The Problem of Pollution

IN THE LAST fifty years there has been considerable concern expressed about Earth’s environment. Man has been ‘fruitful’ and ‘multiplied’, in fulfillment of God’s command to fill the earth. (Gen. 1:28) The growing world population has called for greater needs to be satisfied, and industrial activity has increased tremendously. Since some of this activity has been accomplished without much regard for the environment, many actively concerned groups have been formed in countries throughout the world, pressing for legislation to clean the air and water. This concern for ecology in the United States has led to the Clean Air Act of 1970, and the Amended Clean Water Act of 1972, as well as the establishment of the National Environmental Protection Agency signed into law in 1970.


A Superfund was created through legislation to require industrial firms to clean up the worst of the conta sites identified in the United States. The cost of cleaning up contamination is staggering. It was heartening to learn of a development started in 1980 being pursued by a group of scientists at the Environmental Chemistry Lab of the Department of Agriculture. This development involves the idea of using living plants to strip pollutants directly from the soil. The progress made by these researchers was reported in an article published recently in the Chemical and Engineering News Journal, from which we quote:

“After a fire leveled part of a forest on a mountain near Palmerton, PA, the area remains bare. Plants cannot grow because of high levels of zinc in the soil, remnants of pollution from a zinc smelter operation in the valley. Covered with conta soil, the area is littered with dead wood and shows little sign of animal life. Restoring it so that once again trees can grow, animals can roam, and humans can enjoy its beauty would take a lot of money using current methods.

“Hundreds of contaminated sites like that near Palmerton exist in the U.S. Current technologies to remediate such sites include hauling the conta soil to a landfill and replacing it with clean soil, chemical immobilization of metals, and leaching metals with acid washes. According to industry sources, cleanups in the U.S. by these methods are estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars. Because of the steep costs, polluted sites usually are cleaned only enough to eliminate the risk of contaminating groundwater or of exposing children to pollutants on surface soil. Such treatments do not guarantee that remediated sites can support wildlife or farming.

“Plants that gobble up metals offer an alternative that may prove better. They could be grown on conta sites, harvested mechanically like hay, and dried. The biomass could be burned to produce ash with a high content of metal that could be recovered. The economic value of the metal and the heat produced during ashing—which could be used to generate electricity or to retrieve the metals—could be enough to pay for the cost of the cleanup.”

The article tells of a remarkable shrub called Alpine Pennycress which has been planted in test plots in Palmerton, PA to remove zinc and cadmium pollutants from the soil. These plants are called hyperaccumulators because of their unusual ability to accumulate ten to one hundred times the concentration of a metal tolerated by ordinary crops. Alpine Pennycress can draw zinc out of the contaminated soil to 25,000 mg. per kilogram of dried plant without injury to the plant.

The researchers in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Sheffield, England, have identified many hyperaccumulators. There are 300 plant species that hyperaccumulate nickel. Others take up copper, cobalt, selenium, or manganese. Some feast on radioactive materials. All of this research is so exciting that what is envisioned is not only remediation of pollution, but also the use of such plants to ‘farm’ metals as an alternative to mining.


What escapes most people is that God, the great Supreme Creator of the universe, has designed plant life to perform such functions as remediation of pollution and potential farming of metals. For many centuries God has been quietly cleaning up the environment by unseen forces—many of these being microorganisms in the soil and water, which we know as bacteria. These are so small that there can be 100 million in one gram of fertile soil. These minute organisms perform a large variety of remarkable tasks such as production of enzymes, photosynthesis, and conversion of free nitrogen and sulfur into amino acids as food for plants.

When raw sewage is dumped into a river for disposal, the water becomes polluted. Bacteria are present which can cause illness to animal life. As the river flows toward the sea it absorbs oxygen from the air essential to sustaining marine life. This oxygen also promotes the growth of bacteria which feed on the harmful bacteria and other wastes present in the sewage, and gradually the water is purified. Additionally, these bacteria when present in the soil absorb harmful components from the air, such as carbon monoxide, and convert these into useful plant foods. Mankind has utilized these bacteria created by God to do a cleaning work and have designed sewage treating plants that convert raw sewage into useful fertilizer and clean water.


Man has faced many kinds of pollution. In the Bible the earliest type of pollution encountered was that of blood and murder. God said to Israel: “Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell.” (Num. 35:34) God was instructing Moses not to defile the Promised Land with blood or murder.

Most of the pollution mentioned in the Old Testament is the pollution of offering sacrifices to idols. Many times such sacrifices were those of children born to be slain in religious rites, as mentioned in Psalm 106:38: They “shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.” These acts were an abomination to God and he will not tolerate such defilements in his kingdom. Nor will he tolerate the crime and bloodshed of present society, because he has promised: “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isa. 11:9) We can be assured that neither will pollution of the environment be tolerated, because such is caused by selfishness and greed. All waste materials can be treated, but such procedures are often circumvented because of the cost for doing so.


We are living in a sick world. It is a sickness unto death which began more than six thousand years ago, and today has reached crisis proportions. The chief diseases which have brought about this crisis are sin and selfishness. Sin is a flouting of the laws of God, and selfishness is an inordinate seeking of one’s own best interests regardless of what the consequences to others might be. Some of the symptoms of these fatal diseases are pride, hatred, and a lust for power which brooks no interference, even at the cost of murder.

Perhaps one of the most vivid descriptions of this fatal sickness of human society is the one given to us by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”—II Tim. 3:1-4

At this time when the earth, the sea, the rivers, the lakes, and the atmosphere are all being polluted by man’s inability to use properly the resources which God has provided for him, we have this worst of all defilements, which is the pollution of the human mind and heart by sin and selfishness. These pollutants have always been abroad throughout the earth, plaguing mankind and the various societies he has tried to create; but now in these ‘last days’ the situation has become acute, for, as we have seen, this disease of sin and selfishness has now reached crisis proportions.

In this ‘time of the end’, when the prophetic increase of knowledge should be providing not only an affluent life, but a peaceful, happy, and healthy one for the people of all nations, in many respects the very opposite is true. Of what value is it to humanity that men can reach the moon, when countless millions throughout the earth are starving, without homes, and in constant fear of being destroyed by poisons which selfish man is spewing into the air, water, and land in his gross misuse of the natural resources of the earth which the Lord has so bountifully provided.

Of what real satisfaction can it be to know that technology has contrived instruments which can fly to Mars, when that same technology stockpiles deadly weapons of war with terrifying potentials of destruction in sufficient quantities to destroy the human species a hundred times over? These paradoxes arising out of human selfishness certainly raise the question as to what the great Creator is doing about this dilemma which has been thrust upon an unsuspecting world.


The present chaos and distress which have come unexpectedly upon the world are not a surprise to the Lord, for there are many prophecies in his Word in which he had forecast such a condition. One of them, presented in symbolic language, is found in Isaiah 24:1-5, RSV, which we quote:

“Behold, the Lord will lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled; for the Lord has spoken this word. The earth mourns and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”

Many times the words ‘earth’ and ‘world’, when used in the prophecies of the Bible, denote a social structure which may exist on the planet at any given time—one of the important parts of which is the people. However, the literal earth is also often referred to in the prophecies, and sometimes there is an intermingling of the symbolic and literal in the same prophecy. An example of this is Psalm 46:6,10, RSV. Verse 6 reads, “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; He utters his voice, the earth melts.” In this verse the earth ‘melts’, but in verse 10 the earth still exists, and God’s name is exalted in it. We quote: “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!”

In this prophecy of the time in which we are now living it is the symbolic earth that melts, whereas the literal earth remains, and by Divine decree to the raging nations, peace is brought to the people, and God’s name becomes exalted among the people. So in the prophecy quoted above from Isaiah 24 we find the symbolic earth ‘twisted’, we find a leveling of all segments of human society, and finally we find a polluting of the earth—and certainly this latter is being fulfilled literally today.


As pointed out in Psalm 46:10, in the Lord’s due time he will say to the raging nations of earth, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This suggests Divine intervention in the affairs of men at a juncture when, if left to their own devices, the sin-sick and selfish people of the earth would utterly fail in their efforts to solve the problems which they have brought upon themselves. Thus, in our approach to the subject, we should keep in mind that the great Creator is still interested in his human creatures, and will deliver them. Man will not be permitted to destroy himself, either by nuclear weaponry or by pollutants. Jesus did say, “Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.” However, he added: “But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”—Matt. 24:22

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