Pandora’s Box: A Sailor Puts in Two Cents’ Worth About the Spill

It weighs heavily on all of our minds, but perhaps most especially those of us who live on or near the Gulf.  Some are having flashbacks from Katrina—only this nightmare, unlike a hurricane, has no end in sight, and using the word “recovery” is euphemistic at this point.

The cap has, literally, been knocked off of Pandora’s ubiquitous jar. All the horrors of the world—fear, destruction, ugliness, poverty, greed, deception, and death, in addition to a rainbow sheen and poisonous gas have been unleashed. Even if BP can manage to stop the flow of oil, the damage is done. The earth’s black blood is all over their hands—and ours. While many would like to demonize BP for its risky business practices, the truth of our own greed also stares back at us in the mirror. I am not one to chant Death To America for her “oil dependence,” but I acknowledge the ways in which we are all like Pandora. We open the forbidden jar, we eat the fruit from the tree because we feel we must have more, always more, but we rarely count the cost. BP’s shareholders want a return on their investment, everyone wants to drive their own personal vehicle wherever they desire and fill it with reasonably-priced gasoline, we want the convenience of disposable plastics, and we want to fly all over God’s green earth at a moment’s notice. Perhaps we cannot count the cost ahead of time, but from time to time, we get a foul taste of the consequences of our own pride and greed.

The questions run on without answer: when will the oil stop gushing? What will happen if a hurricane comes and stirs it all up and flings the disaster far and wide? Will the oil enter the Gulf Stream and ruin two coastlines? Will it end up on BP's own doorstep? Will there be anything left of the beautiful reefs we just visited in the Tortugas? Will the fishing industry ever recover? What will happen to all the people whose livelihoods depend upon the Gulf’s waters? Whole states, already teetering on the edge—will they fall into the abyss, never to recover? Will we ever call the Gulf Coast home again?

Of these thoughts I have spent many a night despairing. Foolish the one who reads the news before going to bed—it does not make for a peaceful night’s sleep. After one such night of gloom and doom that left me weepy, my only solace was to pray (what I usually do as a last resort instead of a first response) and so I prayed, sensing the enormity and irreversibility of this man-made disaster.  As is often the case, opening my Bible before going to bed eased my mind (and made me sleepy) and revealed an answer, though not the one I expected.  The first half of Isaiah 9, to which I first opened, addresses the distressed (that would be me and several million others):

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past [God] humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-
 The people walking in darkness
       have seen a great light;
       on those living in the land of the shadow of death
       a light has dawned.

The rest of the chapter goes on to talk about God’s future blessings on Israel (you can read it yourself if so inclined), but, as Isaiah often does, he then speaks of the Messiah—“to us a child is born” who will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” Furthermore, it is foretold that he will “reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” That word “forever” puts everything in perspective. It may seem that I take these words out of context—but the promise for God’s chosen people is extended, by His grace, to those who accept his Messiah. And the message of a messiah is always a message of hope.

Our problems often seem insurmountable; this oil spill is no exception. It may have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. My grandchildren will still be feeling the residual effects of this spill. But is it hopeless? No. When Pandora finally claws her way back to the jar and gets the lid clamped back on, there is yet one thing left inside: hope.

The earth holds her secrets tightly—creatures we have not yet discovered nor categorized, plants that contain pharmaceutical miracle cures, precious stones and useful fuels stored miles below her surface.  We have drilled down beneath even the Deep, tapped into something we don’t fully understand and meddled where perhaps it was better we had left things alone. But if she is anything, the earth is resilient. Life finds a way—even though things shift constantly, and sometimes suddenly, the earth renews itself. It may take time (certainly more time than we mortals have), and the landscape will look drastically different than it did before, but eventually, there will be recovery. The coral reefs that are destroyed will be replaced by something else. Oceans give way to deserts and become oceans again. And let me not neglect to mention the promise that someday, after the cleansing fire, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and a Garden to replace the first. For those with faith to believe it, this is a comfort indeed.