creation, and we’re also aware that we have a direct mandate from God to develop and care for His creation. Next we need to carefully consider our status as God’s servants in this mix, which leads us to our third principle:

We are creatures…always finite, currently sinful.

This principle is short and simple, yet profoundly important. There are two important aspects of our “creaturely-ness” that we explicitly state in this principle, our finiteness and our sinfulness, and we want to take time to consider each of them.

Finiteness: Often times when we think about what we will be like in the new heavens and earth, with sin removed, we like to think about ourselves being transformed into little “gods.” We like to think that without sin we will know everything, be able to do everything, be in control. This vision of our perfect selves is not biblical. The biblical narrative clearly shows that God, the Creator, created humans, the creatures. Indeed, humans are the crown of creation, as we read in Psalm 8, and we have a unique creaturely role that is established above the non-human creation. However, we never were and never will be on an equal playing field with God. Related to science and technology, our finiteness means that we cannot “know” creation beyond our human experience with creation.

Sinfulness: Of course, we are not only finite, but in the present era of God’s redemptive story we are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). Because of our sin we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We cannot look to a salvation that comes from our own ingenuity. Rather, true salvation comes only through Christ’s reconciling work, and we as humans can only hope to be His obedient servants in His ongoing work. We do continue to exist to give God glory, but the worship that we direct toward our Lord and Creator is corrupted by pride, selfishness, and idolatry.

Considering our call as engineers, we always need to remember that designs that spring from our minds and works that our hands create come from finite, sinful creatures. There are certainly limits to our understanding, and accordingly we must exercise humility and caution in our engineering.

Developing and keeping creation—at the same time (Principle 2)

Authors: Joel Sikkema and Justin Vander Werff

Our first principle stated that God created the world for His Glory. Recognizing this ultimate purpose for creation, we’re left to ask: what is our role? We’ll offer an answer with Principle 2:

God gave us dominion over creation and instructs us to develop and conserve it (at the same time).

This statement contains two important concepts: (1) our place in creation and (2) our instructions of how to interact with it.

Our place: Humans are the crown of the Lord’s creative work. Consider the words from Psalm 8:5-6:

You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.

Reading this verse, it is clear that our place in creation is different from the other creatures he created. We are image bearers, God’s representative on earth. However, although we have dominion, the creation is not ours. It is the Lord’s. Recognizing that we have been tasked with being caretakers (or stewards) of the Lord’s earth, it is clear that our task to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28) carries a lot of responsibility. We find guidance for this responsibility in the principle’s second half.

Our instructions: At times we have wrongly equated dominion over creation with exploitation—we think the creation exists solely to serve us. This one-sided relationship does not fit with the truth that all things in creation (not just humans) exist to magnify God’s glory. We find a different set of instructions in Gen. 2:15, where God instructs Adam to both “work” and “keep” the creation. At first glance these, this two-fold task appears to pit dueling calls against each other. Do we develop and work? Or do we keep and preserve? There aren’t easy answers to these questions, but we can conclude that we cannot in good conscience exploit creation for our own self-centered purposes. However, we also cannot put creation up on a stand and say that it is best that our sinful human hands don’t touch it (Adams, 2002). Instead, we need to look for opportunities to repair humanity’s relationship with creation that has been broken by sin. Such that, when we take action to work or develop the creation, it enables the natural environment to flourish and bring glory to God. No doubt, this goal of interdependence with the creation is difficult to achieve. But if we find these opportunities, we find new ways for Christ’s glory to shine through all of creation, not just us.

God created the world for His glory (Principle 1)

Authors: Justin Vander Werff and Joel Sikkema

As introduced in the first part of this series, we have been working to develop a set of foundational principles that have specific implications for our work as engineers. The first principle is:

The world (and everything in it) was created for God’s glory.

To borrow a phrase from the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q&A 3): God made us and all things “for his own glory.” This recognition must be our starting point. Paul’s wonderful doxology in Romans 11:33,36 reminds us:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! … For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

We echo Paul’s resounding “Amen!” All of creation comes from God and is sustained by God and is directed towards God. When we say “all of creation,” we include the developed creation that continues to unfold around us through engineering means and methods.

What does it mean to keep God’s glory first and foremost in our engineering work? Sometimes we use this idea as a cop-out, thinking that it doesn’t really matter what we do as long as we do it for God’s glory. We want to guard against that sort of mentality, as we feel it is an intellectually “lazy” approach. We absolutely need to think carefully about being obedient in everything in which we are engaged. However, all too often we forget to enjoy and appreciate the praise that technological artifacts give to our Creator. God created the potential for the amazing engineering advances we witness today; He is the one that deserves the praise and the glory! As Charles Adams wrote in 2007:

We need to explore and develop our understanding of technology in light of God’s Word. Then one day we will be perfectly comfortable in paraphrasing the psalmist in Psalm 19 and saying: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the pump proclaims the work of His hands.”

Failing to keep God’s sovereignty in perspective lets everything get out of whack. In the next few posts we will dive into biblical principles that help us keep our focus firmly directed at the glory of our great God.