Category Archives: creation care

Caring for creation

The earth is so beautiful! For a time in my life, I used BBC’s Planet Earth as part of my quiet time with God – I was so blown away by the magnificence of creation, from the underground crystal caves that are indescribably beautiful in Mexico, to the massive expanse of red sand dunes of Namibia.

Earlier on in my Christian faith journey I left my natural inclination towards caring for creation and conservation of nature at the proverbial door, as it felt like evangelism and a focus on human suffering was of greater importance. Over the years I have learned more about a biblical understanding of integral mission and see that you don’t have to make a choice between the two. It is not a toss-up between ‘care about people’ and ‘care about the earth’. I have learned that they impact on one another in significant ways and caring for one is good for the other, and vice versa.

We have been given the mandate to care for this planet we call home. Throughout the Bible we are reminded that this is God’s creation and it is good! Psalms 24:1 tells us that “The earth is God’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Some see the stewardship call from God in Genesis as an excuse to abuse the earth, but caring for this planet we have been given to live on and seeing the worth of all of creation, is good for us all and brings God glory. Revelation 11:18 reminds us that those who destroy the earth, will not go unpunished. And there is a lot more Biblical evidence that points to the truth that the planet is ours to steward well, not to abuse and plunder.

It is also a fact that it is the most vulnerable who feel the greatest impact of climate change. Martin Kapenda, from Micah Zambia, said in this clip recently, “Let us unite together to fight the forces of climate change and put up solutions that will work well for the people living in poverty, especially those mostly affected by climate change. It affects the poor most, and the poor are the ones who pollute the least, and that is the injustice of climate change. So, let us work together to change this scenario.”

Caring for creation is part of our mandate as Jesus followers on earth. Don’t be discouraged by those who have not understood this. Keep praying and acting and setting an example. Make ongoing changes in your life that will impact on the size of your environmental footprint. Challenge your political leaders to take this seriously. Pray for the Church to be an example by stewarding creation in ways that bring life and well-being to all living creatures. Pray for wisdom to raise children who see this as a part of our Christian discipleship. And pray that we leave a good legacy and life-giving earth for those children to steward in the future.

Let us pray … renew our hearts, God, and renew our world.

Linda Martindale
Micah Global

Liberation’s Option

By Rei Lemuel Crizaldo, Lead Co-oordinator for Integral Mission at Micah Philippines

Ever bought those nice finds in rummage shops for a cheaper price? But once you unpack it at home, you suddenly realize that it was already without the full package of the original? I myself once found a good pair of sneakers ‘on sale’ but minus the original shoestrings. Obviously, it made me think twice whether I should settle for the bargain and just live with what was lacking. In today’s marketplace of Christianity, one would also encounter similar versions of theological goodies on sale. The price tag may come appealing but what you might get is wanting upon closer inspection.

A case for example, do a careful re-reading of the Bible and it shall make today’s popular offer of salvation, i.e., “your soul’s chance of migrating to heaven,” look like no different from those rundown goods on a markdown sale.[1] This blunt comparison has to be made considering that God’s plan of redemption, that is, his mission of renewing all that He has made, includes the planet, its people, and their pattern of life. That is, today’s devastated creation, polluted rivers and corrupted human beings alike, including the deteriorating cultures and civilizations that thrive within it are all objects of God’s liberating mission. [2]

I came upon this observation upon realizing that the Bible speaks of salvation as the full restoration of all aspects of life in the world, exactly as God has sketched it from the very beginning.[3] A blueprint of this plan can be found in the initial pages of the book of Genesis.[4] In it, the writer presents a picture of a life wherein God and humanity were happily together, in a beautiful dwelling place, and with a pattern of relationship marked by trust, nurture, and joy. The Hebrews of old have a term for this particular way of life characterized by remarkable harmony – ‘shalom.’ Repeatedly, their prophets speak of a dream and a hope that is no less beautiful (see for example: Isaiah 65:17-25, Jeremiah 31, Micah 4).

Shalom is simply the Old Testament’s planetary vision for what in the New Testament was often referred to as God’s gift of ‘salvation.’ But make no mistake about it, the apostles Peter, John, and Paul have in mind a notion of redemption that is as equally comprehensive as that of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

The Victory of Christ

For an instance, Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:20 speaks of how God, through Christ and by His work on the cross, is reconciling “all things” in heaven and on earth back to Himself.[5] In this verse, the apostle to the Gentiles was alerting his readers at the city of Colossae that until then all of these things have been snatched away from God. And indeed, for a time, the whole world was in the clutches of the Evil One who has sought to steal all that was in it, drain it of its life, and ultimately cause its destruction (John 10:10). But this is not because this fiendish being has proven to be stronger than God and has actually prevailed against Him. No! It is simply because he has effectively triumphed over creation’s designated ruler and steward -human beings. To put it in contemporary terms, the Evil One laid siege on God’s earth, held its human rulers and inhabitants hostage, and terrorized what he was able to capture with his flag firmly planted in their hearts and homeland.[6]

How such terrorism of God’s creation happened is a loop that repeats itself throughout human history. But Genesis 1-3 unlock to us the internal mechanism of how this subtle infiltration works out. It tells a story of how the Serpent tricked the newly weds Adam and Eve and managed to subdue them under his will. By listening to the Enemy’s lies, the couple threw away God’s wonderful plan for their lives which is to be the world’s rightful ruler and caretaker (Gen. 1:27-27, 2:15). In effect, they exchanged God’s royal image in them (as prince and princess) for a lowly status of a refugee and a vagabond. Thereafter, the Evil One and his minions presented themselves as ‘gods’ and ‘rulers’ of this world (II Cor. 4:4, John 12:31, Ephesians 2:2). Later on, the Evil One even got the nerve to bribe God’s own Son in the flesh with all of the world’s riches and glory (which he claims to be his) in exchange for an undivided allegiance to him (Matt. 4:8-10).

But God’s Son knew better. He knew that His Father is launching a take-over project. That he was sent with a messianic mission of reclaiming control of all that which his Father has created, away from the clutches of the Evil One, and restore it to its rightful rulers. As John understands it, God’s Son was sent for the specific purpose of destroying the devil’s work (I John 3:8). Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:15 talks of how God’s Son has disarmed the Evil One and his minions of their powers. In his letter to the church at Ephesus (Eph. 4:8-10), he added how God’s Messiah has so effectively triumphed over them and that he succeeded in giving back to human beings their royal identities (Eph. 2:6, Col. 3:4). By a swift execution of this covert operation, the power of the Evil One has been broken, or as CS Lewis puts it in his famous novel, the grim spell of dark magic casted by the Great White Witch has been undone, at Aslan’s slaying at the Stone Table, and thereafter, Narnia and the Narnians were free again.[7]

Liberating the Planet. Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that the natural environment “groans in pain” as its await its liberation from decay in as much as humanity struggles to be set free from whatever it is that enslaves it whether selfishness, sickness, or even death itself.[8] The outpouring of God’s Spirit in people’s hearts (Ezek. 36:25-27), and the remarkable personal and social transformation that comes with it, is the earth’s assurance that one day it shall also see its own light of day. That is, liberated from the curse of devastation, the earthly realm shall once again be in full bloom. Apostle Peter speaks of God’s purifying fire that shall render the old heavens and old earth no more to usher in a new world (II Peter 3:12-13). The final picture was painted with more vivid details by Apostle John in his apocalyptic book (aka the Revelation). In its final chapters, he wrote down his vision of a new city of Jerusalem coming down from the heavens into a new earth. And he saw God dwelling with human beings once more in a place where there shall be no more tears, or pain, or sickness (Rev. 21:1-4).

Liberating its People. It is with this planetary renewal that the New Testament also pictures the promise of our bodily resurrection.[9] God’s work of transforming human beings into a new creation (Col. 3:10) does not stop with a renewal of personal morality and social relationships (Col. 3:5-11), not even with the security of one’s soul (I Peter 1:9). It includes, perhaps, most importantly, a promise of gaining a physical body free from imperfections and decay and death itself, exactly as the one Christ himself carried with him when he rose from the grave. Paul explains that as citizens of an new eternal city, its inhabitants shall need a new body that would be as equally glorious (I Cor. 15:35-55). If anything, this belief in bodily resurrection sets the early church’s understanding of salvation as sharply opposed to that of their Greek culture they inhabit which thinks of salvation as the liberation of the soul from the body.

While this hope of bodily redemption can easily be taken for granted by the average person, it is definitely good news for those who suffered from blindness and other physical ailments. That the lame can one day run and swim again, and that those born deaf can hear the most beautiful of Mozart’s musical composition shall be a most splendid news for those who went through life bereft of such simple joys. That this new body defies even the threat of death as well only means that the joys of life in the new heavens and new earth is something that human beings will enjoy with God not only for a limited moment but for eternity.

Liberating their Patterns of Life. As mentioned already, selfishness is part of what Christ has set human beings to be free of. This particular trait cuts across both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of human relationships. This is because what is commonly regarded as ‘sinful’ acts are basically manifestations of a disposition of the heart and attitude of the mind that have no regard for the will of God and the welfare of other people. The so called problem of sin, at its very core, is an issue of idolatry at one level and apathy on another.[10] That is, the relentless turning of one’s desire to godlike proportions and putting one’s personal interest to the disregard (and in many times, to the detriment) of another human being. All the horrors of humanity, corruption and injustice in government, abuses and oppression in society, etc. can be rooted in this twin habits of the human heart.

In its place, Christ left the world with a way of living that mashes-up one’s love for God and one’s love for neighbor as two inseparable sides of the same coin (Luke 10:25-37).[10] At the cross, he exemplified what it means to live a life of sacrificial love (John 15:14, I John 3:16).[12] All who are to be called his disciples are enjoined to follow in his footsteps and live a life of compassion, forgiveness, and humility.[13] Christ spelled out how this pattern of life works out in everyday life most specifically in what is now called as the “Sermon on the Mount.”[14] Simply stated, to live a life that is godly is to be a good neighbor to all people, especially those mostly in need. This pattern of Christlike living has not only confronted but also influenced cultures and civilizations on what it means to look after the less fortunate and how to look upon and treat those pushed at the margins of society.[15]

This brief sketch of a possible re-reading of key passages in the New Testament shows that at the heart of what God sought to accomplish in history may well be about the liberation of life for all of His creation -the bees, the birds, your neighborhood and its cultural practices, including the rivers and hills in which it is located (Acts 17:26). Perhaps, this musing can provide an alternative for those coming out shortchanged as they look for what salvation is all about in today’s shopping complex of Christian goodies.

-Rei Lemuel Crizaldo

NOTES:
[1] This soteriological notion is reflected in popular Gospel presentations such as Evangelism Explosion (EE), Simplified Bridge Illustration, the Roman Road, and even in what is called as “The Wordless Book.” By the way it formulates the Good News, it also necessarily reduces the concept of salvation as finding the solution to the problem of sin and its punishment (the fires of hell) by securing the destiny of one’s soul in heaven. But as Prof. John Stackhouse Jr. of Regent College reminds us, “An understanding of salvation that amounts to a sort of spiritual individualism is little better than Gnosticism.” This is why he thinks there is a need to “redouble our efforts to teach what the Bible teaches about salvation in all its glorious complexity and scope” and“prod evangelical theology toward a vision of salvation as large as God’s mission to the world He loves and redeems” (see the book he edited, “What Does it Mean to Be Saved? Broadening Evangelical Horizons of Salvation” published by Baker Academic in 2002). This blogpost is a humble contribution to such a clarion call.
[2] Unfortunately, the term ‘liberation’ has been so rigidly associated (or even, ‘hijacked’) in theological literature as referring to the movement called Liberation Theology developed in Latin America (cf., Gustavo Gutierrez). But the term itself is a rich word that captures a lot of what the Bible says about ‘redemption.’ I am of the opinion, that the word might as well be redeemed from the usual theological baggage associated with it and be given a fresh lease of life. Interestingly, the Micah Global has recently framed its missiological understanding along the lines of ‘liberation’: “Scripture has a ‘liberating’ theme running through it and the climax of the Good News message is one of redemption and restoration. God is our Liberator, not only of humanity, but of all creation… We are to be signposts, demonstrating God’s liberating agenda for his world, proclaiming and pointing to the ultimate liberation of all things in heaven and earth when Christ returns” (cf., Sheryl Haw, Micah Global Inform October 2017 – “God’s Liberating Agenda”).
[3] The works of Old Testament scholars such as Walter Brueggemann (“Theology of the Old Testament”) and Chris Wright (“The Mission of God”), including the works of New Testament theologian NT Wright (initially, his book, “Surprised by Hope”), as well as the numerous articles of Latino missiologist C. Rene Padilla became formative influences in my reflections.
[4] I previously run a series of blogposts on this topic. First post can be found here: http://xgenesisrei.tumblr.com/post/159811395065/lifes-perfect-playbook
[5] Elsewhere, in Ephesians 1:8-10, Paul said that this project of reconciling everything in the heavens and on earth to Christ is God’s “secret plan.”
[6] This led some thinkers such as Greg Boyd to develop an overtly negative picture of the world wherein it has been so-wretched by Satan’s works that God has totally lost control of it. According to him, the whole world has turned into a kingdom of darkness and doom in which God’s people are called by God to set themselves apart. See his book “The Myth of a Christian Nation.”
[7] This storyline is from CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. But the idea of liberating the world from the dominion of the Evil One is articulated in what is called as the “Christus Victor” theory of the atonement. In essence, this theory highlights the ultimate issue underlying all that is wrong and broken in the world -the cosmic conflict between good and evil in the universe. It focuses on the element that what Christ has accomplished in his earthly mission is to liberate the world from Satan and undo the havoc that he and his demons has wrought upon God’s good creation. Simply said, the problem of humanity is not simply a sin-problem but a more bigger problem of devilish dominion.
It is unfortunate that the individualism and secularism of the Western world, with its skepticism of the paranormal and supernatural beings such as angels and demons, have paved the way for the monopolization in soteriology (theology of salvation) of the atonement theory called as ‘penal-substitution.’ This particular theory teaches that what Christ came to do is to pay for the sins of humanity and serve as their substitute sacrificial offering to appease God’s wrath and let them off the hook of His judgment and punishment in the lake of fire. It fostered a rather narrowed-down idea of redemption as basically an issue of sin-management and at a very personal level.
But the surge of Pentecostalism recaptured the notion of spiritual warfare and the importance of being delivered from the activities of evil demonic spirits. It brought back into the table the neglected dimensions of soteriology that involves the need to free the world not only from penalty of sin but also from the power of Satan.
[8] Paul used in this verse the Greek word ‘eleutheroo’ which means to be set at liberty. Same word used by Paul in Galatians 5:1. ‘To be set free’ is the common translation in English but the picture suggested by the Greek is to possess liberty.
[9] Walter Brueggemann insists that people’s identity are closely tied up to the land they inhabit, even and most especially, the people of God (see his book “The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith”).
[10] Interestingly, Apostle Paul taught both the believers in Ephesus and at Colossae that greed is basically a case of idolatry (Col. 3:5 and Eph. 5:5).
[11] Elsewhere, Jesus called this two commands as the greatest of all (Matt 22:36-40 and Mark 12:28-34). John the Beloved vividly captured the fusion of the two commands by saying, “If people say, ‘I love God,’ but hate their brothers or sisters, they are liars. Those who do not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have never seen” (I John 4:20).
[12] It is by laying down this example of giving one’s life for another that Jesus left a new commandment to his disciples in John 13:33. Unlike what he regarded as the greatest of all the commandments in the Old Testament, his new command raises the bar of love for one’s neighbor -no longer just love for one’s self but Christ’s love for the world.
[13] Perhaps, the Old Testament counterpart to this kind of life is what prophet Micah enjoined the Israelites to do as the sum of what Yahweh expects from them: “This is what God requires of you: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
[14] See Matthew chapters 5-7.
[15] Works abound on how the ethical teachings of Jesus have left a deep impact in Western society that in time has embraced Christianity not only as a way of life but also a way of organizing society. See for example Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity” and Alvin Schmidt’s “Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization” and Glenn Sunshine’s “Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home.” On how the early church made such a deep impact to Roman society, see Helen Reese’s “Loving the Poor, Saving the Rich: Wealth, Poverty, and Early Christian Formation.”

 

When is a good time to talk about climate change?

Hurricane Irma proved to be a storm of record-breaking dimensions and power. Communities all along its track from the Caribbean to the southeastern USA are only just beginning to come to terms with the devastation it caused. Satellite images showing Irma as the size of Texas were truly sobering.

But devastation of communities and habitats was not all that Irma left in its wake – an intense public debate immediately started about whether or not we should talk about climate change at times like these.

Some, such as the administrator of the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt felt it was “insensitive”. He has previously made no secret of his own scepticism of the scientific consensus that human activity is inevitably leading to more extreme weather events like Irma. Others, such as the UK’s Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Alan Duncan, rebuked the only elected Member of Parliament for the UK Green Party, Caroline Lucas, for suggesting that it was the right time to discuss the wider issue of climate change, saying that she was ‘lacking humanity’ for ‘linking Hurricane Irma with climate change.’

A Rocha’s concerns as Irma approached the USA were personal and immediate – our marine team leader Bob Sluka and his family had recently re-located to coastal Florida (you may read his first-hand report, Waiting for hurricane Irma). And it is in that personal vein that we should first respond as Christians and fellow planetary citizens to those communities that have been battered and bruised by these truly shattering storms – by standing with them in grief and reaching out to them with loving support. Churches and NGOs are rightly at the fore front of community efforts to provide clean water, food, shelter and all that is needed in a coordinated disaster response. But as the floods recede, and people and places begin the long recovery, we also hope to support the emergence of a wiser and de-politicized conversation about climate change that is rooted in two Christian convictions. The first is that people who are made in the image of God have a sacred mission to live by the truth that sets us free. So the practice of honest science can be a holy calling, however unwelcome the data to our previous ways of life. And secondly we have an equal, Christ-inspired calling to care for the wider creation and for poorer human communities, both of which are proving themselves to be the most vulnerable to the effects of our rapidly changing climate.

Recent events bring even more determination to live out those convictions. Even this year we have witnessed flooding in south Asia where according to International Health Partners 1400 people have lost their lives and 40 million have been affected by rising waters in the last two months, we have seen a heatwave and then fires that caused unprecedented numbers of deaths in Portugal, and several other A Rocha teams around the world report extreme weather events that have directly affected their work. All of these phenomena closely correspond to the predictions of climate scientists. So for us this is a matter of compassion and truth-telling, and as the issue is fundamentally rooted in the choices of human societies that are in turn guided by what they know and believe, our first response is moral and not political.

We are proud to be hosting the eminent climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe in UK for our evening London Lecture on November 16th, and she recently argued in the New York Times that ‘When we try to warn people about the risks, there’s no ‘news’ hook. No one wants to listen. That’s why the time to talk about this is now. The most dangerous and pernicious myth that we’ve bought into when it comes to climate change is not the myth that it isn’t real or that humans aren’t responsible. It’s the myth that it doesn’t matter to me. As humans, we are all too good at pretending that a risk, even one we know is real, doesn’t matter to us.’

So we believe not just that this is the right time to be talking about climate change, as well as acting to protect people and non-human species from its immediate impacts. And we also believe that a better conversation is possible and it is one that should be welcomed by all those who are committed to knowing the truth that sets us free, and to finding that truth by every available means.

Do you agree?

By Chris Naylor

Original post: http://blog.arocha.org/en/when-is-a-good-time-to-talk-about-climate-change

About Chris Naylor

Prior to joining A Rocha, Chris had wide experience of science teaching and schools’ management in the UK and the Middle East, attending Bible College and learning Arabic (in Jordan) along the way. He joined A Rocha in 1997 working, until 2009, as Lebanon Director where he cofounded the work. He oversaw the habitat restoration programme at the Aammiq Wetland, the development of the environmental education project and the field research programme, identifying 11 new Important Bird Areas. Since April 2010 he has been Executive Director of A Rocha International and is based in Oxfordshire. His book Postcards from the Middle East: How our family fell in love with the Arab world was published by Lion Hudson in March 2015.