Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Poverty (page 1 of 3)

Climate change – why should Christians care?

Psalm 148 is a song of praise to God for everything that has been created. That, if anything, is enough reason for people of faith to care for the environment. But it goes a lot deeper than that.

With the United States deciding to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement this week, many Christians are again debating whether or not we should care about the planet. I really thought we had gone past this as Christians. The fact that we still have to sit here and debate with some people whether or not we should even care about the planet is incredibly frustrating.

I first wrote this article back in 2006 for a talk I gave at World Vision on this topic. While many Christians have no problem with the need to care for the Earth, they struggle to explain exactly why, apart from a general acceptance that we should because God made it.

So, given the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and that today is World Environment Day, here is a slightly updated rewrite of the theological background for why it is an obligation for people of faith to care for the planet.

While there are still people who disagree over the extent of climate change and whether or not it is happening as a result of human activity, more and more people are accepting that it is a current fact and that human actions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution are playing a major part.

However, we still have a lot of work to do. While many evangelical leaders in the US have spoken out about the moral obligation to care for the earth that God made, there remain Christians in the US and Australia today who are advising President Trump that policies that look after the environment are a waste of time. Their reason for that advice is that God will take care of it and it is a threat to God’s omnipotence. And so we now have one of the biggest carbon-emitting nations on the planet telling the rest of the world to go to hell.

The fact is that this God we believe in cares deeply for the planet we get to live on. Throughout the Bible there is a common thread of God’s concern for the planet, and from this comes our responsibility and privilege to love what God loves.

Mark Brett from Whitley College in Melbourne has said that, “to reduce the complexity of the many references in the Bible that call us to care for the planet, people have often narrowed creation theology down to the key point which serves human interests: God said ‘subdue the earth’, so let’s get on with it”. Brett goes on to say that “both humans and animals are made from the earth, and in this sense we all belong to the same lineage system or ‘earth community’”. From the dust we were made. Genesis tells us that.

It’s interesting to note that Genesis also tells us that God told all species to be fruitful and multiply, so one of our responsibilities is to allow the other species to do just that.

So let’s have a brief look at what Genesis actually says. Ched Myers has said that,

“The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) is structured around the Creator’s repeated pronouncements that each layer of the world is “fantastic”. After day 1, he made the universe, and he said it was very good. Day 2 he made the sky and it was very good. Day 3…and it was very good and so it goes on with everything that God makes. The Hebrew word “tov” signifies intense delight. God says this way before humans arrive on the scene, showing that God thought this planet was pretty amazing when we weren’t even here yet. The environment is part of God’s creation which He said was very good.”

Then God goes on to make us, with the world as our habitat. As Myers goes on to say, “humans have received the world as a gift from the Creator and must never mistake it for a possession (Leviticus 25:23)”.

After humans are created, God tells us what our vocation is. The human vocation is summarised in Genesis 2:15: The human being is to “till and keep” (‘abad and shamar). The Hebrew word for tend (Hebrew: ‘abad) means “to work or serve,” and so, referring to the ground or a garden, it can be defined as “to till or cultivate”. It implies adornment, embellishment, and improvement.

The Hebrew word for keep (‘shamar’) means “to exercise great care over.” In the context of Genesis 2:15, it expresses God’s wish that humankind, “take care of,” “guard,” or “watch over” the earth. What we’re noticing is that Genesis 1 to 2, the very first words of God that we have, are a sharp contrast from the once-prevalent and still persistent interpretation of “dominion” that many Christians use to sanction environmental destruction in the name of progress. The exercise of dominion means that we are to exercise dominion with mercy, justice, and compassion – as servants of creation, and as Jesus was the ultimate servant leader, we are to follow His example in living like this.

Jesus also said that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions. As a result, life works best when we resist the allure of wastefulness and overconsumption by making personal lifestyle choices that express humility, patience, self-restraint and frugality.

Put simply, care for the earth fulfills the Great Commandments to love God and love what God loves. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Do unto others. As a group called Creation Care says, “it’s hardly showing love to a child with asthma when you’re filling her lungs with pollution”.

Another reason that God calls us to care for the planet is because environmental degradation hurts the poor the most. Let’s get this straight: climate change is a poverty issue. Care for the earth is an expression of our love for God and, as an extension of that, our love for the poor.

Despite our call for relationship with the environment as a Biblical mandate, there is also the danger of doing what many environmentalists do and going to the other extreme of idolising the creation instead of the creator. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said that God’s handiwork is seen in all of creation. Paul saw in creation the evidence of God at work, in the beauty and order of it all, and how it all fits together.

In recent decades scientists have been discovering that the laws of physics seem to be fine-tuned for the existence of complex life. All the evidence suggests that our planet is not just a meaningless “lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark” as the famous astronomer Carl Sagan once said.

The Earth is situated in just the right location in our galaxy; that we’re in a planetary system with giant planets that can shield the other planets from too many comet impacts; that we’re orbiting the right kind of star that’s not too cool or too hot; that the earth has an atmosphere that has enough oxygen to allow for complex organisms to survive; that has enough water and enough continents that allow for the diversity of life, and an active biodiversity that you need to support complex creatures such as ourselves. All of these factors give the direct impression that something amazing has taken place, that this did not just happen by a series of chance events.

Scientists are also discovering that the universe itself seems to be fine-tuned for life. Currently there are about 20 known different physical laws and forces that hold the universe together and allow it to sustain life; and if just one of them was altered by a tiny fraction, the universe would not exist. The universe, and this planet, are precious.

Scientists are also telling us about the interdependence of life on the planet. David Suzuki describes how, if all of humanity disappeared off the face of the earth, the rest of life would benefit enormously. The forests would gradually grow back, and relative stability would return to the ecosystems that control global temperature and the atmosphere. The fish in the oceans would recover and most endangered species would slowly come back. On the other hand, for example, if all species of ants disappeared, the results would be close to catastrophic. There would be major extinctions of other species and probably partial collapse of some ecosystems. The functions of the creatures living in the air we breathe, and beneath our feet, all work together to keep us alive.

If we do not consider the effects of a changing climate, we are not working with the poor; we are actually working against the poor. Let me say that again: if we are not considering the effects of environmental degradation, we are working against the poor. The late Ross Langmead said that “the transforming power of the gospel is not just spiritual, and not just social and economic, but also cosmic and environmental. The gospel is bigger than many of us thought!”

Ecology is increasingly teaching us that everything is related. A theme running through the Old Testament is that a distortion of right relationships affects us, affects our societies and affects our environment. As Romans 8 tells us, the creation is groaning and awaiting the setting right of all relationships in the universe.

There is simply no question that doing what we can to care about climate change is our responsibility as Christians, just as much as caring for the poor, no more and no less. And as affluent Christians here in Australia, we have the resources to make a real difference.

Jesus said that from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required. We have been given much here in Australia. It is incumbent on our generation to love what God loves.

Why you won’t be spending eternity in heaven

In case you haven’t seen it yet, my latest article on Christian Today has gone nuts. It’s obviously touched a nerve in one way or another with many people.

This article is probably my strongest one yet for Christian Today. I try to pull no punches in busting the myth that most Christians believe – that we will be spending eternity “up in heaven” with God when we die. Nothing could be further from the truth – literally.

Hope you get a lot out of it…

Why you won’t be spending eternity in heaven

When I was a young Christian, about 30 years ago, I was taught that the kingdom of God meant one thing and one thing only. It was the place those of us in Christ go to spend eternity with him when we die.

What does prayer have to do with alleviating poverty?

Last week as I taught my Justice, Poverty & Development class, I started with Micah 6:8 – “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”.

Those of us who are very justice-minded sometimes have a hard time with that last bit: walking humbly with God. If we believe that we are working for the kingdom of God on earth, then prayer cannot be an optional add-on.

Anyway, I won’t say anymore here, otherwise you won’t read the article! Click below for my latest piece on Godspace…

 

What Does Prayer Have To Do With Alleviating Poverty?

by Nils von Kalm One of the distinctive marks of the Christian faith is the message that the God who made everything wants to have a personal relationship with us. God is both ultimate and intimate.

Why Australia is stingy and getting stingier

The below article in yesterday’s Age newspaper in Melbourne said a heck of a lot about how stingy our Federal Government has become in recent years in terms of our care for those living in poverty around the world.

Why Australia is stingy and getting stingier

Australians like to think their government is a big-hearted foreign aid donor. A recent opinion poll found voters believed our overseas aid budget to be about 10 times bigger, on average, than it actually was. In fact, Australia has never been an especially open-handed donor compared with many other wealthy countries.

While the article is excellent in what it points out, there is so much more to add. Here are some more facts about why cuts to our aid budget simply don’t make sense on so many levels, including economic ones:

1. Vanuatu
2. Tonga
3. Philippines
4. Guatemala
5. Solomon Islands
6. Bangladesh
7. Costa Rica
8. Cambodia
9. Papua New Guinea
10. El Salvador

Vanuatu, the beautiful tourist destination for many Australians, is the riskiest country in the world to live in, with natural disasters on average affecting more than a third of the population each year.

Countries are ranked in this report using the world risk index, which takes into account not only the frequency of natural disasters in each country, but also how well equipped the country is to cope with and recover from the effects of a disaster.

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  • The more foreign aid we give, the better it is for Australia. It’s in our national interest. The Australian Government agrees that its aid program is in our national interest. The Department of Foreign Affairs website says that, “the purpose of the aid program is to promote Australia’s national interests by contributing to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction”. This is quite apart from the fact that it’s just the right thing to do. It’s sad that we have to appeal to our own self-interest to get our Government to hear this stuff, but that is the reality. It is better for Australia if there is less poverty in the world because it frees us up to trade and invest in countries that are able to do that. And it promotes stability.

To reduce our foreign aid giving simply doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, for the reasons stated in the article linked to above, and in my points.

What do you think? Are there any other reasons we should increase our foreign aid?

The heart of Christian mission: a challenge to the Western church

Dr._JayaTraditionally, the Christian church has looked to what is known as the Great Commission when thinking about mission. But what if we needed to look back further than that?

Jayakumar Christian has worked with World Vision for over 30 years. In that time he has witnessed remarkable transformation in his native India as communities have been given hope and a sense of their own identity as people made in the image of God.

In April this year, Jayakumar visited Australia and shared his thoughts and inspiration about what Christian mission is about. What he said was both challenging and encouraging for the Australian church.

The source of his inspiration for mission is found in Psalm 39, one of the lesser known Psalms seemingly hidden away in the middle of the Old Testament. But it is there that Jayakumar dug out the gems of what motivates him to do mission.

Going where God already is

For Jayakumar, living in India, where, despite the economic boom of the last decade, about 80 percent of the population still lives in abject poverty, mission involves going where God already is.

The heart of Christian mission is not about taking God to the poor; it is recognising that God has been amongst the poor long before we arrived there. God is a God of suffering love. Mission therefore, says Jayakumar, is sharing God’s pain.

For the church, sharing God’s pain by going where God already is means being an obedient community. When we are an obedient community, recognising that God is already active, the people we work with there will wonder who our God is.

In a time when Christian faith is rapidly declining in numbers in Australia, Jayakumar also sought to inspire the church here. “The church in Australia is here for a time such as this, to be there for a transformational relationship, not a transactional relationship”, he said. In other words, mission is relational. And being relational means connecting with the pain of others.

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Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

George Monbiot has written another insightful article, this one on the problem of neoliberalism, and the fact that most people in our neoliberal society don’t know what the term means.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it.

Here are my thoughts on some of the points Monbiot makes:

  • “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.”

Just like communism reduced people to cogs in a machine, neoliberalism, or market capitalism, does the same. We become consumers whose value lies in how much we contribute to the ongoing efficiency of the economic machine. We are not seen as having inherent dignity in ourselves.

  • “When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation.” Think Tony Abbott and ‘stop the boats’ in Australia.

The rise of Bernie Sanders is as much a response to the current climate as is the rise of Donald Trump. The failure of the Left has been seen by them and is responding in the rise of Sanders.

“Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed”. I remember when communism fell over in the late 1980s, Jim Wallis said the same would happen to capitalism one day. It might take another generation, but we are seeing it happening now before our eyes.

  • “it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed.” Perhaps one option (and there may be others along the lines of what people like Bernie Sanders are putting forward) is Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth.

The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that it is an amoral system. It doesn’t take into account human nature, the fact that humans are ultimately committed to their own self-interest. That’s why it needs people in poverty to survive.

The myth that poor people are happy

person-woman-sitting-oldScott J Higgins has posted a wonderful piece today shattering the myth that poor people are happier.

As with any myth, this notion contains a kernel of truth. It goes to the idea that they have more of a sense of community when compared to the rampant individualism of the affluent West. It also comes out of the idea that living simply leads to less anxiety. There are many people living in poverty who exhibit much joy in their lives.

Despite this though, it doesn’t take away from the fact that poverty is awful.

Poverty is about identity, a sense of being “less than” and trodden on. Not that riches make people happy; the social statistics for people in affluent countries are awful in different ways. Having some money though provides access to things like health and education, each of which enhance wellbeing.

Some points to take out of this are:

  • Poverty is miserable, which is why it is incumbent on all of us who can, to do all we can to eliminate it.
  • Neither a poverty mentality nor a riches mentality is Christian. I am reminded of Proverbs 30:7-9 which describes the temptations of both poverty and riches.
  • Martin Luther King said that everyone has the right to realise their human potential, and poverty severely diminishes that possibility.
  • It all shows me that the human family can all learn from each other.

Here is Scott’s post:

Who are the happiest people in the world?

Upon their return from countries with high levels of poverty I often hear people say “they might be poor, but they seem so much happier than us.” It’s a comforting thought for those of us who live with great wealth. But it’s not true.

Christmas in the busyness

8293158697_5a42c9bcdf_kIs it just me or is this Christmas busier than ever for people? Right up until this evening, I haven’t really felt like I’ve been still and thought much about the real meaning of Christmas this year.

Part of it has been to do with work; it’s been a busy time right up until today. But I’ve also been rushing around getting things organised and just having so many errands to run.

I can see why so many people just want Christmas to be over so they can get back to some semblance of normality in their lives. I certainly don’t hate Christmas; I never have. In fact all my life I’ve loved this time of year. It’s only in the last couple of years that Christmas has been particularly painful for me, as life circumstances made it a lonely time of year.

I still believe though that our society needs Christmas, if not for the actual meaning it bestows in the form of celebrating the birth of a loving and gracious God coming into the world as a vulnerable baby. But Christmas also seems to be a time when the idea of goodwill and peace to all still holds some value.

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If 85% of the world is religious, why are secular countries happier?

030815-M-2375M-502If 85% of the world’s population has a religious underpinning to their lives, why are secular countries happier, according to the latest studies?

Dutch philosopher, Evert-Jan Ouweneel says that these countries are generally happier as long as circumstances are going well. Resilience though is lessening.

Ouweneel also says that the world is becoming more religious, not less. 85% of the world’s population has a religious faith. If we want to promote human understanding, cooperation and relationships, we need to understand religion and how it underpins the lives of most people in the world.

Finally, Ouweneel faces the common criticism of faith-based organisations working to alleviate poverty, that they give food from one hand as long it’s with a Bible in the other. There are a lot of myths going around about this, and they are well dealt with in this fascinating interview on ABC Radio National.

Listen to the interview here.

Christmas reflection 2014

Khaki-chums-xmas-truce-1914-1999.redvers100 years ago this year, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.

This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.

The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people, it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.

Back in the year 2000, the World Bank undertook a major study of poverty from the point of view of those actually experiencing it. In the study, called Voices of the Poor, 60,000 people living in poverty were interviewed and asked what their view of poverty was. The overwhelming response was that it was about lack of power, lack of dignity, and that it drives one into despair.

At Christmas many of us celebrate the coming of God to Earth in the form of a human, Jesus Christ. Also known as the Prince of Peace, Jesus came to set the world to rights. In The Message translation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospels, Jesus’ prayer starts off as,

“Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.”

The more common translation that many of us would be familiar with includes the phrase, “may your kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven.”

This kingdom of God is something that Jesus talked about more than anything else. It is a kingdom of transformation, and it is transformation at every level of existence: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

In the Book of Revelation – an often difficult book to understand – it is described in terms of a promise that there will one day come a time when God will complete this kingdom and that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). Justice, peace and transformation will prevail. This is the promise we have from the One who was born as a helpless baby in a manger 2,000 years ago.

Jesus made poverty personal. He saw everyone he came into contact with as a person of dignity. Once people encountered Jesus, they were never the same again. They were transformed in every way. This is also our very identity as followers of Jesus. Everything about who we are is wrapped up in who Jesus is and what he has done.

God has come to earth to identify as one of us, to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free and to restore the world to rights. This is God’s dream and it is the hope of Christmas. May your Christmas be blessed, meaningful and hopeful.

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