Why we need a theology of climate change in the 21st century

I co-authored this article with Katrina Baldacchino. It will be published in the February/March 2019 edition of the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’s magazine, Encounter, issues of which are hosted at Issuu.

Alex Grey GAIA 1989, 144 x 96 in. oil on linen.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1)

At God’s Word, the universe exploded into being and all that exists was lovingly formed and illumined. Life was drawn forth to fill everypatch of land, every breath of air, every drop of ocean. Earth is intrinsically valuable to God. “God saw everything he had made, and indeed it was very good”(Gen 1:31). Take a moment to look heavenward, and stand in awe at the vast and intricate ways in which the natural universe works. God is constantly creating, fine-tuning Earth’s ecosystems, and endowing each living thing with dignity and purpose; drawing all into communion with Himself.

God has entrusted the sacred work of caring for His garden to us. We in the 21st century are struggling to fulfil our inherited responsibility. We have become starkly aware of our unintended power to change the Earth’s climate. We could easily push our world off-track. Perhaps we already have. So we might ask ourselves how we intend to respond to this power, in light of our ever-present responsibility to God.

It is often said that the future of the church, of our society, and of our world, rests on the shoulders of children. It is true thatchildren will inherit the world we leave them, yet they also participate inthat responsibility here and now. If a child asked you today what it means tofollow Jesus, what might you say? What could we say, knowing that we are calledin this era to follow Jesus through potential climatic upheaval, brought aboutby the hands of humankind? What example might we set our children to guide themin an ecologically uncertain future while honouring the great work of God?

To honour God is to ensure the ongoing flourishing of the earth and all that live on it. In his renowned encyclical Laudato Si, PopeFrancis reminds us that “The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. … Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.” Our ability to carry out our duty requires that we experience our interdependence with and reliance on nature. We cannot separate ourselves from the world created for us. Indeed, God becomingincarnate as a biological and sensate being emphasises the significance of thenatural. God, as a man, was reliant on the very world whose existence issimultaneously sustained by God!

The fruits of following Christ extend outwards from the continual renewing of the individual soul, to participation in the cultural, political and environmental context in which we live. As Mick Pope, an Australian ecotheologian, has written; “personal righteousness and public justice are on the same continuum…” The fulfilment of justice requires a spiritof ecological conversion; a turning away from the technologically saturated,consumer driven, chaotic and traumatised world, and towards a renewedexperience of the simplicity of God, seen through Creation.

Jesus, who is God, and is a revelation of God’s love for theworld, asked us to love one another. “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). In the 21stcentury, to love our neighbour means that we love the planet that sustains us,taking only what we need for life and worship. Followers of Jesus ought to be recognised for their love of the natural world, while they joyfully await the perfection of the world through Christ.

Our desires have had unintended consequences for the climate and the world’s ecosystems. What might we say to our children as they ask about climate change and Christian faith? Changing the course of human desire is difficult, but only if we rely on ourselves. Jesus continually offers us the means. As we share in communion regularly, we develop humility and experience God with us. We are reminded that God is present in the living world and in us.We need reminding. We need a theology that can heal the world. As Pope Francissays “Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop aspirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of theTrinity”. We need then to stop, close the books, and allow our children to leadus in looking heavenward, with all of their hope, enthusiasm, and life.

An Unfamiliar Love

It can be hard to love our family. Our family hold insight into our lives that is often hidden from our friends and enemies. When familial ties are damaged or under strain, we instinctively feel vulnerable. Christmas gatherings can be a time of submerged confrontation. For the sake of our children and ageing parents, we play nicely so as to avoid the hurt and embarrassment of arguments around the table.

This may not be descriptive of your Christmas, and I hope it is not, but for some, it will be. Like any other time of year, this can be one of suffering. It can be difficult to remember the joy of Christmas.

In forming His human body, God the Son glorified Himself and began the process of clarifying and perfecting Creation. The whole of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, is one family. All life shares the same basic molecular structures that allow our cells to replicate and function. As a human being grows in its mother’s womb, the cells that comprise the webbing of its paddling hands and feet are programmed to die, so that fingers and toes capable of dexterity and control can form.

At least at this level, death seems inherent and necessary for the formation of life. We can only assume that in the fullness of His humanity, it was in this way that Jesus Christ, like us, came into the world. It is through death that new life arises. The Divine Invasion at Christmas was, and is, the explosion of hope and life into a muddied and dying world.

This Christmas, as you sit at the other end of the table from whomever it is in your life that has done you wrong, consider their suffering and their need for kindness. Consider the difficulty we all have in bearing the weight of our own lives. Consider His words about those that crucified Him: “Father, Forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Without the love of Christ, the experience of cruelty can drive us to view the world as fundamentally meaningless and deeply scornful. A desire to subjugate the world to the will of the individual is both a cause and symptom of suffering. Loving those who have hurt us means choosing to peer through the veil of cruelty to see the suffering hiding there.

Through the kind eyes of the newborn Christ, we can see afresh those who inflict harm. It is they who are most desperately in need of the tenderness and unfamiliar love of God.

May you bear His gentleness in your actions,

May He bless your family through you, and

May you live in the joy of Christmas.