What does the Bible say about overpopulation?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: What does the Bible say about overpopulation? If God can use sin sinlessly, then does God use sins like abortion or murder to prevent overpopulation? Is death the only thing keeping this world from overpopulation? Is overpopulation a concern according to Christianity at all?

Answer: I too wonder what God is up to with the world population. His general intentions show up at the beginning of the Bible: be fruitful and multiply... subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28 ). But I suppose your question is more along the lines of what is he up to now? Let’s explore.

The command from God to fill the earth came before the fall. So I wonder, was God going to expand the borders of the Garden of Eden to accommodate this expansion... and have the non-fallen population of the earth experience Edenic agricultural and Edenic fellowship with God? I don’t know. But without the curse of the fall, making a living and having children would be easier (Genesis 3:17). And without sin, humankind would have cooperated more with God’s intentions. But that’s pure speculation. Our ancestors did sin... and this is the world we find ourselves in.

The Bible tells us that God sent the flood because the world was intractably evil. It needed a reset. (Genesis 6-9)… and a reset would seem to thwart God’s fill-the-earth objective. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe Ministries has an interesting idea about this. He’s done some population calculations, and he believes that the murder rate before the flood was so high that — if left to its people’s own devices — the world’s population would never grow to where humans would live all around the globe. They were simply killing themselves too fast to grow our population like that. This is why God sent the flood. He needed some new spiritual DNA to get that job done.

I think Ross’s idea is interesting. It’s simply extra-biblical. But it is not an example of God using sin sinlessly; it is an example of sin militating against God’s objectives.

The next population-sensitive thing I see in the Bible is the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). This story demonstrates that our species loves to build and live in cities. I’m not sure where God stands on this today, but in my opinion, he was against it back then. The question for you is, did God confound the languages to punish the people for idol worship? Or did he do this so people would be motivated to separate themselves… the result being that groups of them would move across the globe? You be the judge.

As to the latter, I believe that God wanted us to spread to every habitable corner of the globe — and I think we have… but not uniformly. If we did so uniformly, then the world would not be at all crowded. So, our cities are (arguably) overpopulated… but not our globe. If your idea of heaven is an earthly blessing, take heart: this globe will be able to accommodate all of God’s people who have ever lived. I’m not saying that is my view of heaven, but some people hold to that — and there’s room for that kind of heaven on earth.

Although murder and abortion are sin problems, they provide — statistically speaking (and not purposefully speaking) — some relief from overcrowding… but mostly in the cities… so perhaps people living less than optimally in cities cause those sins on some level. The thing we cannot do is say that God causes those sins directly… because he doesn’t. What he has done was given us free will. He lets us make real choices with real consequences. So, although he is the ultimate cause of all things — even evil (Isaiah 45:7) — we are culpable for our misdeeds, not him.

Let me close with three reasons why I do not believe that overpopulation is an issue for Christianity.

First, God created the whole universe so that we might live meaningful lives on earth and enjoy fellowship with him. God knows our proclivities and our limits. He (Jesus) could come tomorrow and make overpopulation a moot point by beginning the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1).

Second, although our cities are arguably overcrowded for reasons other than too many births and too few murders, people regulate themselves individually and corporately. For example, China has a one-child-per-family policy. In developed nations like the United States, people limit the number of children for economic reasons. I grew up in the heavily Roman Catholic region of Central Massachusetts where families routinely had 8 to 12 children. Today the US average is two… yet the RC Church’s stand on birth control has not changed. People change… they adapt… they respond to limited resources and drift away from yesterday’s standards.

Third, advances in science and engineering are leapfrogging, not crawling. In the fictional Star Trek Universe, food is not a problem because they can make it out of other stuff. That is still a far future dream, but we are continually learning more about the universe’s constituent parts. If God wants to keep humanity going for several more millennia, why not with the help of food synthesizers… and why not with the help of other planets? The Bible doesn’t limit us there. And a review of what we’ve accomplished as a species so far tells me that the sky is the limit for us.

Now, we Christians should be good stewards of our planet, and keeping an eye on the population as it relates to projected resources is a basic and prudent idea. That being said, we are guests in this world, not citizens (Philippians 3:20). But just because we have diplomatic immunity (2 Corinthians 5:20) does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the needs of our host. If we did, that would be a lousy testimony. Jesus might want you to save the planet. Use your gifts! But he definitely wants you to introduce him to other people... so keep your priorities straight.

I pray these observations helped you more than they confused you. God bless you.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20220314 Should Christians worry about overpopulation? ).

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