Today we can hardly open a newspaper, watch television or read a magazine without finding warnings about climate change, global warming or the greenhouse effect. It's very much a 21st Century issue. Previous generations did not worry that their actions and lifestyles would change the very air we breathe and, ultimately, the world's climate. This generation does and must.
I want to look at this issue in both the context of our thanksgiving for harvest and of caring for the poor. I want us to look at Scripture because, although climate change may be a 21st Century issue, the great principles to shape our attitudes and actions are found there. Our God is a creator and sustainer:
I want to take this issue for another reason. A few Christian writers do, I believe, mislead in what they say about climate change and our responsibilities or lack of them. They distort Scripture to assuage their oil soaked, gas guzzling life styles of excess and greed. And I know I'm the only one with a 4x4 parked outside!
Take a deep breath! The air we have just breathed and exhaled has a slightly different composition from that which we breathed when we were born. The amount of carbon dioxide is a little higher and other gases, such as methane, are higher too. We don't smell the difference, we still have plenty of oxygen to breathe. But what these gases do is to enable the atmosphere to hold a little more of the sun's warmth; more is trapped like a greenhouse. The evidence of our atmosphere warming up will be familiar: earlier springs, fiercer heatwaves, new pests and diseases previously confined to hotter countries, receding glaciers, diminishing arctic ice, and so forth. That is the science that is what is happening. It parallels Psalm 19:2's ineffable statement about the display of God's glory everywhere for all to see:
The consequences of climate change are many: worse droughts, worse floods, rising sea levels, more energetic storms to name but some. But why should Christians be especially concerned? The answer is because the poor are the most vulnerable for two reasons:
The poor live where the risk is worst and they do not possess the means to escape the consequences. Our lavish Western lifestyles worsens the lot of the world's poor.
Now let's get into God's word.
Here is God's great covenant with all creatures: never again to destroy, and the promise that seasons, seedtime and harvest, and day and night will continue while the Earth endures. Nothing of climate change challenges this larger picture.
The seasons happen because the Earth is tilted on its axis and we orbit the sun. There will always be winters with the sun low and days short; the arctic and antarctic will still be sunless and cold in winter. Day and night happen because the Earth rotates once every 24 hours. These facts of astronomy square totally with the wonderful assurance and promise God gives in these verses.
While we continue to orbit the sun and rotate on our axis planet Earth will experience seasons and days and nights. Only if these stop will they end, indeed the world as we know it will end, and this is just what God says in Genesis 8:22 ". . . while the Earth endures".
What is happening then is not the very big picture altering the course of our planet in space, but what we are doing to our planet as we journey on that course. It's our only home, we have nowhere else to go, until, of course, the Christian reaches heaven.
We learn here that creation is inextricably linked to human beings - it is subjected to frustration because of us, polluted by our sin, just as God promised it would be to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19. Our actions spoiled and continue to spoil God's creation. This same point is explicitly made in Jeremiah 12:4.
Having looked at these verses it is right to ask the question, of what sin is global warming or climate change the main result? After all it is not a moral issue directly, like the slave trade or abortion, and it is not a criminal issue in the ordinary sense, like corrupt governments or oppression of people. I suggest that it is the sin of selfishness and greed, both individually and nationally. Let us look at two more scriptures.
Luke 12:16-21 is a parable reminding us to be rich towards God not selfishly garnering our own wealth.
Leviticus 19:9-10 is a remarkable injunction or law for the Israelites telling them to leave gleanings, not to gather every last corn sheaf or grape cluster so that the poor can do so and benefit.
We are paying the price of neglecting these injunctions in our excessive consumption. As we burn oil, gas and coal and as we clear forests, especially in the tropics, in unsustainable ways we are both using up resources so fast that future generations will be largely denied them and we are placing an unsupportable burden on our atmosphere. It warms, and the poor are the first to suffer.
So, on this harvest Sunday with gifts going to Tearfund to help the poor, what can we do? What should we do? I suggest five things:
Finally, let us return to the One who alone has the power to deliver us from the sin of greed and selfishness, and from all other sins, the Lord Jesus Christ whose own negligible carbon footprint is yet one more way in which we, His followers, should be like Him.
Precis of a sermon on 23rd September 2007
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It has been called 'the study of durable rubbish', but here Clive Anderson invites us to see how modern archaeology is Shedding Light on the Bible.
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