A Biblical view on Climate Change

An alternative report on climate change for synod 2012
The official report on climate change will be submitted to the 2012 Christian Reformed Church Synod meeting in Ancaster, Ont. Given the constraints a church committee works under – having to adhere to their historical confessions and statements of faith – it is no surprise that this well-documented 120 page presentation hits all the conventional buttons.

The result will be that, with little new said, the otherwise excellent analysis will have minimum impact.I suggest an alternative way of looking at climate change and will propose suggestions that better suit the challenging times we live in. Since, in my opinion, climate change is fundamentally a religious matter  – the direct consequence of worshiping the idol of economic growth  – the answer must therefore also be a religious one. According to T.H. Huxley, “It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies.” And so in the article that follows I will put forth four “heresies” which, I trust, will give a different slant to the debate.

Heresy # 1:  We are not only stewards but primarily owners of creation.

On what grounds do I base ownership? Every morning, for close to 60 years – that’s how long my wife and I  have been married – I read a psalm at breakfast time. So I’m slowly getting the hang of them. Psalm 8 tells me God has given us power over creation, “put everything under our feet.” In other words, we are on top, we are in charge. Possession, as the saying goes, is 99 percent of ownership. Psalm 25 says that we will inherit the land. Psalm 115 goes further: “the heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man,” (verse 16).There’s more. For 27 years I have written a daily 400 word meditation on a bible text from the lectionary: 27 x 365 x 400 adds up to almost 4 million words.  Here is an example of my musings: The word covenant plays a large role in scripture. 1 Samuel 18:3 relates how David and Jonathan sealed their covenant by exchanging their clothing, weapons, and even their claim to Israel’s kingship. God did the same with us in Genesis 9. Just imagine: the mighty God, creator of heaven and earth, solemnly agreed that “I give everything I have to you – even my son  –if you give me your heart.” Yes, God gave us the earth and all that is in it.

Heresy # 2:  Demons are in charge.

Meditating on Matthew 4 made me realize that the fallen Archangel now calls the shots on earth and that we sold out to him. How else can I interpret the Devil’s offer to transfer the earth to Jesus if only he bow down and worship him? Jesus doesn’t refute his claim by saying “wait a minute, Psalm 24 says that the world belongs to God.” Of course the world belongs to God, just as the Mona Lisa and Rembrandt’s De Nachtwacht will always be associated with their creators but now have different owners. Jesus tacitly admits that the Satan owns the store. One of my many books is by the late Johan Herman Bavinck (1895-1964), former professor at the Free University in Amsterdam. In his De Mensch en zijn Wereld (Man and his world), Bavinck makes a surprising statement, and I translate: “Something has happened in creation, something we cannot understand, but of which we experience the horrible consequences day in day out. The world is in the grip of demons. Demonic powers have thrown themselves on nature, on humanity, on the entire radiant creation….. It is a demonic world in which we live, of which we experience its terrible result every hour….. The Kingdom has been broken. That is the deep tragedy, now filling the life of the world. That also means that God has surrendered his very own creation to satanic forces.”  That makes sense to me. As a teenager I experienced the European war where I saw Satan’s hand in all the horrors of the Holocaust and German cruelty. People often get turned off by God, blaming him for everything bad: the World Wars, 9/11, etc., but  these are not God’s doing. The follies of Iraq and Afghanistan, the mess in the Middle East, the quest for perpetual economic growth, our cancers and now climate change and world-wide pollution is all Satan’s doing.

Heresy # 3:  The kingdom is the (new) creation.

Bavinck equates God’s kingdom with the cosmos: its plants and trees, animals and humans, sea and earth, mountain and valley, all of which are now in hostile hands – Satan’s latest  attack,  ‘climate change,’ affects everybody. Bavinck also emphasizes that we, as Adam, belong to Adamah, the Hebrew word for the life-bearing earth which will be restored upon Jesus’ return. That’s why we are connected to the earth that carries us and feeds us and will be our habitat also in eternity: not heaven as most churches tell us. Even Time magazine is “Rethinking Heaven.” That the cosmos is the kingdom is also the opinion of Herman Ridderbos when he writes in his The Coming of the Kingdom: “For the kingdom is nothing but the commencement of the new world … which will reveal itself after the catastrophic upheaval of the present era.”We live in a world where upheaval is the (dis)order of the day. In the preface to James Lovelock’s book The Revenge of Gaia: Earth Climate in Crisis and the Future of Humanity I read that “We have driven the Earth to a crisis state from which it may never, on a human time scale, return to the lush and comfortable world we love and in which we grew up.” In Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben writes in a similar vein: “Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We have created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different.”Indeed our world today is well depicted in Isaiah 24, “The earth is defiled by its people; they have …  broken the everlasting covenant.”At work here is GREED. Genesis 2:9 points to “Trees, pleasing to the eye and good for food,” giving priority to the aesthetic over the economic. Satan (Genesis 3:6) reversed the order: “Good for food and pleasing to the eye,” making the economic – greed – more important than the aesthetic. Climate change is the direct result. There is no doubt in my mind that we live in perilous times. As far as climate change is concerned nobody knows the tipping point, the instant when a small change suddenly screws up everything. Due to our prodigious burning of fossil fuels the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is growing super-exponentially, greatly accelerating the rate of change.Already we have melting permafrost, soaring methane release, dying forests, acidic oceans, vanishing ice-cap albedo. These are just a few of the factors at the heart of global climate feedback loops, any one of which could be dangerous but taken all together become a crisis that completely dwarfs the problem of CO2 concentrations alone.

Heresy #4:  We are destroying this world and must prepare for the world to come.

Nothing will keep our world from total self-destruction. Human greed guarantees this: no miraculous universal conversion will come. Our challenge as church members is not to save our world, as Jesus has already done that. What we must do is imagine eternity, dream dreams, see visions and, wherever possible, implement creative ways to live responsibly as earth-owners in preparation for Christ’s return when the renewed earth out of the blue descends on us. It is our glorious task to get ready for this transition so that our entry to perfect life is seamless.

In this late hour that is our radical religious charge. Seminaries true to their root – semen = seed – should train people to sow seeds to prepare God’s people for this glorious future.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer starts his Creation and Fall with the amazing words, “The church of Christ witnesses to the end of all things. It lives from the end, it thinks from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end.” This is perfectly biblical writing taking the cue from Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. The Greek word for “end” is “telos.” Jesus, in Matthew 5, tells us not to act like pagans but to “be telos-minded as I am telos-minded.” The Greek word Jesus used is “teleios,” referring to the perfection and wholeness of the New Creation. It is that sort of attitude that has to rule the lives of us Christians in these last days.

Bert Hielema has translated Roelf Haan’s book, with the Dutch title “De economie van de Eerbied”, published by Eerdman’s as The Economics of Honor. He is the author of The Shortest Day and Day without End, available from Bert@ hielema.ca. His blog is www.hielema.ca/blog.

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