“The number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets” reported the BBC this morning, “increased for the fifth year, rising to 8.5 billion.” That’s a lot: 8 500 000 000.
Such singe-use bags cause havoc, not least because they blow. They litter the environment and clog sewage systems.
My ocean-going brother-in-law tells me that whole areas of the South Pacific ocean are covered with plastic detritus.
Plastic bags break down, but they never biodegrade. As a result, the toxic additives they contain are released into the environment, and ultimately, into me.
And they harm wildlife. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimate that over 100,000 whales, seals, and turtles die every year as a result of eating or being trapped by plastic bags.
Furthermore, they don’t come cheap. My car could drive about 11 metres on the amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag.
Sadly such bags are now part of our lives. It doesn’t take much to switch to multiple use bags which are much easier to use, assuming that they are not pinched by your daughter. You just keep them in your car.
But we are addicted to high-density polyethylene plastic – Christians including. “I don’t use single-use plastic bags because I love Jesus” is not a phrase you often hear.
Such is the problem that our government is being forced to act and from October we will be paying 5p per bag. The initial effect following the ban in Scotland in 2014 showed a 90% fall.
The problem, of course, is theological – it’s our human nature. We may know our action is wrong but our own contribution to defacing God’s creation is negligible – and so we become negligent. Standing in the queue at Morrisons I realise I have left our big bags in the boot, do I go and get them?
The single-use plastic bag is essentially a metaphor for a whole way of thinking – “What difference could I make as a single individual?” It’s probably our most popular excuse for opting out.
But so often God uses the individual, usually the least obvious, to turn the tide, to make a difference. It’s his MO.
Gideon is my favourite. We first meet him cowering in a winepress, threshing wheat. The angel addresses him as “mighty warrior.”
Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’ (Judges 6:15)
But as God’s person, he makes all the difference.
Above all in Jesus. He interprets his death in terms of one single insignificant seed. “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24).
But that one single seed has transformed the world. Above all no other single event in human history can rival the impact of the cross of Jesus. Hardly obvious at the time.
And the New Testament has laid the foundations of our culture far more than we realise, especially in the importance of the individual. For I can only respond to the cross of Jesus as an individual. It’s my choice – no one can make the call for me.
So God honours my individuality, even as I belong. “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another, ” writes the apostle Paul (Romans 12:5).
Which gives me an awesome responsibility, to live as an individual accountable before God. And as a human being I am entrusted with stewardship of his creation.
It is the controversial journalist Brian Wilson who observes: “You may find that making a difference for others makes the biggest difference in you.”