But God promised!
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But God promised!

Rep. John Shimkus apparently never heard the one about the farmer whose land became flooded when a nearby levee broke following a vicious hurricane. Then again, Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who hopes to start his seventh term in January by becoming chair of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, may have heard it, but does not buy its message.

Keeping the faith: One religious perspective on issues of the day The story is a simple one. As the flood waters began to rise, the farmer retreated to the second floor of his home. After a while, a police rescue motorboat appeared in front of his home and urged the farmer to come on board. The man refused. He said he had nothing to fear because God would surely save him. The motorboat left and the floodwaters continued to rise. A second rescue craft was dispatched. Again, the man refused to get on board because God would save him. As the waters began to trickle over the second floor window sill, a helicopter appeared overhead and dropped a rope ladder, but the man would not climb up. God would save him, he said.

Within an hour, the man drowned. When he reached heaven, God was displeased. “You really shouldn’t be here,” He said. “I sent you two rescue boats and a helicopter. Why didn’t you go with one of them?”

The moral of the story is simple. We expect miracles to be Hollywood-style events that come with spectacular special effects and defy nature. In real life, God’s miracles often come disguised as ordinary events that do not defy nature. On the contrary, God allows nature to follow its own course.

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer put it this way: “The world,” said the Baal Shem Tov, as the founder of chasidism is more commonly known, “is full of wonders and miracles, but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing.”

I do not know what John Shimkus sees, but I am certain of what he expects. Put him in the farmer’s position and he too will decline the help of the two motorboats and the helicopter. For Shimkus, who is actively seeking the committee chairmanship and stands a good chance of at least landing the chairmanship of a high-powered energy subcommittee, nothing short of an angel carrying him on an eagle’s wing to safety would suffice.

And that should scare all of us, regardless of party affiliation.

You see, Shimkus wants to halt all federal funding designed to address climate change even though he accepts as fact that the world is getting warmer and that the ice caps are melting at a faster rate than originally anticipated. “Now, do I believe in climate change?” he asked on March 25, 2009. “In my trip to Greenland, the answer is yes. The climate is changing.”

Some time earlier, Shimkus had visited Greenland and saw firsthand what happens when temperatures rise by nearly five degrees in 20 years’ time. He saw evidence that water levels are rising because a warmer planet is systematically eroding the frozen tundra. He came away from that visit convinced that climate change is for real. He is also convinced, however, that no matter how high the water rises, God will not allow the water to flood the land.

He said as much that day in March, when he was but a minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, not just a leading candidate to chair it. God, he told the panel that day, would keep global warming from ever being a serious threat to the world. After all, God said as much to Noah. (Yes, that Noah.)

“I do believe in the Bible as the final word of God,” said Shimkus. “And I do believe that God said the earth would not be destroyed by a flood.”

Shimkus quoted Genesis chapter 8:21-22 in assuring the world that it would never be flooded by the melting ice caps. Said God to Noah (as Shimkus quoted him): “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”

Shimkus then said that this was “the infallible word of God, and [so] that’s the way it’s going to be for His creation.”

“The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over,” the wannabe energy chairman added. “Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. I do believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.”

I, too, believe that God’s word is infallible, unchanging, and perfect (although I am not always certain how to interpret God’s word), but I do not believe that Shimkus understood what God said. True, God did tell Noah that He would never again send a flood to destroy the earth. However, God said nothing about human beings bringing destruction on themselves – by taking their little hands, covering their eyes, and seeing nothing wrong in what they do to God’s Creation.

Shimkus’ point is summed up this way: It makes no sense to spend a dime to prevent the ice caps from melting because melting ice caps and rising sea levels pose no threat; God said so.

At the heart of this is Shimkus’ reliance on miracles.

Judaism warns against such reliance. “One should never stand in a place of danger and say ‘a miracle will happen to me’ because a miracle may not happen….” (See the Babylonian Talmud tractate Ta’anit 20b.) That dictum led the 13th century halachist Rabbi Shlomo ben Avraham Adret to rule that “even the most pious of the pious are not allowed to do their work by way of trust [in God], but only in the manner of the world.” (See Responsa of the Rashba 1:413).

Rather than studying the story of Noah and the Flood, Shimkus should study what happened when Israel stood between the sea and an advancing army of Egyptian charioteers. Said God to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

In this case, going forward meant walking into an unparted sea. God was prepared to save Israel, but only if Israel demonstrated a willingness to save itself.

Let us hope John Shimkus learns that lesson before anyone puts him in charge of energy policy.

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