Two weeks ago, we saw a revealing exchange between a talk radio host and a Christian pastor regarding the nexus between global environmental threats and the Christian faith. It began with a cynical argument hatched by Rush Limbaugh that followed this line of reasoning:
Christians believe that God rules his creation. Climate science warns that man-made climate change poses an existential threat to much of that creation. However, since no one but God can “destroy the world” he’s made, such notions betray unbelief, or worse.
Along came Rev. Mitch Hescox, leader of Evangelical Environmental Network, who exposed Limbaugh’s silliness for what it was. We posted Hescox’s riposte here. But as right as the pastor certainly was, I think that some of us would do well to ask some serious questions about the Christian gospel and today’s climate crisis. In particular, what assurance can we find in the gospel – if any – that the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change will not befall our race, or the ecosystems upon which we – and all other creatures – rely?
This issue actually comes up all the time. In one example, I was talking last year with a brilliant environmental leader at the height of the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline. As we discussed our planetary headlong rush into climate imbalances not seen for millions of years, the conversation turned to my faith in a sovereign God.
“I envy you,” she told me. “I wish I had that kind of hope.”
Fair enough. A robust faith in Christ certainly does offer hope that eludes even the most optimistic agnostic – a hope rooted in the physical resurrection of Christ and the promised reconciliation and renewal of the entire creation. Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright sums it up beautifully:
What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we ‘leave it behind altogether.’ They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom. (Surprised by Hope, p. 193)
Gospel hope isn’t rooted in a vague notion that everything will work out all right in the end, but in the sure and certain hope in the resurrection of the dead and the coming kingdom of God.
But hold on a moment! What does gospel hope really mean in concrete terms now as we face today’s imponderable ecological catastrophes? What consequences of our race’s abuse of God’s creation can the faithful rule out? What extinctions? What famines? What floods? What pandemics? What resource conflicts? Continue reading