What does the Bible say about Climate Change?

 
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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

During the COVID-19 lockdown last year, I lived with some messy people. I’d moved into a house that I shared with a wonderful couple of brothers. They were almost everything you could ask for in a set of housemates. Friendly, funny, respectful of your privacy . . . genuinely great people in almost every respect.

Except for their laissez-faire attitude to household chores.

I want to be clear here, I am not putting them on blast. Those who know me are aware that I too can have a somewhat lax policy when it comes to cleaning and chores. I was notorious for being the messiest of the six children in my family, which caused a fair share of frustration to the brother I used to share a room with. When it comes to messiness, my housemates were in good company.

The lockdown didn’t exactly help matters. Without guests popping in for a visit, the need to clean was almost non-existent. We did try to regularly tidy the place, but some aspects just didn’t get the love and care they deserved—chief amongst them the garden and backyard.

Have you ever seen a thistle the size of a fully grown man? It’s not a sight that belongs in suburbia, but we did our best to cultivate one in the front yard next to our bins.

When the year was up and we decided to move out, this became a problem. The mess that had been growing in the yard suddenly had the potential to affect our bond or relationship with the landlord. The situation was so dire and our gardening experience so inadequate that we did what anyone would do—we hired somebody to whip it into shape for us while we cleaned inside the place.

Even though we did end up getting back the bond, the reality is . . . we were not the best tenants. In most aspects we were great, but when it came to maintaining and caring for the land that we were tasked with, we were neglectful in our duties.

Unfortunately, my housemates and I are not the only ones that neglect the land we live on.

A Global Warning

A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which was conducted in association with hundreds of climate scientists and other scientific professionals made headlines for declaring a “Code Red” for humanity—a warning which has been directly attributed to the effect that humanity has had on Earth’s climate. Oil spills, fossil fuels, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions—the evidence is overwhelming. Humanity’s desire for innovation and exploitation is having a damaging effect on the planet. There’s even a word specially designed to describe this unprecedented era: Anthropocene—referring to the way that humankind is the driver of the current climate.

Yet, despite the dire warnings, there are some that still deny the importance of taking action on the issue of climate change—with an even smaller portion denying its existence altogether. Interestingly enough, there are specific portions of the population that are more likely to hold this belief. A survey from University of Cincinnati political scientist Matthew Arbuckle and Georgetown University public policy expert David Konisky showed that in America, Christians have lower levels of concern regarding environmental issues than non-Christians.

Academics Bernard Daley Zaleha and Andrew Szasz argue that this, in part, stems from “apocalyptic beliefs about “end times” that make it pointless to worry about global warming”, which are held by many conservative Christians. For some, the perception is that Christians are more focused with things beyond the physical world they inhabit like Heaven and Hell. As a result, they neglect the environment and ignore pressing climate issues.

But is this belief accurate?

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Photo by William Bossen on Unsplash

The Parable of the Tenants

I believe the answer to this question lies, in part, in one of Jesus lesser known parables—the parable of the wicked tenants. Despite appearing in Matthew, Mark and Luke, this parable is often under-examined. Perhaps this is unsurprising as the Parable of the Wicked Tenants paints an extremely grim picture of what will happen to those who defy God’s instructions.

The parable is a simple one. A farmer owns a vineyard, which he pays some tenants to maintain in time for the harvest. When the harvest comes and the farmer sends servants to collect, they are beaten and/or killed by the tenants. Eventually, the farmer sends his son hoping they will respect him and end this conflict. Instead, the son is killed and thrown out of the vineyard. The parable ends with Jesus proclaiming that the farmer will return and kill the tenants—replacing them with tenants who will give him what he is owed.

It’s not exactly uplifting stuff, but I think that’s partly why I’ve long been fascinated by it. It’s one of the times where Jesus outlines clear consequences for disobedience.

The question many may ask about this parable is: who are these bad tenants and what does their mistreatment of the vineyard represent?

Many have clearly noted that Matthew 21:45 describes the reaction of the Pharisees—the religious leaders of the time—as recognising that the parable was comparing them to the tenants: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew He was talking about them.” In this way it’s clear that one meaning to be taken from this parable is representative of Jesus time on Earth: God will punish those who rejected and crucified Him.

But what about the modern day? The parables of Jesus are rarely applicable to just one circumstance, with Jesus Himself noting that he spoke through parables to provide stories that many could understand.

I believe that this parable serves as a reminder of one of the earliest orders which God gave humankind.

Genesis 2:15 describes one of the first actions that God takes after creating us: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Similarly, in Leviticus, when providing laws to the Israelites, He clearly lays out the relationship between Him, us and His land: “The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me” (Leviticus 25:23, NLT).

The land we live on, wherever we may be, is not ours to do with as we see fit. The Bible tells us that we are caretakers and should do our best to care for all of God’s creation. When speaking about God’s final judgement, Revelation 11:18 provides a clear-cut statement on how God will deal with those who ignore the responsibility He has given us: “It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth” (NLT).

Imagine if my housemates and I had not bothered to clean the garden or house because the end of our lease was coming up and we would no longer be living in the house. Our job was not just to maintain the house but prepare it for whatever the landlord wanted next–regardless of our feelings on the matter. Had we ignored this obligation I doubt our landlord would have been happy. In the same way, ignoring God’s commands to take care of the planet can lead to a harsh punishment.

All people are called to care for his planet, and as a result, we should speak out when we see harm being done to it. When the Victorian state government in Australia attempts to continue environmentally harmful logging, we should speak up. Similarly, we should voice our concerns when those living on islands in the Torres Strait or across the South Pacific are confronted by the rise of sea levels and destruction of natural wildlife, and when investors and speculators around the world continue to invest in destructive and harmful business. If people use their political power to take actions against environmental protection, we should call them out. This shouldn’t be the Christian response, but the response of all people—everybody being made in the image of God and instructed to take care of God’s creation.

Thankfully, not all believers are unlikely to take action on these matters. Today it was announced that hundreds of people of faith have co-ordinated with the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change in a letter writing campaign pleading Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “act now and act vigorously on a plan to reduce our climate pollution”. As Pastor Rob Buckingham noted “Our faith teaches us that we should care for God’s creation. I appeal to the Prime Minister as a man of faith and ask him to carefully consider his government’s responsibility to ensure the earth’s environment is protected for the generations to come.” While some may view Christians as ignoring these issues, it is clear that following the Bible can encourage all of humanity to take better care of the environment

This letter writing campaign highlights the interesting state that Australia currently finds itself in. As one of the biggest coal exporters in the world, Australia has consistently dragged its feet when it comes to setting climate goals or taking action, earning it criticism from other nations.

Furthermore, the devastation from climate change causes large amounts of pain and suffering, which we can see in events like the 2019-2020 bushfire season, or the recent hurricanes in America. Jesus tells his followers that they should help those in pain, care for those in need and be a friend to the downtrodden. When these disasters are put in the context of their cause, the Christian perspective on the matter is made clear—all of humanity should work to combat the “Code Red” which we currently face.

 

Ryan Stanton is Media and Communications school PhD student at the University of Sydney. He firmly believes in the “leave it cleaner than it was when you arrived” policy… including on matters of environmental concern.