I wrote a post last week titled “Pandemic as Dress Rehearsal, discussing how the pandemic is really a test of how we will respond to the challenges of a changing climate.” A friend of mine who shares my Christian commitments wrote back, “Now, in next column, tell us what are a few Biblically correct ways to respond to the frightening facts you put before us today!” This is my attempt to do so. I don’t claim to speak for all Christians by any means, but rather of the biblical convictions that are formative for me.
I would begin in response, that I believe we are called not to live in a “spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind” (2Timothy 1:7). It is one thing to confront frightening facts (or hide from them which I believe is one species of fear). I believe living in and acting out of fear thwarts our capacity to live with power, love, and a sound mind.
Power. Often this is seen as a bad thing, and certainly can be. However if we understand power as agency, or even better, as vice-regency with God in the care of his creation, this means we’ve been given capacities to act for good or ill in the care of creation. Sadly, we have often understood our dominion over the creation as license to exploit it. If, however, we see creation as a trust from God to be cared for, cultivated and developed for the flourishing of humans and other creatures, and conserved for those who will follow, we will act differently. A principle of gardening is to put as much (or more) into the soil as you take out, and it will keep feeding you. In our changing climate, we do not need to surrender to fear or hopelessness, because to do so would be to surrender our power or agency to care for God’s world. Scripture? Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 begin to address these matters. There are things to be done to address build-ups of greenhouse gasses and the effects these are already having. But how ought we do them?
Love. The greatest command to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:30-31) summarizes the ethic of a Christian, with the other commands elaborating how we do this. It seems to me that we cannot love God without loving what he has made. It is sad that I see many Christians spending more of their time fighting about how God created than devoting themselves to love his creation. We cannot care for places or people well without loving them. Do we recognize their intrinsic worth, whether the trees of the Amazon rain forest or the people living on islands or coastal regions facing inundation from rising sea levels. Often, sadly we only consider the economic, extrinsic worth of so many things (and people) and how they may enrich those of us with more access to wealth and power.
Love means love of the soil, of rivers and oceans, of the tiniest creatures of earth and the rarest. If we believe God made them all and that not a single sparrow if forgotten before God (Luke 12:6), then the extinction of a species surely grieves him and is a loss to the fabric of creation, weakening it and rendering it less lavish and full. Loving means we will take steps to care for those whose lives are ravaged by extreme climate events–shelter, food, and for those from other countries who lose their home or livelihoods, a welcome to find these among us, as challenging as that may be. Mother Theresa spoke of doing “small things with great love.” There are a thousand small things we may do from our dietary choices to the vehicles we drive that may be done with love. Both cows and cars are significant factors in contributing to greenhouse gas buildups. I can also envision technological interventions implemented lovelessly. These will not be good.
Sound mind. There is no other creature that devotes the energy to studying everything from genomes to galaxies that we humans do. As Ecclesiastes 7:25 say, there is something in us that wants to search out “the reason of things.” I’m struck in Paul’s encouragement to Timothy that he speaks of a sound mind. Elsewhere, in Romans12:2 he speaks of a renewed mind. Christians are to live contrary to those who accept whatever their “itching ears” want to hear. They believe there is such a thing as truth that may be distinguished from falsehood. No wonder that science grew up in a Christian atmosphere that believed both in our abilities to observe and study the world’s phenomenon, and to search out the truth about them through rigorous processes. We have great need for those with soundness of mind not only in science but among those who develop technology, who model data, who develop public policy, and who seek to skillfully marshal public support for the changes that need to be made.
Beyond all this, I believe we need to live as people of hope. My pastor preached this past Sunday on Jeremiah 29 which includes this passage:
Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
Jeremiah is writing to exiles in Babylon. This should ring true for all of us who Peter also calls exiles (1 Peter 1:1,2:11). We live in hope of a better home. It might be easy to become indifferent and say “let it burn.” Jeremiah tells people who are tempted to indulge false hopes of a quick return home to build homes and gardens, have babies and grandbabies and seek the peace of the city of their exile. That is how they live in hope. For us, caring for our home and seeking its peace prepares us for our new home, the new heaven and earth. No matter what happens to our climate (and I believe things will get worse before they get better), our care of creation reflects hope, not that we will bring a new Eden on earth, but rather in some dim way prepare for the new creation to come.
Faith. Finally, this is an uncharted journey for all of us. But we are not the first to take uncharted journeys. Abraham gets that honor, for leaving his family in Haran to go wherever God would take him. The scriptures say, “Abram [Abraham] believed God and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). And God kept his promises to Abraham to give him offspring, land, and to make him a blessing to the nations. Someone has said that what matters is really not the size of our faith (a mustard seed is enough) but the size of our God. Another friend observed that the big question of the Bible is, “is God good and can we trust Him?” I believe within the next generation, we will face serious tests of faith. Will we trust that the God who did not spare his own son will bring us through?
So to my friend who suggested I write this, here is my humble and far from complete reply. Whole books have been written about this (and I should probably write a post listing some of them!). Surely my friend and many others may add to what I’ve written, which I welcome. It is an important conversation I believe we need to be having about how then we shall live in these times.