It seems to be quite a well-known and established fact that the whole of Nature is basically being systematically destroyed at a rate that is unsustainable, and this will have terrible long-term effects for all of humanity, starting with the Third World first and then as we realise that we are actually absolutely all mutually inter-dependent on each other, it will then be the turn of the richer nations to realise that they cannot destroy the environment indefinitely.
So where do I as a Christian fit into all this? Jesus doesn’t say anything about the environment and recycling household waste, but then he doesn’t mention it because it wasn’t a problem in rural first century Palestine, but the huge effect that our broken relationship to nature has on all of humanity means that we have to have an appropriate theology of creation.
Problem: No one really seems to, for various reasons.
Tony Campolo, who is a top dude and hated by the Christian Right in the USA (possibly a good sign) once began an address to a conference of middle-class Christians here in the UK with the following statement:
“Last night whilst you all slept in your beds, 30,000 children dies of hunger and preventable diseases, and most of you could not give a shit. Even worse is the fact that you are more upset by the fact that I just swore in a sermon than by the problem I am describing.”
Good way to put it. Nobody actually really cares in the church as far as I can discern, though I am willing to accept that this is largely out of ignorance, over-urbanisation but also probably due to a bad doctrine of creation and a preoccupation with ourselves.
It is now after midnight so I’m not about to write a systematic theology of the environment, but here are some ideas I’ve had tonight whilst at work:
1. Incorrect Christian ideas about eschatology (future things) give legitmacy to our complacency in the face of massive social and political issues.
2. This is because war, famine, injustice, nuclear proliferation and environmental damage etc point towards a final cataclysmic disaster where the world will be annihilated. Perfect conditions for Jesus to return then, right? Well no, not really. The result of this kind of thinking is that in the face of disaster and annihilation, the Church stops engaging with the world and looks upwards in anticipation of its own redemption and the end of history.
3. There will not be an end to history, but rather history itself will be transformed. This is actually a Christian idea. Why? Because the death and resurrection of Christ is eschatology in a microcosm. The bringing to life of what is dead and sin-damaged in this present age, and so transforming the future possibilities for history itself.
4. History is not as Nietzsche imagined, to be the ‘eternal return of the same’, yet many Christians believe this to be so. If the resurrected Christ is the prototype of everything that is be made new, and history moves towards the fulfillment of this goal, then to wish for and to maintain the sameness of the status quo and a cyclical view of history is to deny the future opened up by the resurrection.
5. Of course, if you’re a comfortable well-off Christian, the eternal return of the same is probably a very comfortable idea. This is why the Kingdom of God belongs to the poor and is very difficult for the rich to enter. The thrust of history is towards the Kingdom of God, where there is an end to sin, suffering and injustice, and it is this future hope towards which we are to face. To long for the eternal return of the same is to deny this and to wish for the status quo of injustice, sin and darkness to reign forever.
6. There is no Eternal Now of God, where time stands still and he views and relates to history as one single moment. A God who only ‘is’ is then also a ‘he who is no longer what he was’ and ‘he who will no longer be who he is now’. The past and the future are wholly nullified if God is only present in the Eternal Moment He is not simply ‘I AM’. Neither is God ‘he who is, was and shall be’, rather the risen Christ is ‘he who was, who is and is to come.’ (Rev 1:4) God himself has a past, a present AND a future coming, and he distinguishes between these phases in his history.
7. So what does this have to do with Christian social action?
8. Well basically if we accept the truth of the resurrection and that the future transformation of history itself will conform to God, then current world crises are not excuses for us to sit back and worry about our eternal immortal soul. These disasters are the ‘birth pangs’ of the new creation of all things, and the mission of the Church is to prepare the way for the coming of God by living in anticipation of the fulfillment of his kingdom. This means liberating the poor, overthrowing unjust and oppressive systems, healing the sick and preaching the Gospel of the Good News of salvation for all humanity etc. We do not cease to engage with the world in anticipation of the church’s redemption by way of it being lifted vertically out of history and into the eternal now of God.
9. Rather, the Coming God will enter into history and transform it so that it now conforms to the rule of his kingdom of love and justice, but like the resurrection, it is a transformation in and of this present historical age. Thus the mission of the Church is to live and stand in contradiction to an age which is evil and to turn it towards the Coming Kingdom of God by engaging with the world, not by abandoning hope for the world and seeing the destruction of humanity and the earth as unavoidable precursors to ‘Armageddon’ and so legitimising our complacency and abandonment of hope in the face of evil and suffering.
10. Can you see why it is crucial that the Church must now engage responsibly with the environment, if creation is to have any future at all? The messianic hope for redemption is for all of creation, not the lifting out of history of the immortal souls (now that’s for another rant…) of the pious.
11. If anyone understands what I’m on about, tell me. If not, tell me anyway because I need to learn to give clarity to these ideas that I have so that I’m not the only one who understands them 🙂
P.S Did I mention that I have a new girlfriend? Heehee.