Cleaning up the mess

ET staff writer
ET staff writer
01 August, 2010 3 min read

Cleaning up the mess

As the biggest ever oil clean-up operation continues, what spiritual lessons can we draw from the Deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

The task there has been made even more difficult by summer season hurricanes that have hit the Gulf, scattering the oil-covered waters further and hindering the massive clean-up operation. Hurricane Alex sent waves as high as 12ft towards Mexico and Texas, putting a stay on BP’s efforts to clean up the oil.

The oil has been spewing from the sea bed, ever since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April that killed 11 workers and injured 17 others.


The prospect of nature’s violence exacerbating this huge man-made disaster has caused immense consternation among Caribbean, Mexican and US nationals, as well as environmentalists and marine biologists.

And the world looks on in bemusement at the degradation of the energy giant who boldly declared in 2001 that it was now ‘Beyond petroleum’ and becoming a greener, cleaner company.

The rig sank in 5000 feet of water, spilling out a 5-mile wide oil slick, before it was discovered that the well itself was leaking under the water – about 1000 barrels of crude per day (bpd). Underwater robots were employed to seal the well, but not quickly or completely enough as the slick spread to the coasts of Texas and Florida, while a third leak appeared, pushing the unwanted flow up to 5000 bpd.

As shares in BP slid on the FTSE100 and tensions mounted politically between UK prime minister David Cameron and US president Barack Obama – the US president hyperbolically likened the spill to 9/11 – a Deepwater worker added fuel to the fire by claiming the well was leaking before the incident.

This admission sparked international uproar and, amid gruesome scenes of pelicans, gulls and other wildlife covered with dirty oil, and the death of thousands of fish, BP chief executive Tony Hayward pulled out of public appearances.


His company faces something like a $20 billion compensation handout to victims as well as a $2.35 billion clean-up bill.

It is perhaps all too easy to point fingers at lax safety and environmental precautions taken by the Deepwater Rig. It was not an old rig – just 12 years old – but, as Mr Hayward admitted, the company had not expected a leak or spill of this magnitude. It simply wasn’t prepared for the big stuff, and, it now appears with hindsight, hadn’t paid enough attention to the little stuff that caused it.

However, there are also spiritual lessons illustrated by this drama. What has happened could be a picture of our own lives, even as Christians, if we don’t take immense care.

Isn’t this the way that sin works? A little crack, a little glitch and, before you know it, what starts out as small ‘leaks’ of sin – thoughts, words; a little winking at sin – can suddenly become a tidal wave of open, outright disobedience towards the God we own as Saviour and Lord.

Sin can explode and expand to devastate not only us, but those around us that we cherish. Before we know it, we are wringing our hands in despair and crying out ‘I never expected a disaster of this magnitude’.

The contagion of unchecked sin, like oil on water, cannot be easily contained or cleaned up. Jerry Bridges, in his book Respectable sins: confronting the sins we tolerate, outlines this point clearly, as he encourages Christians to train their minds in Christ and deal with the little leaks of sin, whether it is condoning gossip, fudging tax returns or lying to people, by remaining silent when we should speak out.

Christ’s power

All the detergents, oil dissolvers, and other expedients being employed in the Gulf of Mexico are having some positive effect, but the clean-up is very slow. And no environmental plan or compensation payment can make up for the tragic loss of human life.

Just so, no attempt to clean up our lives in our own strength can ever be effectual when it comes to rooting out and destroying sin. While the Bible gives us personal responsibility to seek a righteous life (Leviticus 11:44), it also reveals the essential role of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying us. Without him we can do nothing.

Christ as Saviour and Lord is the only one able to ‘cap the well’ of sin that would otherwise gush out uncontrollably (Matthew 15:18-20). Without Christ, our best efforts are nothing but ‘filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64: 6).

For the born again Christian, salvation is secure. As Paul said, ‘death no longer has dominion over him’ (Romans 6:9b), for he has died to sin. Christ has set us free from the power of sin and death in our lives.

But our besetting sins with their tiny leaks can stop us being more Christ-like, and can all too easily turn into a flood. We must go to Jesus to clean up these too – the small ‘respectable’ sins of gossip, wrongful thoughts and tiny lies. What can wash away my sin? Nothing, but the blood of Jesus!

ET staff writer
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