One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.
The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.
Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.
Humans have brought on most of our major disease issues by allowing greed and “survival of the fittest” mentality to govern our decisions about how we use the environment. We waste between 30 and 40% of the food we produce. Poor agricultural techniques and mismanagement of water prevent efficient use of what God has given us. Deforestation and disease go together. Now we are contaminating our atmosphere and filling our lakes, rivers, and oceans with waste.
The title of the Scientific American article is “To Stop Pandemics, Stop Deforestation.” God gave us the “garden” and the tools to manage it. We can’t continue to mismanage it and not see more consequences such as pandemics, global warming, and diseases produced by our failure to do what God called us to do in the beginning.
— John N. Clayton © 2020