Climate change remains a controversial subject for many on the conservative side of things. While it seems most people now accept that it is happening, the current state of debate centers on whether humans have anything to do with it.
To be clear. Science clearly favors one side over the other. More and more scientists agree that the climate is changing and humanity has made an impact; the idea is quickly on its way from scientific hypothesis to scientific fact. The data and the theories just explain too much.
But, if we can, I’d like to set aside the whole scientific debate for a second and talk from the perspective of Scripture. While science should inform how we interact with the world, in the end, the Scriptures must provide the foundational vision on which we act.
Vision 1. Creation belongs to God and is entrusted to humanity.
Most of us have seen some version of this before. Genesis 1 clearly says, “God created the heavens and the earth,” and all throughout Scripture we get the conception of Earth belonging to God. Psalm 95 tells us that “the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
Importantly, God entrusts the care of creation with humanity. Genesis 2 says God “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” He named animals, pruned trees, and generally took care of the place. In short, God’s original intention for humanity was to have an affect on the natural world. Humans, by virtue of who God made them to be, are integrally related to the world around them and are meant to have a profound impact upon it.
And if you don’t believe it, just ask the passenger pigeon, the Amazon rain-forest, or the “hole” in the ozone layer. At every level of the ecological system, humans have proved that they have been given power by God to change the natural world. In this case, Scripture and science agree completely.
Vision 2. God is still creating.
But, there is another way to think about creation. In the above view, we often picture creation as this finished object, this thing that God created once and then handed over. But is that true?
Presbyterian preservationists John Muir reminds us that this is an incomplete picture at best. A student of glaciers, Muir helped shape our understanding of how glaciers work to carve landscapes slowly over thousands of years. Yet, Muir did not see this only as a scientific process, he saw it as divine creation. He marveled at the creative process, at how “the world, now yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.” He recognized that humanity continues to live within “creation’s dawn.” In short, God seems to still be creating every moment of every day.
And Scripture says the same. Psalm 135 says God’s direct actions produce lightning, winds, and clouds. Colossians 1 tells us that in Christ “all things hold together.” The natural world is still the domain of God’s action; God in Christ and through the Spirit is still creating. Mountains, volcanoes, clouds, currents, all of these are a continual living painting of God’s creative person.
The Real Climate Question
These two visions bring us to a strange place. While God has and is creating, he has also invited us into that act of creation. We get the awesome responsibility to affect our natural world along with God. The question we shouldn’t be asking is “Do we have an impact?” (Scripture says we do). The real question is, “Is our impact in keeping with God’s will?”
John Muir is often described as a wilderness prophet. He lived sometime in the Yosemite Valley and he had a reputation for climbing trees in thunderstorms and peaking over the edge of waterfalls. He had a thirst for understanding and reveling in the beauty of God’s creation. These vistas and experiences amazed him because in them he saw the continued handiwork of God. He especially loved glaciers because in them he saw God’s fingertip carving out the rivers of the earth.
We like to treat the earth as an object that is handed to us from God, but the reality is that the earth is a canvas that God asks us to hold onto and manage as he paints upon it.
Do we love that canvas because it is profitable, usable, convenient? Or do we love that canvas because upon it we watch God dance and move in grace and wonder? Do we fall on our knees in awe at each master stroke of God, or do we grab the brush from his hand? No doubt, God has indeed invited us into his act of creation, but I find it hard to believe that this world is the one God’s creative power intended.
The Dawn of God’s Creation
For something is indeed happening in the world around us. Quite simply, humans have changed the environment; they have produced a new age of extinction and destroyed or put at risk countless ecosystems. We remove mountaintops, create deep fracture deep beneath the earth in search of carbon-producing fossil fuels. The glaciers, those beloved fingertips of God, continue to retreat and disappear as our planet experiences hotter average temperatures year upon year.
We argue over impact, but the damage is done; God’s painting has long been defaced by us.
But, it’s not too late that we must lose all hope. We remain within the dawn of God’s creation. We have a choice to marvel at it and to steward it in worshipful wonder. We can encounter and partner with God’s creative energy, but only as we recognize the natural world as what it is: the holy domain of the artist God.
And perhaps in the end, if we Christians treated the world as if it were the holy gift that it is, people might see us as a bit holier too.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.