Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Climate Change (Page 2 of 4)

Book Review – Creation Untamed: The Bible, God and Natural Disasters

Quite simply, this is one of the most profound books I have ever read. In a world where we are seeing a plethora of natural disasters, many of which are the type forecast by climate scientists to be what we can expect more of in the future, Fretheim’s excellent volume is timely indeed.

Just this year we have seen major earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, unprecedented flooding in the eastern states of Australia, and cyclones which have threatened to wipe some towns off the map.

In this book, Fretheim reveals aspects of God’s creation that the biblical texts reveal as quite obvious when you read them, but which we often fail to consider because of the particular cultural lens through which we read the text.

Over the next week or two I will look at the main arguments in each chapter, including the introduction and conclusion, and will make comments on the points made by the author. This post starts with the introduction.

The introduction to the book makes the following points:

  • Natural disasters are an integral part of God’s design in creation.
  • Natural disasters are not necessarily the result of human sin, though specific natural events may be made more severe by human sin.
  • How might reflection on the biblical text assist our theological consideration of natural disasters?
  • Interest in the link between God and natural disasters has increased over the last generation due to the power of the media and increased environmental awareness.
  • How we do interpret judgment in relation to natural disasters?
  • God is involved in the healing of the natural world.
  • The book does not pretend to offer answers to the question of why natural disasters occur in a world made by God, but many attempts at explanations have not given proper honour to God.

Life is hard

I’ve had an emotional couple of weeks. It started when my wife and I attended a conference on a Christian response to climate change. The situation really is dire but our response is not to be one of despair and throwing our hands up in defeat. Our response is to be one of Christlikeness – of love, justice and mercy, especially for the millions who will be affected the most and who have done the least to contribute to it – the poor.

During some breaks in the conference I was speaking to a few people and found out that a dearly loved woman in our church community who has been suffering from brain cancer had a week to live (she passed on the next morning. RIP Kate – safe in the arms of Jesus). We all thought she had about 9 months but not so now. A few of us went to see her the day before she died, along with her 12 year old son who she last saw as an 8 month old baby. It was so touching seeing her son take his mother’s hand, but also so sad knowing that this will be his only memory of seeing his mother.

During another break in the conference we also found out that a couple we knew had split up, leaving kids traumatized and confused. That weekend was truly a sobering one.

Life is unspeakably sad, as psychologist Larry Crabb puts it. And as a song that we used to sing in church says, life is sad, and it might not get easier. There are no guarantees in life, not in this life anyway. Whatever we try to do to control life, in the end we cannot. Instead we are beholden to the whims of outrageous fortune and there is simply nothing we can do about it. Millions of people in Japan know all about that as I write.

Throughout the uncertainties and failed hopes of life, the Christian message is what sustains me. That is no glib statement; it is the hope of my heart. In Christ is my ultimate hope. He has promised that there will be a day when suffering will be no more, when brain cancer will be wiped away, when love will reign supreme in relationships and when the climate will sustain a healthy planet. Until then, loving is sadness, and we toil on, trudging the rugged, uphill road of life.

But despite our trudging, it is forward that we go, and forward we go together. In community, never alone, and never without ultimate hope.

Life is hard, anyway you cut it. So sang John Mellencamp in a song to which every honest person in the world can relate. We are not spared simply because we are Christian. To the contrary, it is because we follow the crucified One, the suffering God, that our suffering is all the more acute. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. No one is spared, but at the same time, no one is beyond hope.

Personally, I don’t want to give my life to anything else. I love the way of Jesus. No, more than that, I love Jesus Himself. In a world of nonsense, he makes sense. In a world of bitterness and hatred he brings love, and in a world of disease he brings healing. O how I love Jesus, as the old hymn says it.

It is in the times of deepest sadness that love is found. It is at these times that we are shaken out of our slumber and reminded again of what really matters – love, relationship and grace. These are the things that endure. Ross Langmead sings a song which reminds us that we are not alone in suffering, that Jesus goes before us: “We are not alone; he knows our sorrows, he will turn our tears to joy.”

Our suffering is not meaningless. Martin Luther King talked about redemptive suffering, suffering that grows and heals us. The road to life feels like the road to death at times. But it is redemptive. Our pain does not go unheard. It does not simply disappear into an indifferent universe, lost forever with no one knowing and no one caring. Who of us can deny that suffering is real? The promise given to the ancient Israelites when they were suffering under the yoke of slavery in Egypt is the same promise given to us: ‘I have heard your cries and will do something about it.’

What God has done about it is absorb our pain on a brutal Roman cross, and rise from death, never to be defeated again. This was truly victory in defeat, as Sammy Horner so beautifully puts it:

That the nails that pierced his hands

And the thorns that pierced his brow

And the spear that pierced his side

And the nails that pierced his feet

Showed us there can be victory in defeat

We do not go forward in this life alone. Jesus does indeed go before us. Our suffering does not go unheard. It has a purpose and will one day be turned into joy unspeakable. Until then we toil and trudge, but with the hope of a future where this old order of things – death, decay and disease – will have passed away forever. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

John Clarke and Bryan Dawe at it again

To gain insights into insightful political commentary, you often can’t go past comedians. John Clarke and Bryan Dawe have been doing it for years. In this one they expose the hypocrisy and folly of the Rudd Government’s total backflip on emissions trading. Not that I think the ETS was a good idea in the first place, but the Government has shot itself in the foot by giving the impression that it was the be-all and end-all of climate change mitigation. Now that they have deferred it, people will think they have abandoned the fight against climate change. What this sketch highlights though is their failure to provide enough incentive for renewable energies. The reason, according to John ‘Kevin Rudd’ Clarke – “because we have coal!” Check out the video here.

Bono – 10 for the next 10

It’s a new year and I thought a good way to start it here would be to link to the thoughts of Bono on what the next decade could hold in store for us. Whether you think the decade has just ended or we still have a year to go, leave that debate behind for a few moments and have a read of the thoughts of one of this planet’s more soulful minds (I particularly like his thoughts on the upcoming soccer World Cup and the beautiful game’s ability to bring the world together, if only for a short time).

Today is the day

The International Day of Climate Action has finally arrived. Join with millions around the world to show our leaders, particularly in the lead up to Copenhagen, that now is the time to put a serious deal in place that will protect our children. check out the following video for some inspiration:

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Climate change and the world's poor

As we count down to Copenhagen, we have recently been told here in Australia that climate change has slipped down a few rungs in terms of priorities for us. I find that quite frightening. Whilst it is understandable that people are still concerned about the global financial crisis and the recent rise in interest rates, we face an inevitable, much larger, financial crisis if we do not become serious about what Kevin Rudd has called the great moral challenge of our time.

Unfortunately, as is often the case in issues of justice and human actions, it is the world’s poor who will be overwhelmingly affected by the changes to the planet’s climate over the next 50 – 100 years. As my colleague, Brett Parris, says,

“They are least able to protect themselves from its effects and they are least able to recover from climatic disasters. They tend to live in the most vulnerable areas, such as low-lying land prone to flooding, or marginal agricultural land prone to drought. They are the most vulnerable to the spread of tropical diseases. They are more likely to have to leave their homes in search of water or to escape flooding. They are the most vulnerable to the effects of the conflicts likely to arise from international tensions over water, energy and displaced people. Climate change will exacerbate poverty and the solutions proposed to help mitigate and adapt to climate change will affect the trajectory of every country’s future development.”

Fortunately though, there are plenty of ordinary people like you and me who are taking serious action in their local communities and online, in actions like Blog Action Day, to deal with this great moral challenge. Join them today and ensure you can look your grandkids in the eye when they ask you what you did to combat the major threat to our planet in the early years of this century.

World War 2 and climate change

Last Thursday, 3 September, marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities that began World War 2. SBS showed a brilliant documentary outlining the series of events of that horrible day in 1939 when Great Britain declared war on Germany.

ww2 roseThe documentary, called Outbreak, detailed events as they unfolded hour by hour. As the viewer was taken through the day and shown (colour) footage, you could imagine the sense of anxiety that people felt as their worst fears were being realised. You could almost feel it.

Many in the environmental movement refer to World War 2 when they talk about the need to be on a war footing in our fight against what our Australian Prime Minister has himself called the great moral challenge of our time. They refer to the fact that, in the early years of the war, defence spending accounted for 33% of total Government outlays, and this increased to 70% by 1942.

If we could respond to such an emergency with such speed 70 years ago, there is no reason why we cannot do it again. Such an impending disaster as climate change will deliver demands nothing less than a response the likes of which we have not seen since that terrible war.

Photo by Flavio TakemotoThe issue is though, do we see the urgency? On 3 September 1939 there was no denying the danger that Europe was facing. Climate change though is a much slower mover than war and so we in the West don’t see the urgency just yet. However, if you live in parts of Africa, where you are already seeing the effects of a changing climate, you will be filled with not only a sense of urgency but quite probably a strong sense of despair and anger as you realise you are not only powerless to make real change, but that you also see the nations who really can do something about it continuing along their merry way as if there was no problem. It really does seem like we in the west are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

As we remember the mood of fear and anxiety that prevailed on 3 September 1939, let’s also remember how quickly we were able to respond and, with that in mind, continue to work tirelessly to convince our leaders that the changes to our climate are our moral responsibility in these times. We owe it to our sisters and brothers around the world, we owe it to our children, and we owe it to the good Earth that God created.

The media, climate change and 'balance' (cont'd)

Further to my previous post, Crikey have written an excellent detailed response to Steve Fielding’s concerns that, while the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has been skyrocketing over the last 15 years, air temperatures seemingly have stayed steady.

The graph that Steve Fielding is up in arms about

The graph that has Steve Fielding up in arms

I’m sure that others have pointed these arguments out to Senator Fielding and if he remains steadfast in his stance, one of the conclusions we can make is that he is not sincere in his desire to see the truth. The fact that he comes across as so dogmatic in his stance on his website suggests that he seems like he does not have much of a desire to budge. To his credit though, he has asked for an appointment with Al Gore while he is in Melbourne.

As well as this, we cannot judge him if, after seeing evidence such as Crikey’s, he remains convinced that climate change is not being caused by human activity. After all, the same evidences that convince some people of the claims of Christ are the very same evidences that cause others to remain unconvinced of the same claims. An honest position is to pray for Steve Fielding, and for ourselves, that the Spirit of God will pierce our hearts with His truth.

The media, climate change and 'balance'

Have you noticed recently that articles treating climate scepticism as one side of a level debate on climate change are becoming more numerous? There is now even a political party in Australia called The Climate Sceptics. Of course they were outside protesting in Melbourne today as Al Gore did his bit to convince more people of the deep peril that we are in.

The media in this country have a heck of a lot to answer for as they continue to portray the illusion that this is a balanced debate. Checking out some of the websites in my ‘climate change’ list on the right will show you that the overwhelming majority of climate scientists the world over are convinced that the climate is not only changing but that it is being caused by human activity.

Much of the recent flurry of articles showing sympathy for the deniers has been sparked no doubt by the actions of Senator Steve Fielding and his scepticism over anthropogenic global warming, after he attended a climate sceptics conference in Washington (funded mainly by The Heartland Institute – a group that was instrumental in denying that tobacco causes cancer).

When the ABC showed The Great Global Warming Swindle last year I called taklback radio and asked whether or not the ABC would be willing to show a documentary (if one exists) denying the Holocaust, in the name of balance. Of course there are those around who deny the Holocaust but they are not taken seriously by the vast majority of the population. Or take the moon landnig, which we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of next week. Many people are convinced that it never happened (as a brilliant headline – The Eagle has landed – in Studio 4, announced some years ago!), but, again, these people are not taken seriously by most thinking people.

In years to come the climate deniers will be seen in the same light.

More to come…

Our framing story

Brian McLaren, in his book Everything Must Change, talks about our framing story – the ultimate story we tell ourselves about how the world works. For example, if our framing story tells us that the purpose of life is to have as much stuff as possible and to have the greatest pleasure possible in our short lives, then we will have little reason to manage our consumption. Our framing story determines how we live. Call it our worldview if you like.

framePostmodernism says there is no framing story. What is right for you may not be right for me. Truth is relative. The problem with that ideology is that, as the global village becomes ever smaller and we all realise how much our lives are interlinked, what is right for me also becomes right for you. Take climate change as an example. Climate change is a challenge to postmodernism because more and more people are realising that, if we are to ultimately survive as a species, we have no choice but to have a framing story that says we have to manage our resources better and look after the planet. A philosophy of ‘what is right for you may not be right for me’ just won’t cut it in the real world of climate change. In my post on our addiction to growth I said the following:

“As long as the world remains fixated on the idea that we must grow our economies, we will inevitably fall into the same trap, and probably worse than we are in now.

In the mid-1980s, our planet passed a tipping point. It was then that we started going into debt in terms of the available resources that we have to survive. It was then that we started to consume more than we could reproduce. So while we remain addicted to economic growth, we continue the slide into debt. Our way of living is unsustainable.”

Truth can no longer be relative in a world where we have the choice of continuing our current way of life or making serious changes that will save the lives of untold millions. We can no longer hide behind the warm and fuzzy – but ultimately fatal – idea that there are no universal standards to live by.

Everything on this planet is interlinked. That is the beauty of how God made it. It all works together. David Suzuki, the Canadian environmentalist, describes how, if all of humanity disappeared off the face of the earth, then 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. We need to, like our indigenous brothers and sisters did for 40,000 years, pay respect to the land we live on.

Our framing story needs to be one in which we all work together to bring in the kingdom of God – a kingdom of love, of justice, and of beautiful butterflies fluttering majestically over summer flowers. A kingdom where love finally reigns and where all of God’s children, in the words of Martin Luther King, will be able to shout ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’.

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