When it comes to the conversation around climate change Christians often find themselves caught between conflicting biblical principles. On the one hand, the Bible says:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14 ESV)
But at the same time it also says:
“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17 ESV)
Provide guidance – but wisely, cautiously and from a certain distance.
Toward that end, I offer the following preliminary suggestions:
1. Be very careful about taking sides
The climate change conversation feels less like a legitimate dialogue and more like a staging ground for other, more visceral, tribal concerns. Lines have been drawn and teams have been chosen.
One side says that the world is coming to an end and we must take drastic measures immediately to ward off mass extinction.
The other side says that the entire thing is a hoax and a conspiracy theory intended to justify big government and wasteful investment in green energy.
The truth is almost certainly somewhere in-between. Whenever this much emotion is involved and whenever the conclusions are this far apart and the data this vigorously debated the Bible reading Christian ought to immediately recall that:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
Sin distorts our perception of reality. Sometimes we see what we want to see. Sometimes we ignore what doesn’t confirm our perception of the world.
We are not impartial observers or deciders.
Human beings are tribal. We pick a team and we support the team positions. The simple fact is that most of us make our decisions relationally.
The challenge for us as Christians therefore, is to remember that our mandate is to reach people on both sides of this contentious issue. The church is trans-tribal. We are never allowed to over-identify with any tribe, tongue or nation on planet earth – because the church is supposed to gather people out of every tribe, tongue and nation on planet earth.
So do not pick a side.
Be like the angel of the Lord that Joshua met outside the city of Jericho. He asked him:
“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” (Joshua 5:13–14 ESV)
God’s people are on God’s side and they never entirely align with lesser parties.
2. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face
The conversation around climate change has become absolutely vicious in recent days. I have been shocked by the price that many Christians seem willing to pay in order to make whatever points it is they think they are making.
I’ve seen pastors ridiculing 16 year old girls.
I’ve seen mommy bloggers mocking coddled Millennials.
And I’ve seen numerous regular Christians attacking and vilifying people that Jesus died to save.
And for what?
Most of us aren’t going to exercise any influence over the actual policies and legislation emerging from this conversation, so what will be gained by all this nastiness and mud-slinging?
I can tell you what may be lost:
Influence and access to an entire generation of young people growing up outside of the sound of the Gospel.
That is far too high a price to pay!
Even if you think that this whole climate change thing is an actual hoax; even if you believe that the data has been manipulated in order to encourage over investment in green technology – why would you sabotage your witness to an entire generation? Why would you position yourself as a grouchy old coot shouting at the neighbourhood kids to get the heck off your lawn?
It isn’t worth it.
Young people have always had extreme views.
Sometimes they grow out of them – and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they are right and we ought to have paid attention.
I’m not sure what the case is here – but I’m trying to keep an open mind and I’m trying to maintain a measure of influence and I suggest that we all do the same.
3. Maintain biblical priorities and perspectives
Christian wisdom is often a matter of understanding where something ranks in our hierarchy of concerns. The Apostle Paul attempted to steer the Corinthian church towards wisdom on the matter of speaking in tongues. A careful reading of 1 Corinthians 12-14 reveals that the Apostle intended to deprioritize – but not delegitimize, speaking in tongues.
We ought to take a similar approach with respect to the conversation on climate change.
Stewardship of the earth is a legitimate biblical concern but it must never be allowed to become an obsession. One of the things I have done over the years is to read through my Bible (I read through the Bible every year using the RMM Bible Reading Plan) using one highlighter for general observations and appreciations and a second colour for observations related to a particular topic. In one of my bibles, all of the yellow highlights are general in nature and all of the pink highlights relate to the matter of the atonement.
Try that exercise with the issue of environmental stewardship.
You will see that the concern is legitimate – but it by no means dominates the conversation within Scripture.
And therefore nor should it dominate our conversation as Christians in the public square.
Establish a post limit on the issue of climate change. 1 post about climate change – yea or nay – for every 20 posts about some other, legitimate Christian concern.
If you post more about climate change than you do about meekness – then you are out of balance.
If you post more about climate change than you do about the need to care for the poor – you are out of balance.
If you post more about climate change than you do about the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ – then you are out of balance.
So – establish a post limit and hold yourself to it.
4. Be a good listener
In addition to being the light of the world, according to Jesus in Matthew 5, Christians are also supposed to be the salt of the earth. That is to say that we are to be a force of restraint. We should slow the rate of corruption in the culture.
We are supposed to be a drag!
One of the ways we can slow things down, when they appear to be spiralling rapidly out of control, is to practice the lost art of long listening.
We can decide to withhold judgment.
We can read another book.
We can listen to another voice.
We can consider another perspective.
We can solicit further feedback.
We can ask follow up questions.
And of course, we can pray.
And after all that, even if you come to the wrong conclusion, you will still have been a witness to the world.
5. Keep the focus on the person and work of Christ
Environmentalism must never be allowed to eclipse the call to evangelism. If the Bible is clear about anything it is clear that the world will still be here – and people will still be here – when Jesus Christ returns bodily to the earth.
God promised that to Noah and his family when they came out of the ark. He said:
“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22 ESV)
Whether or not the climate is changing – whether or not human activity is the main contributing factor – the Word of God says that there will always be cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night – until the end. There will be seedtime and harvest. The earth will produce food for human beings – until the end.
There will be an end – but it will not come as the result of a climate catastrophe – it will come as the result of a Christ catastrophe. Jesus said:
“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40–43 ESV)
There is a catastrophe coming and we should do everything we can to prepare.
We should leverage every relationship we have and use every tool at our disposal to spread the news that judgment is coming! Jesus will return to this earth and he will judge the living and the dead. And only the one who has put faith in Jesus will be saved.
“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10–12 ESV)
That is the message we should be spreading.
That is the mission we were given.
And that is the Word of the Lord!
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.