A young teacher sits in a classroom and enthusiastically tells the kids how bad mining is for our world. The students all agree and post about it on Facebook. That teacher sits on a chair with metal legs, and a seat made of plastic, derived from petrochemicals. On her desk rests a reusable coffee cup, filled with locally brewed coffee, ground and extracted in a machine made of plastic and metal. The students recline at wooden tables, cut, manufactured, painted and transported using, you guested it, tools, treatments and fuel made of substances that have in some way been dug up. The computers and phones they all use, the building they sit in, and the fixed-gear bike the teacher rides home, speak a contradictory message to the well-worn pantomime that mimics education.
Everything that makes the civilised world work is in some way dependent on mining. Go to a hospital and receive treatment for cancer, a broken leg or dehydration and, all you see and experience, is made possible directly and indirectly from the wealth of the Earth’s riches. Eat food, live in a house, use refrigeration, go to a supermarket, flush a toilet, rely on clean sanitation and you should be saying thank you to the miners (and builders and engineers) who made it possible. Healthy drinking water is dependent on electricity, which regardless of whether it comes from coal, gas and nuclear comes from the ground. Even solar, wind and hydro-electric power stations are constructed from materials. Productive farming methods, from ploughs to combine harvesters, that give us freedom as a society for people to sit around and complain about mining, only exist thanks to what mining has given us.
I do not understand why some Christian people thank God for food and farmers, but not for the other blessings that come from beneath the top-soil. In past generations, preachers felt silenced about talking about sex. Today, if you mentioned the blessing of mining, you might be not be booed down, but you would be blogged against. There are obviously huge abuses of people and the environment in mining, but the activity and concept itself is as much a part of God’s good plan as farming. We shall see in what follows that mining is God’s idea and a good blessing for humanity.
1. Mining is God’s good idea for humanity from the Garden of Eden
God made the world perfectly good for humans and perfectly right for our flourishing. He didn’t put minerals, metals and petrochemicals in the Earth, hoping that people would not find them; and if they did that they would not use them. The paradise of Eden extended beneath the surface of the earth.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. (Gen. 2:10-12)
God saw all he made and it was very good (Gen. 1:31). In Eden, it’s not just the trees that are “good for food”, but also the the gold that is called the same (Gen. 2:9). The gold is good. But who would use it? Presumably people.
Good things can easily be distorted. But there is a tendency for Christian people to go even further, seeing parts of physical creation as inherently evil. When philosophical Neo-Platonism marries cultural Neo-Marxism, mining for fossil fuels, uranium and heavy metals is portrayed as evil. Human hearts can abuse anything, but the created things themselves are good. Calling a good thing evil is a demonic teaching.
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
If Adam and Eve had lived in paradise long enough, they would have mined. Rather than destroying their Edenic state, it would have fulfilled their creation mandate. Mining was God’s idea for humanity.
2. Mining, together with agriculture, is God’s gift to his people in the Promised Land
“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deut. 8:7-10)
Moses described the land of Canaan as a new paradise. The goodness of that land is described, not just in her waterways and trees, but also an abundance of iron and copper. These metals are not ornamental, but are meant for humans to dig out of the hills.
Here we have a helpful and productive parallel between agriculture and mining. Both agriculture and mining are intended as gifts from God.
If God gives a gift, we should be thankful. If a church holds a harvest festival, why not thank God for our electricity and building materials? If we thank God for our food before we eat, why not thank God for the petrol that enables us to drive our cars? If we pray for farmers doing it tough, perhaps we can also pray for miners who face equally isolated and difficult conditions. We tend to beatify one industry and demonise the other. Instead both are blessed by heaven and equally ruined by human sinfulness.
Mining and farming can both be abused by raping the environment or exploiting the poor for the sake of the very rich. The Old Testament doesn’t warn against bad mining practices, but the prohibitions against wicked farming practices then apply equally to mining now: not paying workers or giving them breaks (Lev. 19:13; Deut 5:12-15); robbing other people of their land (1 King 21; Deut. 27:17); and perhaps even overworking the land (Lev. 25:4). If it’s a gift it must used with respect. The prayer book raises this concern for justice in farming and mining.
Give wisdom to those in authority in every land, and give to all peoples a desire for righteousness and peace, with the will to work together in trust, to seek the common good and to share with justice the resources of the earth. (Common Prayer, 35)
3. While the fruits of mining can easily distort our relationship with God, they are not rejected by God in true worship
The riches from the earth breed dangers that come from the human heart: greed and idolatry. Both turn the good gift into a God. Here are just some of the Old Testament warnings:
- False security: “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD.” (Zeph 1:18)
- False trust: “If I have made gold my trust or called fine gold my confidence, if I have rejoiced because my wealth was abundant or because my hand had found much … I would have been false to God above.” (Job 31:25,28)
- False worship: “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ (Deut. 27:15)
- False praise: “And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honoured … And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. (Dan. 5:23,25)
However, the fruits of mining are still welcomed by God in true devotion. As dangerous as these riches can be, they are not eschewed in temple worship. God gladly received as gifts the mining products of the pagan city Jericho.
And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. (Josh. 6:24; cf. 22:8)
And while Solomon’s mines are not mentioned in the Bible, he must have had some sources to his great wealth. His father David gave greatly to the Temple project from the resources of the earth.
So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble. (1 Chr. 29:2)
David’s view was that he was merely returning to God what is his own anyway. God was, as C.S. Lewis said, “six-pence none the richer”. This is the only way to treat a gift from God, whether we use it for his service directly or the good of our neighbour.
For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. (1 Chr. 29:14)
Stones, precious metals and jewels were adorning features of the tabernacle, temple and even the breastplates of the High Priests, symbols of God’s beautiful provision to Israel and their extreme valuing of him (Ex. 35, 39). However even these symbols can, when used wrongly, become snare for human arrogance than results in a fall (Ez. 28:1,13).
4. Mining is used as an image for humanity’s search for wisdom
“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold that they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from the ore. Man puts an end to darkness and searches out to the farthest limit the ore in gloom and deep darkness. (Job 28:1-3)
Job 28 is worth its own study, describing humanity’s effort to mine as one of his ultimate achievements. No animal or bird digs so deep, swings in dark caverns and cuts through rocks, “overturning mountains by their roots.” (Job 28:4-11). Humanity alone goes to extreme limits to find the things that God has hidden.
However the greatest thing God has hidden we cannot fathom.Even though humanity can mine, God’s wisdom cannot be obtained by our human ingenuity and resourcefulness.
It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold […] “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. […] And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:16-17,20-21,28)
Mining is a creation gift, but is certainly not the greatest thing we can find. The simple truths of fearing God and turning from evil are much more precious.
5. The New Creation is painted as if the mineral riches of Eden and Canaan were insignificant compared to what God had planned for those who love him
There might be copper in hills of Canaan and gold near the land of Eden, but the heavenly Jerusalem has gold as bitumen and onyx adorning the foundations of the walls. Her description is more luxurious than the temple itself.
The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx … (Rev. 21:18-20)
This is God’s idea and his gift to his people. New Jerusalem has rivers, trees and beautifully built engineering masterpieces. Old Testament prophecies speak in this language.
Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:17-18 cf. Hag 2:7-9)
In the New Creation, the fruits of the earth, the gifts from the ground will be enjoyed with justice and peace. The gifts that God has placed in the earth will be used properly and for his sake. The end point of the Bible is not an unkept Eden, but as Eden was meant to be: inhabited and settled by humanity, dwelling in peace with God himself.
Mining, Solar Batteries and Us
Imagine if there was a way of storing the sun’s power for later use.
God created it. We call it wood. The Bible sees this as his gift to his people. Burning it provides warmth and light, releasing the stored energy.
But, imagine there was a way that the sun’s energy could be stored even more efficiently, for say, hundreds of years. We call it charcoal and peat. But what if there were other more long lasting, efficient and less polluting ways of storing this power? We call them coal, oil and gas. Humanity has leveraged from one form of power to the next, exploring more efficient and clean sources of energy, enabling us to pass from bronze and iron age, through the industrial revolution, to the use of plastic and electricity, and beyond.
If an Israelite chopped down wood and burned it on a fire, shouldn’t they thank God that their kids didn’t freeze to death? Of course they should.
Coal, which is much more efficient and less polluting than individual combustion stoves, means we can provide electricity, refrigeration and water purification, so that billions don’t die prematurely. Shouldn’t we also thank God for the coal he placed for humanity’s use?
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be looking for other, even more efficient energy sources, but one thing we must not become: ungrateful. God has given us what we needed to provide unparalleled riches, agricultural advances and medical opportunities, as we keep seeking new ways of mining that are more equitable, less damaging and more beneficial to other people.
My opening picture of a teacher at school was a parody, but was it that far from the truth? We rightly want to oppose injustices and irreversible environmental damage, but sometimes throw out the basis of our modern society. We give people two polar options about mining: either big business exploitation or western civilisation self-hatred. The Christian approach should instead be thankfulness and seeking wisdom. More fruitful discussions should be about justice and better resource management. Schools should not be places of ignorance. Arguably, some places should certainly forbid mining, but that discussion is best premised on balancing competing goods. Individual mines and harsh practices should, at times be strongly opposed, but mining per se, which has been such a boon to humanity’s development should be acknowledged for what it has given us.
As adults we must not act like selfish and petulant children, ungrateful for the efforts of others and of our heavenly father’s provision. Most of us would be dead without the things we dig up from the earth.
Do you see mining as a necessary evil or a God-given good?
Mining was God’s idea. In the Garden of Eden and in the promised land it was a gift. Used wrongly, the moral and spiritual pitfalls far out-way even the most dangerous conditions in a shaft-mine. You can only die in a mine collapse, whereas the love of money and idolatry can take you to hell.
However, these resources are sanctified by thankfulness, the word of God and prayer if used for God’s glory and the good of other human beings. The love of money is a root of all evil. However, the Samaritan’s purse paid for a place at the inn, the widow’s copper coin was a demonstration of generosity, and tested gold becomes a pale illustration of faith under trial.
Even more, God’s future plans in the New Creation are presented physically as the result of unearthing hidden resources, richer than Eden, Canaan and the temple combined.
Even though mining is a massive creation blessing from God, there are so many ‘even-more-massive’ ones. Job spoke about true wisdom and Peter speaks about Christ, more precious than perishable materials dug from the earth.
… you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
God is not as embarrassed about mining as 21st Century young Christians. After all, he invented it and gave it to us as we wait for the New Creation. There is an old industry slogan that points out our utter dependency: “What’s mined is yours”. Christians might say instead “What’s mined is his; he gives it to us to use wisely.”