Why I signed an open letter from Christians to the Prime Minister on climate change
October 7 2019In May this year I joined about 60 Christian leaders across Australia calling on the Prime Minister to take urgent action on dealing with the climate crisis we are facing.
The letter referred to proper stewardship of the planet God has given us to take care of. When considering a Christian response to environmental concern, we almost invariably (and rightly) focus on passages from the Old Testament. In particular, we look at the creation accounts in Genesis and explain how these have been misinterpreted in the past. We also might look at a few of the Psalms which talk about God being the Creator and Sustainer of everything in existence.
What is generally missing in explanations of why ecological concern is a Christian mandate is what relevance Jesus himself has to it. We often don’t mention the central character in the whole biblical story – the person at the very heart of our Christian faith – when we proclaim our convictions about why Christians should be concerned for the planet. We genuinely wonder what Jesus ever said about creation, and we think we have to clutch at straws to try to convince ourselves that Jesus actually did have a concern for the natural environment.
In fact, Jesus stands at the centre of what the Bible is all about. That means that any strongly held assurances we have about the Christian mandate to care for creation must have Jesus at the centre. And they must have everything about Jesus at the centre – his life, his death, and his physical resurrection. Jesus didn’t just come to die for our sins. Because of his life, death and resurrection, death has been defeated and all things are in the process of being made new. All things. That includes the environment.
The Christian message is that, in Jesus, the kingdom of God has invaded history. One of the most overlooked parts of Jesus’ life that shows his relationship to the non-human creation occurs in the opening lines of the oldest Gospel of all, the one written by Mark. It is no accident that Mark’s Gospel (1:9-11) records that when Jesus was in the wilderness during his time of temptation, he was with the wild animals. Why would Mark mention this little detail? The New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham suggests that, in this case, Jesus “is establishing his messianic relationship with the non-human world”. In the kingdom that Jesus came to install, all relationships are set right. Human, non-human, everything.
In an increasingly urban world where our lifestyles are more and more removed from nature and in which we increasingly try to determine our supremacy over nature, the stories of Jesus bring us back to reality. Jesus knew that humanity has an inherently embedded mutual relationship with nature. We are part of it. In fact, the Genesis creation account says that we were created out of the dust of the earth. As Jesus’ God is the same as the Old Testament God, it logically follows that there is consistency in this area throughout the Scriptures.
Such mutual relationships are central to the kingdom of God. We are interlinked with everything else on the planet. What affects one area inevitably affects others. You may have heard of the butterfly effect. Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki describes this by explaining that ecology is increasingly teaching us that everything is related. He says that if all of humanity disappeared off the face of the earth, the rest of life would benefit enormously. The forests would gradually grow back, and relative stability would return to the ecosystems that control global temperature and the atmosphere. The fish in the oceans would recover and most endangered species would slowly come back. On the other hand, for example, if all species of ants disappeared, the results would be close to catastrophic. There would be major extinctions of other species and probably partial collapse of some ecosystems. The functions of the creatures living in the air we breathe, and beneath our feet, all work together to keep us alive. Remember that next time you’re about to step on an ant!
What nature and the Bible show us is that a distortion of right relationships affects us, affects our societies and affects our environment. As Romans 8 tells us, the creation is groaning and awaiting the setting right of all relationships in the universe.
From creation to new creation, Genesis to Revelation, both nature and the Bible declare that God delights in renewal. And in Jesus we see this renewal lived out for us to follow. He is the ultimate environmentalist, coming to this planet to restore what has been despoiled and to set right all that has been wronged.
Nils von Kalm is Church and Community Engagement Coordinator at Anglican Overseas Aid. This article is an edited extract from his book Bending Towards Justice: How Jesus is More Relevant than ever in the 21st Century, which is published by Coventry Press.
The open letter to the Prime Minister can be found at https://mikefrost.net