Climate change versus the Bible

As a Christian, I take the Bible as my final arbiter of what I believe and do. So does that rule out action on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) – human induced climate change? For some Christians, it seems it does.

“God’s words are good enough for me.” – Martyn Iles, Australian Christian Lobby

Here are some examples. Martyn Iles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, posted on Facebook this week (and readers can work out if the post rules out AGW – it certainly gets close). As this is such a key topic, I will quote him in full.

“A forgotten angle on the environmental issue:

“‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it… I have given you every plant… etc.”’ [Genesis 1:27-28]

“‘The Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”‘ [Genesis 8:20-22]

“As a first principle, the earth was made to be filled by us. It was made to resource that enterprise. The resources of the earth are given to us to use toward that end which God has commanded.

“It is not wrong to use the many resources God has placed within and on the earth.

“As for the earth’s climate, it is *ultimately* controlled by God. His guarantee is that seasons and temperatures will be held within certain parameters which He ordains over the entire life of the earth – as long as it remains.

“He promises that food will be grown; that seasons will take place; that the weather will be both cold and hot …

“Whatever the temporal variations may be, the long term guarantee is that God is in control for our good. That’s what the rainbow reminds us of.

“Take God out of the picture, and anxiety about those things which are above our pay grade gets out of control. That includes the weather.

“We get to “tend” and “keep” the garden (so by all means compost and recycle and whatnot – this is not a license to be reckless or to pillage), but we don’t control its ultimate paradigm.

“We are the creatures. He is the Creator. The reversal of that order is one of the timeless sins of the human race [Romans 1:25].

“I could have gone all scientific, but that would be nothing new. Instead, it strikes me that the scriptural statements on these matters (which actually make sense of the observable realities) are seldom invoked – probably for fear of being considered foolish.

“God’s words are good enough for me.”

Another example is by Bob Thomas, of New Life (an online magazine). Bob is a beloved figure, especially in the Presbyterian church. He surely speaks for many others when he writes:

“This is the way the world ends: NOT with a bang; NOT with a whimper; BUT with the glorious and triumphant Return of Our Lord Jesus Christ!”

But perhaps others may not have added “And the End will not be heralded by a sad-faced, rage-filled, impudent, shamefully exploited 16 year old who is obviously in need of spiritual help,” as Thomas did, referring to young environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

Coffs Harbour Christian Community School head Rodney Lynn made similar comments in the school newsletter. “‘Doomsday, Doomsday, be afraid, the world can only last another 11 years.’ By 2030 it will all be over. The planet is about to be destroyed and you can do something about it. What can you do?”

“You can skip school. Hold up a piece of cardboard in the streets and call out for the government to ‘ do something to stop it all happening ’… Really???

“You can listen to a little girl with self declared various emotional and mental problems that she thinks give her a special insight into a pending doom of ‘ climate change ’. She says she is anxious. You too can be anxious. You can call on the governments of the world to ‘ do something ’. You can worry, worry, worry … Really???

“Please don’t!”

Lynn refers to the failed prophecies of Dr Paul Ehrlich and his 1968 book  The Population Bomb which predicted overpopulation and mass starvation, the Noahic promises, and like Thomas, Jesus’ words about his return at the end of the world.

Now Iles, Thomas and Lynn clearly are serious Bible-believers, and seek to see how Scripture bears on this topic. If the Bible really does rule out a belief in a climate emergency, Christians committed to the authority of the Bible need to align with that.

“… the text does not provide an excuse to abdicate our responsibility to act rightly towards God’s good creation.” – Lionel Windsor, Moore College

Not every Bible scholar sees the promises to Noah as ruling out a climate emergency. Here’s how Lionel Windsor, Moore College lecturer and author of Is God Green? (and an engineer in a solar energy research company in a former life) sees it.

“In Genesis 9:15, God promises Noah that “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh”. This text is speaking about God’s sustaining grace and kindness in the face of human sin. God is graciously ruling out the possibility of an utterly destructive Noah-like event that wipes out all life.

“However, the text is not ruling out the possibility that we humans, through sin and ignorance, can cause serious damage to our world and its inhabitants (see e.g. Hosea 4:3). Furthermore, the text does not provide an excuse to abdicate our responsibility to act rightly towards God’s good creation.”

Byron Smith, ecological ethicist and Christian minister, responds in the following ways to those who see the Bible ruling our climate change:

“Even if we take  the words of Genesis 9:11 (or 9:15) at face value, that God will never again use a flood to destroy the earth (or “to destroy all flesh”), then this doesn’t preclude (either logically or historically) localised flooding.”

“Or if we take Jesus words about God’s universal benevolence in Matthew 6, that God sends rain on the just and the unjust, that doesn’t mean there are never droughts, does it? It also doesn’t mean that water doesn’t get stolen, contaminated, squandered through human greed and folly.

“Theologically, God’s providence is no ‘get out of gaol free’ card that absolves us from thought or responsibility. We don’t have a blanket promise that nothing bad will ever happen, nor any promise that we won’t be able to hurt ourselves or others. However we understand providence (and there are plenty of centuries-old debates between Christians about it), God clearly doesn’t stop all murders or suicides. The potential for causing real and deep harms is patently obvious and the risk that we might do so is one of those moral realities that we ignore at our peril.

“So if our knowledge of the world informs us that the burning of fossil fuels is dangerously destabilising the climate (as it is), threatening the lives and livelihoods of billions and contributing to a great collective act of uncreation, unravelling the Creator’s marvellous work, then that knowledge is highly relevant in working out what it might look like to love our neighbours today …

“In such a context, I’d far rather be working to alleviate such grievous harms and threats (taking the risk of making mistakes along the way) than quoting some cherry-picked (and misunderstood) verses to excuse them.”

“In the Bible … there’s an intergenerational responsibility.” – UK Bible Society

The UK Bible Society responded to the recent Climate Strike and protests by “extinction rebellion” (a movement concerned with the wiping out of species), with the suggestion that the ideas behind the protests are biblical.

“Behind it all is an idea that we might think is quite biblical: that the earth is not ours to do with as we wish. We are responsible for how we treat it.”

“In the Bible, it’s stated again and again that the world belongs to God. ‘The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it’ (Psalm 24:1); For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine’ (Psalm 50:10-11).

“In Old Testament laws about inheritance, God says: ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine’ – there’s an intergenerational responsibility. There are even laws against wantonly destroying trees in warfare (Deuteronomy 20:19-20).

“Verses in Genesis where God gives human beings ‘dominion’ over the earth and commands them to ‘subdue’ it have sometimes been used to justify treating it purely as a resource, to which we can do whatever we like. But this is to misunderstand the Bible. In a society where people lived close to the soil and the most sophisticated piece of technology was a spade, staying safe and well-fed was a daily struggle. Now it’s different: a few machines can destroy a landscape forever in a few hours.

“The earliest image we have of God is as a gardener. We are outside Eden, but the Bible story of Eden gives us a picture of how far we’ve fallen. Many people might have found Extinction Rebellion annoying, but it’s reminded us that to care for our world as a gardener would, making it beautiful and productive, is to fulfil God’s first commandment.”

Here are some links to more material by people quoted in this article:

Martyn Iles “Truth of it” videoblog

Bob Thomas article (scroll down to second page)

Coffs Harbour Christian community School newsletters

Lionel Windsor talk on creation care (via Moore College)

Byron Smith podcast

One key fact from the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is if CO2 emissions continue to rise rapidly, the oceans will rise by 110 centimetres by 2100. That increase would be enough to wipe out low lying islands such as the Maldives, but not cause a global flood.

Click here for other articles on Climate Change from Eternity, or follow the links in our related reading.