So I meant to do a blog post on the topic of how the global warming narrative stacks up against the gospel narrative. I originally timed it for publication between Easter and Earth Day. Well, it turned into five blog posts and now it is so like not even Easter on the liturgical calendar. Suppose I got excited. Anyhow, I’ll be posting this series throughout the week. And yes, it does reflect a bit on my experience as being part of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, but nothing here necessarily reflects any official position of Y.E.C.A. whatsoever. Just my own thoughts that I want to contribute to public discussion.
- Part 1: Climate Science 101
- Part 2: The Gospel
- Part 3: Gospel > Global Warming
- Part 4: Good News: Reasons #1 and #2
- Part 5: Good News: Reason #3
#1. The gospel gives us perspective on a complicated world.
There is a curious theme in mainstream climate activism rhetoric I have picked up on, having to do with the relationship of the climate movement to other social movements.
The argument goes like this: if we do poorly, then climate disruption will likely exacerbate current race issues, economic issues, ecological issues. Even worse: if we fail to save the planet, there will be no more race, no more economy, no more ecology. Therefore, we, the climate activists, who are working to save the planet, can objectively claim our issue is the ultimate issue. Our vocational call is of the utmost importance, moreso than even calls to serve our families or serve our churches.
This argument honestly infuriates me to no end. I might not make a lot of friends in the climate activist circles saying this, but I think we need to approach this with a tad more humility. Even if the logic works itself out, and it very well may, it does not work to build bridges with those who we need to build bridges with. We’re trying to save the planet, but they’re trying to establish a world worth saving. Our struggle is not inherently more important than theirs.
In a Christian context, again, the ultimate conflict of the ultimate narrative of all time has not been seen in this or that social issue, but rather reached its climax in the passion of Jesus Christ.
In a Christian context, the moment we start talking about global warming as the ultimate narrative, we are guilty of committing idolatry. Not idolatry in the sense of golden calves or whatnot, but the sense of taking something that is not God and ascribing to it God’s moral authority.
But when we talk about global warming as something under the Lordship of Christ, we can put even ecological catastrophe in perspective. We are given a measuring stick which with we can evaluate competing values and priorities and decide the best course of action. The results may be humbling. We may realize climate action looks a bit less like electric cars for the rich and more like mass transit passes for the poor. We may realize that at the root of the climate crisis is not fossil fuel consumption or technological failure, but rather characteristics of a fallen humanity like greed and pride.
In addition to putting global warming in perspective, the Gospel also gives us a framework that is more useful, more beautiful, more true for talking about the issues of climate change than, say, neoliberal economics. With the gospel placed first, we are able to effectively criticize the Caesars of the 21st century, Caesars like the fossil fuel company ExxonMobil, the world’s largest corporation valued at $400 billion and (using methods similar to the tobacco industry before it) has effectively gotten us dependent, addicted, to their product. Not that ExxonMobil is pure evil – far from it – but that we have to learn how to give to this Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
Putting the Gospel first not only allows to see these competing priorities in perspective, but it also lets us see how all these issues connect to each other. Some years ago I was on a mission trip to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What I expected to see was the devastation wrought by a storm that had possibly been supercharged by global warming in the oceans, what I experienced were the race and poverty issues deep in New Orleans culture that Hurricane Katrina had brought to the surface. What looked like global warming from a weather map, looked like Jim Crow from the street. Taking a step back and looking upon this catastrophe from the perspective of the Gospel, I can now call it out for what it really is: sin.
Seeing how these social issues are connected to each other by being rooted in the dark reality of sin, we can take a kingdom approach to climate action. Following Jesus, who consistently opted for those on the margins, we can move forward on saving the planet in a manner that neither ignores nor burdens the poor in their plight.
Since I started as a faith-based climate activist, well-meaning Christian folk have asked me questions such as: “If I truly want to love my neighbor, would it be better to work in a homeless shelter or to replace my lightbulbs?” (To which my gut reaction is “uhh…both?”) But they have a point. I individually cannot drive my Prius (I don’t have a Prius) on a thousand road-trips around the nation and therefore save the planet. To love neighbors through climate action in a way that brings measurable results, the climate action has to be collective, has to address systemic issues.
So, when I get the “lightbulb” question, I usually swallow my gut reaction and say: “If you want to love your neighbor, then go to the homeless shelter. But if we want to love our neighbor, we must take climate action. And if results are what you are concerned about, then it will be cheaper if we do it immediately.”
Another question I get from those well-meaning Christian folk is whether or not I think climate change is a distraction from spreading the Word. Good question: as an evangelical, I want the Gospel to be proclaimed to all peoples of all nations. But I don’t swallow my gut reaction to this question. When I hear this question, my answer is simply this:
We don’t proclaim how great the Gospel is by minimizing the very real threat of the climate crisis, rather, we proclaim the greatness of the Gospel by showing how the Gospel > Global Warming.
#2. We know how this story ends.
350.org is the leading global grassroots organization calling on our political leaders to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to the safe level of 350ppm. They have put together mass public actions taking place in over 180 countries simultaneously. Under the 350.org umbrella, people from different cultures, political backgrounds and religious backgrounds have come together as allies. It actually is quite the mosaic of people who shouldn’t get along. Today, we can say we are experiencing worldwide unity in combating the climate crisis, a sort of climate confederacy if you will.
But it is not the same thing as unity in Christ. Because a common enemy like the climate crisis will (hopefully) one day be defeated, but the unity of a common savior reigns forever.
May I repeat: in the meta-narrative of global warming, there exists one of two possible omegas, success or failure.
But, as Christians, we have a different omega. We know how this story ends. We know that Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven, will come again and make all things new, all things on heaven and on earth. The God who created the world is not so much interested in starting over as he is in completing the project that was begun back in a garden at the beginning of time. By the Holy Spirit, we are led today into preparing the way for this final, consummate vision, where all will be made right and all will reflect the glory of the divine.
John writes, in Revelation 21:1-8:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
There is some debate in Christian circles on the relationship between the first earth and the new earth: are the two continuous with each other, or does the new earth completely replace the old one? My interpretation of the matter is that the two are continuous, but we don’t need to get lost on in these theological weeds right now (after all, with any of you who may think the new earth is just a second earth, we are still one in Christ).
The important thing we know is that, God’s will will be done, his mission complete and his people rejoicing. It is not up to any of us to guarantee this end for God, for God will bring this work to completion. We may be entrusted in stewarding the planet, in saving the planet, but God will restore all of Creation, relieving it from bondage to decay.
In the end, God will be glorified.
As we look forward to what, in biblical language, is called “the new Jerusalem,” which is not quite a return to Eden but far from a place uninhabitable or hostile to humans, we pray “Lord, your will be done, in Earth as it is in Heaven.” Such a prayer does not mean we wait passively or take responsibility in half-measures. Rather, it means we move forward where the Holy Spirit calls us, without fear of the task set before us, knowing that a creative God like our own can bring even our feeble faithfulness into the grandeur of redemption.
The question before us then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to decide: shall we be on the side of God’s glory, or on the side of destruction and greed? Will we be on the side of victory, or will we be on the side of things that pass away?
God is calling us, the church, to respond with appropriate seriousness to the climate crisis. Not just to replace light-bulbs, but to rethink how we act as a body and what we advocate for in society. We must not be afraid of the sacrifices we must make or the untreaded paths we must lead, because we know how this story ends.