God and climate change
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, NIV)
Last week’s UN climate summit has once again brought global warming to the fore. What was anticipated in the 1980s when I was a geography student is no longer just a prediction: glaciers and ice sheets are melting, droughts and storms becoming more frequent, sea levels rising and corals being destroyed. Revisiting the Alps, I have seen with my own eyes the rapid shrinkage of great glaciers. Understandably, a younger generation are deeply worried about the kind of world they are to inherit.
Can the Bible help our thinking? We had an evening of looking at climate change and the Bible in July - you can listen to that here. After showing how the Bible indicates we should be concerned and do what we can, we got on to the biggest question: where is God in all this? After all, He is the Almighty Creator, totally in charge. What is His purpose in letting man-made global warming mess the planet up?
A key Bible passage must surely be the one quoted above, from Genesis 3. Here, following the first human rebellion, the Lord God passes sentence on humanity. Putting bread on the table is going to be difficult. The blessings of a world given us by God will not be removed, but they will be spoilt; life will always be a struggle.
So it always has been. Former generations faced a terrible struggle with disease of humans, livestock and crops, pests of various kinds, and other natural hazards. Through history, we have used our God-given ingenuity to make amazing advances against these, and have been able to feed more and more people. And yet the curse of Genesis 3 has never gone away. With global warming, it’s as if, having just eliminated other problems, our very success (which has made an industrial society possible) has led to a further one.
Genesis would have us know that God has organised our world to tell us two things simultaneously. First, that there is a glorious and almighty Creator; but, secondly, that there is something wrong between us and Him. We are under His wrath. The natural world will, until Christ returns, always communicate those two things to us. This is because God wants us to realise that He is there, but that there is this broken relationship - so that we will seek the solution He has in Christ.
There is a great deal more to say on this subject from the Bible, and recognising that God has a purpose in this should in no way lead to passivity on our part about climate change. If we take our stewardship of the world seriously and love our global neighbours, we should be concerned, and do what we can.
But the overall Biblical framework should help us look at the mess the world is in - some of it a physical mess - and see behind it the deeper problem of the broken relationship with our Creator. We must keep on with the vital work of making His solution in Christ known.