Last Sunday at our Easter Service I shouted from the pulpit “He is risen!” and the congregation roared back, “He is risen indeed!!” This Sunday I plan on shouting “It is dying!” and inviting the church to respond, “It is dying indeed!!” Okay, maybe I won’t do that... but if I did it would be because I care a lot about the environment.
I do not, by any means, live out this care perfectly. I waste too much food, drive too many miles, and forget my reusable grocery bags on my way to the store. But I am trying. We bought a compost bin that sits behind our house for composting food, paper towels, dryer lint and much more (it’s AMAZING how much you can compost and how quickly it breaks down).
We installed solar panels so that our home creates more electricity than it consumes (we looked for a home with a large, south-facing roof). We also installed enough panels so that when our electric car arrives it will cover that usage too. And a couple of months ago when I turned 40 I had a birthday party idea that thrilled me but in the end I scrapped it because the carbon foot print would have been too big. Again, not perfect at all, but trying.
And I don’t think the reason that I care so much is because I grew up in a farming community and therefore have some special connection to the earth, at least not primarily. I don’t think it’s because my family spent vacations hiking in the Rocky Mountains or canoe camping through Quetico.
I believe that the primary reason that I care about the environment is because I'm a Christian, and caring for the environment is literally on the first page of the Bible. In that very first chapter of Genesis God gives us 2 clear commands; have sex and take care of the earth. And I am personally committed to keeping both of these commands.
But here is the problem; while many of my Christian brothers and sisters are down with the birds and the bees of the bedroom – often the real birds and bees aren’t as much of a concern (though they are both vulnerable to climate change).
And so, as we approach Earth Day there are two things I wanted to address for a moment. One, that global warming is real. And two, that no one should be more concerned with this than men and women who affirm the authority of The Bible.
Global Warming is Real
Global warming is real – there is no doubt about it.
The evidence is indisputable – the earth has a fever and the fever is rising. Average global temperatures made 2016 the hottest year on record. Before that, 2015 was the hottest year. Before that, 2014 was the hottest year. In fact, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record for our planet have happened since 2000.
But rising temperatures aren’t the only evidence. We also have higher sea levels, retreating glaciers, shrinking ice sheets, decreasing snow coverage and warmer oceans. This is more evidence than we need. All of the professionals who analyze the data say the exact same thing – global temperatures are rising.
Beyond that, 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are most likely responsible for at least some of this rise in temperatures. They believe this because of the carbon fingerprints they see everywhere. Basically, we’ve been burning things for a really long time here on earth, significantly so since the Industrial Revolution, and when you burn things inside of a bubble, like an atmosphere, things get hotter.
Now, no doubt, our blue planet has been resilient in the face of all this burning. The air has carried part of the load and the ocean has done an amazing job gobbling up CO2 – but if you keep on burning, eventually something has to give.
Imagine one of those cute snow globes with a family in a living room with a Christmas tree. Now, imagine that behind that Christmas tree is a tiny little mouse, and that tiny little mouse starts a tiny little fire. At first, you won’t notice anything – it’s just a tiny mouse with a tiny fire – the snow globe will be fine. But if that tiny little mouse lets the fire grow just a little bit and keeps it going for 250 years, eventually that snow globe is going to heat up a bit, no matter how small the mouse and his fire are.
That is what we’ve done. Our fire started small but it has grown over time and now that it has been burning for 250 years our glorious snow globe is starting to warm up. And with that warming come all kinds of problems.
Christians Must Care
The fact that the planet is warming up is something Christians must care about.
I suppose there are a lot of reasons why Christians would be compelled to care about global warming – I want to explore two of the most obvious:
First, Christians must care about global warming because Christians are called to care for the poor.
It turns out that even though the rich have done most of the burning, the poor will be the ones to suffer the most as temps rise. Just a few examples:
- When rising temperatures bring droughts or fires that destroy crops, therefore driving up prices for the small yield left behind, it is the poor that don’t have the resources to buy expensive food which leads to hunger and malnutrition among the poor.
- When rising temperatures reduce water supplies people without the resources to travel further to find clean water or to purchase clean water are left with three options – go thirsty and die, drink unclean water and risk sickness and possible death, or steal water and risk being arrested, injured or killed in the attempt.
- When the devastating effects of heat waves and other natural disasters are exacerbated by rising temps the poor are least able to defend themselves against those effects. They may lack air conditioning to allow them to escape the heat or may not have stable shelters to protect them in a storm.
- When there is a lack of clean water or access to viable land for food production people and states are motivated to use force to try and secure all the resources possible. Therefore, the poor are also made vulnerable to state conflict, civil war and essential migration in a way that others are not.
Unfortunately, we could go on at some length about the increased vulnerability of the poor to global warming because the threats are everywhere, but I hope the point is clear from these short samples. As temperatures rise, the poor will suffer.
It’s worth interjecting at this point that based on the teachings of Jesus, Christians that ignore the plight of the poor are in danger of hell. So, if global warming is a threat to the poor of the earth and Christians ignore global warming because of political allegiance, or perhaps worse, because they don’t want to disrupt their own proclivity for comfort, convenience and/or luxury – then I guess the appropriate response is, ‘damn them’.
So for the sake of the poor and for the sake of our own souls, Christians must care about global warming!
But there is a second reason why Christians must care and that is because the Bible tells us to. But this is where things get confusing.
The Bible is clear – God created the earth and gave humanity responsibility for gardening it. Yet there are many Christians who not only ignore global warming, but who actively deny or argue against it. Why is this??!!
I believe there are two primary answers to this question and I believe one of them is political in nature. There is some strange connection between conservative Christianity and the oil industry that I honestly don’t know enough about to speak intelligently on. So I am going to leave it and perhaps someone else can connect the dots.
The second reason is bad theology. And this one I would like to address for a moment because our bad theology is destroying both our planet and our reputation.
There is a belief among many Christians that the end of this cosmic story is that things on earth get really, really bad, the whole world will be going up in smoke, and when the chaos reaches its climax Jesus will return riding on the clouds, we will meet him in the sky, and he will whisk of off to heaven while the earth behind us drowns in flames.
This belief, of course, leads to the conclusion that caring for the environment is not important. If the inevitable end of this planet is destruction, why would we bust our humps to save it? In fact, for some Christians this belief actually makes them glad to see the earth falling apart – because that means Jesus will be back all the sooner!
This is REALLY bad theology – and bad theology leads to bad practice. Here’s the truth:
God isn’t going to destroy this world, he’s going to redeem it!
I could write or talk for hours on this point but let me just point to 3 quick passages that should help us think about this.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
If you know this passage Paul basically says that when Jesus returns those who are alive on the earth will rise up to meet him in the clouds. This has been understood by many to mean that Jesus will descend from heaven to earth, stop at the level of the clouds, the righteous will fly up into the air to meet him, and then he’ll whisk them away to heaven. You know – ‘I’ll fly away oh glory – I’ll fly away!’. That’s Christian escapism… and that’s bunk!
On this text N.T. Wright is brilliant, and I would point you to his book ‘Surprised by Hope’ (not just for his writing on this passage but the whole book is wonderful). But to paraphrase Wright, Paul never says that Jesus will take them away, and any suggestion in that direction has missed the point.
In the days of Paul’s writing, when a king or ruler was coming down the road toward a city under his authority the people of the town would never wait for the royal to get all the way to the city gates before welcoming him. Instead, they would run out to meet him on the road and usher him in.
And that is what Paul is suggesting – that when Jesus returns we won’t wait for him to get all the way to his kingdom, but we will meet him in the air (ie – meet him on the road) and then turn with him and usher him into his kingdom. Why? Because his ultimate and final kingdom won’t be off in another dimension, it will be right here, only remade and redeemed.
This also fits well with what John writes in the Revelation – that in his vision he saw a new heaven and new earth (think remade) and he sees the new Jerusalem descending, coming down and invading this world that we are in. Again, not taking us away, but heaven invading this world and transforming it, which Jesus inaugurated.
This also fits with how Jesus taught us to pray. That our prayer should be that God’s kingdom would come and that his will would be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. Jesus said that we should pray that what is real in heaven becomes real on earth - that the realities of God’s kingdom would invade and transform the realities of this earth.
There is so much more, but all of it leads to the same glorious conclusion – that God did not create this brilliant earth, call it good, only so that he could burn it to the ground at the end. No, he’s going to do to this world what he has done for us. He will give us resurrection bodies that are new and remade, but while are still rooted in the bodies we have now (think scars on Jesus’ hands in his resurrected body). And like that, the earth will be remade and transformed, but it will still be rooted in this earth, this world, in this glorious creation.
And all of that leads me to one final and fantastic conclusion – that God cares a lot about the environment, and that we, his gardeners, should be doing everything in our power to care about it and for it too.
And so just a few ideas that you might consider, though there are a million small but significant steps you can take to help:
1. Look into solar energy so we don’t have to keep burning coal to light our homes and keep our food cold.
2. Check out geothermal for your heating needs, rather than burning oil or natural gas to keep warm.
3. Eat less beef – I won’t go into it here, but those cows are doing some crazy damage.
4. Bulk order from Amazon – don’t order a box of paper clips alone which requires it’s own box plus someone to drive a van to your home to deliver it. Save up items in your cart and buy altogether so they can package and deliver them using less resources.
There are so many ways to are and so many ways to garden – my only hope this Earth Day is that those who carry the banner of Christ will take up our responsibility for creation and lead the way.