I remember preaching for a Combined Churches’ Pentecost service a few years ago. Amongst other things, I spoke of the Spirit’s presence, stirring and brooding over the creation as it found shape and purpose under the articulation of God.
I then asserted the charge of the gospel to care for God’s good earth and, at that point, a couple of my ecumenical colleagues laughed out loud.
This, in a rural community shaped by weather and climate, by the availability and scarcity of water, by many farmers’ willing engagement in environmental options and the angry intransigence of a minority.
Is it possible we can believe that our discipleship has nothing to do with the care of the world in which we live? Have we made “salvation” so much about the heavenly rescue of an individual that we have missed the biblical imperative that we are part of God’s creation and God’s history – a creation and history which it is God’s intention to restore?
All too easily we apply weight to one aspect and neglect the other. We can (we must!) proclaim a God who desires to restore every human being – and the creation in which all of us are held.
It is when we attempt to hold both of these faithfully together that we comprehend the challenge of what it means to bear witness in a world where the creation is under extraordinary stress. Scripture is bookended with the wonder of creation and the new creation; these images are not decorative, they are proclamation about our God, our world and our place within it.
As the drought began to break, there was a call from some in our community that we should no longer be farming cattle because of the impact of methane in the atmosphere. There are graziers who battled to keep their breeding stock alive during five years of drought, and to hear that must have been almost unbearable.
People in rural communities have been addressing the changes in the climate for years, even decades; the incoherent and ill-informed utterances from a few invested politicians are a false measure of the significant transformation in farming practices which have been undertaken.
When we speak of caring for God’s good earth, we are mindful of the land of which we are stewards, and the people whose stewardship is in their blood and bones. We must address the climate crisis before us; we cannot ignore those whose lives are woven within it.
It is not only our rural communities, of course. We have heard and seen the immediate destruction facing our neighbours in the Pacific; what does it mean to love God and to love these neighbours, as we love ourselves? Rescue from drowning islands may well be the necessary functional response to this crisis, but how does it address the deeper issues of justice and honouring those whose voices we have so long ignored, or patronised?
And what of those first voices, whose stories of creation and stewardship are millennia older than the ones we hold in scripture? How shall we honour them, and pay attention as the earth and all its creatures cry out for justice?
The escapism of some aspects of Christianity is understandable but leads us up a dry gully. There is no hope there which speaks to discipleship here, but only avoidance of responsibility.
Diminishing our role for this place, this life, dismisses the worth of each person as they work and live and serve and save and worship. We are called here. We are disciples here. Our lives bear witness to the reign of God, proclaimed in Jesus Christ – on this earth.
Our Basis of Union affirms that Jesus Christ became flesh; in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, God has reasserted a claim over the whole creation. This is not only about a God who says yes to life for each human being, but a God who acts in hope and love for all creation.
The new heaven and new earth celebrated in the penultimate words of scripture are a charge for every disciple of Jesus about the inherent value of each of us – and the creation of which we are an intrinsic, eternal part.
As we wrestle with the vital transition to justice for our earth and all its creatures, our discipleship reminds us of the promise of life which is held for us in Jesus Christ. This hope is for each of us and for the whole creation, formed under the Word of God, in whom we find our life.
2 thoughts on “A New Climate”
Thanks, Simon. Well spoken. Let those who have ears, hear.
Hi Simon thank you for this reflection. Why would ecumenical colleagues laugh out loud about the charge of the gospel to care for God’s good earth? This situation reflects the theological schism within the churches between those who see the mission of Christian faith as reconciling spirit and nature and those who insist on the alienated obsolete dogma that keeps spirit and nature separate.
There are deep cultural problems of eschatology (theory of history) raised by this schism. What we could call ‘alienation theology’ has dominated the church since the dawn of Christendom. Expecting it to change quickly is unrealistic, and indeed requires a whole new reformation that reconciles faith and reason, religion and science.
Your excellent question about making “salvation” so much about the heavenly rescue of an individual that we have missed the biblical imperative to restore the integrity of creation well captures the problem – there is simply not enough dialogue within churches about the meaning of salvation. Individualism has become a dominant modern myth, failing to properly recognise that human existence is inherently relational.
Pope Francis advanced this debate in Laudate Si by calling for care for nature and humanity within what he called an integral ecology. The subtext is that Christendom theology does not care adequately for nature, and as a result also fails to care for humanity.
Adding to your comment that “Scripture is bookended with the wonder of creation and the new creation” it is important to note that the explicit symbol of this bookending is the tree of life. The fall from grace is described in Genesis as separation from the tree of life, and the reconciliation of all things in the Apocalypse is described as the return of the tree of life, growing on both sides of the river of life. The mysterious sense of cosmic integration in this Biblical vision can be a great source of hope for an ecological Christian faith.
Rev 11:18 says the wrath of God is against those who destroy the earth. This message should be a call to reflection and repentance by those who continue to insist that Christianity legitimates a doctrine of the separation of spirit and nature.