Climate change and the gospel

Many Christians worry that we are becoming side-tracked on the issue of climate change. I agree with the concern that the church can become side-tracked.

But I do not agree that being involved in action to combat global warming is a side-track.  In my view, it is consistent with following Christ, who is the creator of all and sustainer of the universe. Let me explain.

In the great commission, Jesus calls us not simply to make converts but to make disciples (Mt 28:18–20). Note the emphasis on teaching disciples to “obey everything that I have commanded you.” When we spread the good news, we proclaim  that Jesus as Lord of all our lives,

What then of issues like climate change? Are they really a distraction? In his The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis warns of “Christianity and.” This is where we add things to the gospel and make them the centre. Those that urge caution are right to warn us of this.

Should we only stick to what Jesus talked about on earth? As followers of Christ, we live lives that contain things he did not experience on earth. What about air travel? Space travel? On these, Jesus is silent. We seek to apply his teaching to the questions of our present time, IVF, same-sex marriage, Covid rules.

When we proclaim the gospel we often use a favourite verse like John 3:16. Christians differ over what “the world” (kosmos in Greek) means. Some understand it to mean all of humanity, while others think it just means the elect. But could it mean the whole of creation? Let me share with you my way of including the grand sweep of the Bible so that caring for God’s earth is a direct response to the gospel.

The creator enters history as a human, to reconcile all things to God, and to rescue all things from suffering. Our response is to love God and our neighbour.

In John 1, we see Jesus described as the word incarnate. He is God. He is the source of all creation. He is the light, the life of all people. Light overcomes darkness. The echoes with Genesis 1, where all things are declared good, is deliberate and obvious. As the one who pitched his tent among us (v. 14), we clearly see the creator God who is also the God of Israel. This gospel begins in the goodness of the creator, the goodness of creation, and the invitation to believe and become children of God. The Bible’s big story begins not with the Fall – which is not to say we ignore sin, far from it – but with Goodness.

The gospel proclaims a new creation has begun in Jesus! Moving forward to John 20, Jesus is mistaken for a gardener on the first day of the week. Jesus is the new gardener, the new Adam. Mary is not to cling to him as Eve clung to Adam, but become the first one sent out with the good news. The Adam references link to Genesis 2, but with no Genesis 3 to follow now – those who believe in the Messiah have their sins forgiven and the curse is undone. Surely our vocation now includes tending the Garden well.

Loving God means acknowledging God as God (and us as not), repenting, worshipping, and valuing God’s good gifts to us.

In Colossians 1, Paul strongly echoes John’s affirmation of Jesus as the agent of and supreme over creation. Just as John says that Jesus is God, so Paul tells us the fullness of God dwells in Jesus (v. 19). And what does the cross do? It reconciles all things to God (v. 20)! This includes things in heaven and on earth. That means all things. This must mean all things. This includes non-human things, undoing the curse of sin, and humans. Paul includes thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers. These can be in heaven (spiritual beings) or on earth, which means human institutions.

This appears to be the same point John makes in Revelation 22:2, where the leaves of the tree of life is meant for the healing of the nations, not just individuals. All this will be realised fully in the eschaton yet Gospel ministry is about this ultimate reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). If ever there was a motivation for Christians to be involved in all sorts of reconciliation ministries, all driven by our reconciliation in Christ, it is in the cross as Paul describes in Colossians 1.

This brings us to Romans 8. Here we read of our future resurrection hope, of the inward Spirit who prays for us in our weakness, in our lack of fear in the face of persecution. But it also ties our resurrection to the fate of a suffering creation.

Rome promised the Pax Romana (Roman Peace), but Paul promises peace with God (Rom 5:1). Rome proclaims Caesar to be Lord and Son of God, yet Paul says that these names belong to Jesus alone (Rom 1:1–4). Rome promised bounteous crops; bread and circuses. Yet Rome’s air was polluted, her river polluted and in need of constant dredging. As Paul said, creation groaned. So, in Paul’s day as in ours, politics makes promises, but without true repentance from sin, destruction of life, human and non-human continues. The resurrection promises a release from slavery to sin and bondage to decay. So, should we go on living without regard for creation? By no means (Rom 6:1– 2). Live now as if God were making all things new (Rev 21:1–5).

As we look forward to this all-encompassing renewal of all things human and non-human, our response is love. The whole of the law of the Hebrew Bible is love of God and neighbour (Luke 10:25–37). Loving God means acknowledging God as God (and us as not), repenting, worshipping, and valuing God’s good gifts to us. It also directly leads to loving our neighbour. Climate change hurts our neighbour. Indeed, trashing a good creation, consciously or otherwise, is also an affront to God, a lack of love for God.

Creation is an act of love; the renewal of all creation is an act of love. As we love God and neighbour, we move naturally from proclaiming the gospel message of repentance, love, and hope, to embodying these things, and particularly love (1 Cor 13). How we love will reflect our calling. Not everyone is a priest, poet, politician, or eco-theologian. But we are all called to love. To include the earth in this love is not a distraction from the gospel, but one faithful, and timely expression of it.

All this takes us to a place of critically examining whether or not we care for the gift of creation. It does not answer the scientific questions raised by environmental concerns, but it requires us to diligently examine them as grateful gardeners looking after good gifts from the giver of life.

This is Part 2 of a three-essay series by Mick Pope You can read Part 1 of Mick’s response here, and Part 3 shortly.