What has climate change got to do with the Bible? By David Hawker
Changing the Climate: Applying the Bible in a climate emergency, by the Hawker family, is new out this month. Here, to coincide with publication on 18 June, David Hawker answers the question:
What has climate change got to do with the Bible?
There seems to be something about climate change on the media every day at the moment. Maybe you feel you should do something about it. Or that you’re doing your bit – recycling, switching off your phone charger, meat free Mondays – surely we can’t do everything? Or that it’s not the main point of the gospel, not about saving people from their sinful nature and restoring their relationship with God. Perhaps it’s one of those side issues, nice to pay some attention to but not essential. Or maybe you think what we are doing to the Earth isn’t really relevant when our home is in heaven and Jesus will take those who know him there after death. Or that it’s too political. Or possibly even a hoax.
Scientists don’t think so. Young people, like our son Jamie, and many more in our book, don’t think so. People in many parts of the world, who see the effects of climate change daily, don’t think so. In fact most people think climate change is one of the most important issues we face, and so do most Christians, and many Bible scholars.
Actually climate change – and more importantly, the whole ecological crisis that it is part of – are more central to the Bible’s message than we often recognise.
Take creation, for a start. God said his creation was good, and made men and women to look after it. Just what is it about cutting down more rainforests than we plant, accelerating the rate of species extinction, making the oceans more acidic so that they support less life, or mining the planet’s resources until they’re used up that counts as looking after creation?
The Old Testament law is full of instructions we ignore about how to look after land fairly and sustainably so that everyone has enough to live on. Prophets spoke of environmental disasters that came when God’s people failed to follow his commands. Failing to care for creation, leading to climate change, may have played a role in the emergence of the coronavirus.
So much overconsumption comes down to coveting. As people get richer, we want what other people have – the freedom of driving a car, foreign holidays, meat, fruit and vegetables out of season, new technology. The consequences are that we fly planes more, burn fossil fuels, destroy more rainforest, add excess greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that warm the planet. If we kept the tenth commandment properly, much of that would not happen. God commanded Noah to fill the earth. Now it’s pretty full, does that mean we should carry on having lots of children? Or do we need to consider the huge impact that having a child has on using resources and warming the planet?
Jesus came to save us from our sins and their consequences. Those sins include greed, coveting, stealing from future generations and people far away, and idolatry which puts our own comfort ahead of worshipping God by honouring his creation. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. Does it ever feel as if we are getting stuck on issues which are tiny compared to health of the world God created?
God promised not that his chosen people would have eternal life away from the earth in heavenly realms, but a new heaven and a new earth for all, with qualities greatly surpassing the old earth. Does that mean we don’t need to bother looking after the old earth? Hardly. Would it be wise or right to gift a mansion to tenants who trashed your flat? No: Revelation 11:18 talks about God, ‘destroying those who destroy the earth’.
In our family, for a long time we did little bits to ease the ecological crisis. As time drew on, we realised more and more how serious it is, and how seriously God takes it. We made more changes to our lifestyle, and wondered what we should do – give up our work with missions? Change our jobs? Join Extinction Rebellion? God knows what we will do next. But last year we wrote a book.
We wrote it together as a family. We packed it with bible studies and facts about climate change, and tips from our teenage son on what to do about it. We included stories from young people around the world who are dealing with the effects of climate change. If you’re not sure whether climate change is real, or important, or something God wants us to deal with, or what to do about it, read this book.
Praise for Changing the Climate
‘I wish this book had been available when my children were younger! It’s wise and informative yet wonderfully easy to read. It moves from the biblical to the practical, the local to the global, making the complex simple and succeeding in both being deeply challenging yet also life-affirming and hope-giving.’ Revd Dr Dave Bookless, director of theology, A Rocha International and author of Planetwise. ‘This is one of the best and most accessible books I have read on why Christians should care about climate change, and what we can do about it. This is a book to be read and shared with your family, friends and church.’ Caroline Pomeroy, director, Climate Stewards
About the authors
The Hawkers are a Christian family who are taking action for climate justice. Psychologists Debbie and David Hawker work with Tearfund and other campaign organisations.
Their teenage son Jamie also campaigns on climate issues and is part of the ‘Green Agents of Change’ initiative within the Methodist Church.