What Does Hope in Christ’s Kingdom Have to Do with Climate Change?
Liuan Huska and Ben Lowe
(With excerpts from Au Sable Institute’s 2021 workbook Liturgies of Restoration¸ a five-week study on how our habits can shape us into people who serve, protect, and restore God’s earth. The workbook is available for small groups and church use here. Individuals can also sign up for a fall online workbook study hosted by Au Sable Institute here.)
Since 1970, over 15 percent, or more than 347,000 square miles, of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest has been cleared, an area more than twice the size of California. Since 1979, 1.2 million square miles of sea ice has melted, more than four times the area of Texas. In the past half-century, monitored populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians have declined an average of 68% globally.
We receive these facts with a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration, determination, and despair. As Christians, we may also wonder, “What hope does this gospel offer for the groaning earth and its future?”
In their book Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis, Jonathan Moo (who serves together with us on the board of the Christian conservation organization, A Rocha USA) and Robert White describe a range of possible responses to our planet’s predicament, from “ignorance is bliss” and denial to problem-solving and despair. The path forward involves not ignoring or discounting our various emotions but recognizing and facing them together. For some of our faith traditions—particularly much of white evangelicalism—this means (re)learning how to lament, repent, and bear prophetic witness in the face of denial or despair.
The Bible warns us, Moo and White write, of the ways human behavior can harm the earth. But, “the Bible also sets out clearly . . . the sure and certain hope that we have in Christ for restoration and a setting of all things right in the new creation.” We see promise of this throughout the Bible, especially in the writings of Isaiah, Paul (Romans 8), and the apostle John (Revelation).
Hoping for Christ’s kingdom can seem foolish and even dangerous, considering our present reality. Humans have really screwed many things up. Doesn’t trusting that God will make everything right absolve us of responsibility to fix the problem ourselves? Does it give us permission to sit back and do nothing, waiting for God to intervene? How do we keep biblical hope from turning into Christian complacency?
There is a real temptation, given many of our cultural lenses, to believe that we humans are at the center. We are, after all, living in the era of the Anthropocene—a geological age where humans are exerting a dominant influence over the climate and environment.
Putting humans at the center of the story results in two possible outcomes. The first is despair: We are the main characters, and we’ve made such a mess. There’s no way we can get ourselves out of this. We are doomed. The second is false optimism: We are the main characters. We are clever and resourceful. Just as we found technological solutions to our earlier problems, with ingenuity we’ll figure out how to reverse climate change and fix all our other ecological crises.
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We can feel the allure of both these responses. In reality, however, humans are not at the center of Creation, our Creator is. And the God of the Bible calls us to something different: humility and hope. Hope in the New Testament, Stephen Bouma-Prediger writes in his book Earthkeeping and Character, “is centered on God, not us . . . The good future for which we hope rests on the person and work of Jesus Christ, not on our good works.”
While there is reason to have some optimism around promising technological and policy innovations, our ultimate hope is in God. This wide and wonderful world that we are part of, and that we are called to care for, is not ultimately our world, it’s God’s. It is the very work of God’s hands and so we trust that its future also rests in God.
Human ingenuity notwithstanding, we cannot save the world any more than we can save ourselves. In any case, that is not what we are called to do. Our calling is to be faithful; to seek first the kingdom and its righteousness, and to trust in God for the rest. When we do so, our efforts to care for creation become acts of worship and signs of witness to the gospel and the kingdom of God.
Liuan Huska is a freelance writer and the author of Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness. She lives in the Chicago area, on ancestral Potawatomi land, with her husband and three little boys. She serves on the board of A Rocha USA.
Rev. Ben Lowe is the author of multiple books and has over a decade of experience engaging faith communities around social and environmental concerns. He is currently completing a doctorate in global environmental change at the University of Florida and serves as the chairperson of A Rocha USA and the co-chair of Christians for Social Action.