Thursday, January 22, 2009
Should Christians believe in Global Warming?
Relative to faith in the God of the Bible, believers have to ask themselves, "can people really, significantly mess up the Earth?" The general conclusion is "probably not". From the purely secular and scientific point of view, it's possible and even likely that people will (sooner or later) mess up the Earth to the point where the planet won't be able to support life. We'll be committing "self-extinction". That rather flies in the face of Christianity, since the Earth and the people who live on it must exist when Jesus returns. Therefore, from the point of view of a Christian, global warming can't be as bad as all that, can it? There's another angle to consider from a Biblical point of view. In Genesis, God created the Earth and then turned it over to Adam and Eve saying basically, "Here's the Earth. It's yours now. Take care of it". I'm paraphrasing rather heavily, but people were given "stewardship" (that's an important word) over the planet. Unfortunately, that has sometimes been used as an excuse for treating our environment anyway we want, as long as we get the resources out of it we desire. Does the Bible justify "clear cutting" and "strip mining"? I don't think so. Recall the parable of the talents that Jesus told (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-28). The "moral of the story" is that we are to be wise investors of the gifts we are given. The parable uses monetary terms (investing a dollar to get ten dollars back), but it can be applied to any gift we're given. We're not only supposed to make sure what we're given doesn't decay (making a bad investment of your dollar to get a return of only a quarter), and doesn't just stay the same (burying the dollar in a hole for a year, then pulling the same dollar back out...with inflation, the dollar is worth less, anyway), but we're to actually improve upon the gift. What does that mean when "the gift" is a planet? Even a casual "Googling" of global warming will turn up just a ton of results and recent news items across the web indicate that even the most staunch "anti-global warming" experts are now finally coming around and acknowledging that global warming is real. Is this a denial of faith? No. It's more of an acknowledgement that people have been poor stewards of the gift they were given; the Earth. Judaism has the concept of Tikkun Olam or "Repairing the World". The idea is that we not only have the ability, but have the responsibility to make the world a better place to live in, both spiritually and physically. Acts of kindness and charity are considered part of enacting Tikkun Olam but acts of "kindness" upon the Earth are also included. Picking up even a single piece of trash, or walking to the store instead of driving, are part of "repairing the world". From a Jewish point of view, each act of Tikkun Olam, brings the coming of the Messiah just a little closer. The great commission as recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, is where Jesus directs his disciples to make disciples of all the nations (the citizens of the Earth), and Christians generally believe that by "converting" (which isn't exactly what the commandment says) more and more people to the faith, brings Jesus one step closer to returning. It's actually somewhat similar to Tikkun Olam, though both Christianity and Judaism would probably deny the connection. That said, both faiths have an understanding that people have a responsibility to prepare the Earth for the Messiah's coming or return (depending on your point of view). Of course, Christianity doesn't have as strong an "environmental" component as Judaism, but factoring in Genesis and the parable of the talents, you can easily make up for that. For Christians, the question of global warming is "can people mess up God's plan?" In an ultimate sense, the answer is "no". God cannot be surprised, diverted, or defeated by anything people do. However that's not to say we don't have free will and aren't subject to our sin nature (see Genesis). We do have the ability to make things better or worse as individuals and as a society, and there will be an ultimate reckoning for how we use the gifts we have been given (see the parable), including how we treated our environment. Did we use our gifts wisely or did we squander them? Did we treat the Earth well, or did we tear it to shreds? Secularists, humanists, atheists, and scientists often believe that people of faith are stupid, crazy, superstitious, irrational, and deniers of fact. People of faith often believe that non-believing people are self-driven, sinful, foolish, and deniers of truth. Both camps draw a line in the sand about many issues including the environment (and this is irrational from a Christian point of view and especially relative to Matthew 28, which tells believers not to push non-believers away, but to make students of them). One of the things we have in common is the planet we live on. We only have one Earth. If you don't believe in a Creator, then you have to be scared to death right now that we'll screw up the world enough to extinguish ourselves. If you do believe in the Creator, then you need to be concerned enough about your responsibilities; your stewardship to not let the Earth go to waste. In either case, you have a job to do, if you haven't been doing it already. Start taking care of the Earth. Start being concerned. Start acting on your concerns. Become partners with people who share your concerns, people of faith and secularists alike. This isn't just a "Greenpeace" thing, or a "Sierra Club" thing, or a "tree hugger" thing...it's a "people" thing. Don't allow divisiveness to keep the blinders on you. There's nothing in the Bible that says we can't allow sin to mess up the world. It already did in Genesis and that process is still at work. You don't have to just throw up your hands and say you have no power to change it. A life of faith says you do have the power to make the world a better place to live in. Just tap into that power, get your marching orders, then get to work.