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Should Christians Care About Climate Change?

From last November 1 to 12, the 26th annual UN Climate Change Conference of Parties  (COP26) convened in Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. The conference gathered world leaders who came to discuss global concerns, namely the responsive solutions and actions for climate change. The participants reviewed and evaluated the progress made since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, and they summarized the setbacks and failures.

Photo by Luiz Fernando

The concept of “creation care” is probably familiar to many Christians. As climate concerns grow, this term has come into our sight. Frequent extreme weather makes people realize the dangerous effects of climate change. In many places, we have seen that the changes are even faster than we could imagine. Glaciers are melting, accompanied by the rising sea levels, fiercer hurricanes, uncontrollable wildfires and worst droughts. So can we find hope in these times?

Many with wrong beliefs have a fatalistic attitude. From their perspective, human action is not necessary and the problem will solve itself. Such an attitude leads to less action, nor to support those action takers, because we can barely see the importance of anything like that. Some of them might even say that since God is in charge of everything, why should we just deliver it to Him? But I wonder if they ever read the Bible verse “you reap what you sow”?

Many parts of the world are becoming less habitable due to the effects of global warming, said a latest report from IPCC. Heat waves, heavy rains and droughts are common to see and can be even more severe. António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, warned that the IPCC report is a “code red for humanity.”

Faced with the climate change, Christians may have an even more urgent question: what does the Bible say about it? Also, how should Christians face climate change? This article then will revolve around three strong principles regarding the focuses and actions on climate change: love God, love neighbors and be a good steward.

Love the Lord Our God: the first and the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:38)

Christians shall care about climate change simply because of our love for God. All things were created by Him, and for Him. It’s God’s world, and any harm from us to it is an offense to God Himself. The first chapter of Genesis depicts nature with a unique picture and clearly reveals its value, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

It means that the inner value of nature exists due to the fact that God created it, and it is not merely of the instrumental value. In the first chapter, Genesis discloses that the mind-blowing diversity of creatures is nothing accidental; instead, God intended to make the world inundated with living creatures of all sorts and believed it was good. We shall never ignore the fact that in Genesis 1:22, God blessed sea creatures and birds alike, letting them be fruitful and increase in number to fill the water in the seas and on earth. The whole chapter showcases a richly diverse world full of lives and blessings of God.

In Psalms 24:1, it says: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” This further adds to the evidence that the earth is created and is given an inner value. Such a statement reveals that the created world doesn’t belong to mankind, but to its Creator. For God, nothing is less important because every existing thing is part of the creation. We are invited to have an alternative way of viewing this world: mankind is part of God’s creation with goodness and great diversities. God is the Creator, Sustainer and Supporter of all things. The world belongs to Him, not us; the world is created to honor His glory. Thus, when it comes to climate change, Christians should be aware of the fact that our concern for it is to care for the world created by Him, and showing our climate concern is one of such practices.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself (Matthew 22:39)

Christians should care for climate change since we are called upon to love our neighbors. Jesus mentioned two commandments as he was tested with a question by the Pharisees. The first and greatest commandment is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) The second is “love your neighbor as  yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) There’s another verse that also stresses this point: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew7:12)

The last parable in the Book of Matthew gives a hint about the importance of these commandments. When the Final Judgement comes, Jesus will probably say: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.” (Matthew 25:40)

This is often cited to proclaim the caring for the poor. We Christians need to know that the impoverished are the most vulnerable to resist the impacts of climate change.

The basis of such an idea derives from the mainline consensus research on the impacts of climate change: rising sea levels and floods, even common and extreme weather events, agricultural damages, and epidemic spreading. The earth’s natural system is resilient but not in an infinitely manner. In those impoverished countries and regions, individual resources are less available, which means an even weaker possibility for the people to overcome huge challenges and threats. Therefore, it comes to a conclusion that climate change will hit poor people hardest.

Katharine Hayhoe, a famous climate scientist and Christian, was once named as the United Nations’ Champion of the Earth. She said that climate change affects the poor, the starved and the sick severely, who are just the groups of people that the Bible tells us to care for. Climate change aggregates famine and poverty and deepens the risk of resource shortages, thereby destabilizing political regimes and even producing or worsening refugee crisis. Those who are the most likely subject to the adverse impact of climate change, have long been suffering from malnutrition, food and water shortage, and diseases. In fact, if Christians genuinely believe that we are entitled to the duty of stewardship, then we can be objectively concerned about climate change, and become proactive on the frontline of the battle to combat climate change. Because this is our God-given responsibility.

Be a Good Steward of the Earth (Genesis 1:26-28)

We can reach an agreement that mankind should be responsible for most of the problems rising from climate change. However, when God created human beings, He appointed them as stewards of His planet and the living creatures on it. The Scripture begins with the position of humans in the order of creation, namely the role of stewardship. God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creations that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)

Humans are created in the image and likeness of God, and such a unique property makes them distinctive from other living creatures. And this also becomes the reason why God appointed them to one responsibility and unique role: stewardship. But such an order has nothing to do with domination or abuse; it is the stewardship with justice and accountability. In Genesis, God gave mankind an active and vital role. We humans, as God’s only representatives created with His image, are accountable for the earth; that is to say -- being privileged and responsible for governing His creation.

As He came to this shattered world, Jesus was crucified for our sake. He saves us from any evil thing and enables us to love others with greater love. His salvation teaches us to see everything from a brand new angle, and to care for His other creation with our enlightened life. Churches shall also follow biblical teachings to guide their congregation to take a moderate and decent attitude towards environmental resources, which is the prerequisite to social sustainability. Christians are obligated to take the lead to govern and take care of the earth.

Paul W. Brand, a famous doctor specializing in leprosy, was known as an environmental activist and Christian. He once said that if he stopped being a doctor the next day, he would probably have some influence on land policies. Rev. John Stott was a Christian leader familiar to many Chinese Christians. As a passionate bird-watcher and keen supporter of Christian environmental organizations, he valued environmental responsibility and creation care.

World leaders hold a belief that responsive actions are in urgent need. Given the impacts that have arisen, further climate change is on the way and current decisions will affect future gas emissions due to the lag time between greenhouse gas emissions and a changing climate system. They urged that the emissions would produce adverse effects on our offspring, and governments, enterprises, churches and individuals shall, from now on, play their parts in combating climate change.

Some believe that individuals or organizations seem so small and powerless in the face of such a huge crisis; but every little bit helps. Here is one of my favorite stories about hummingbirds. A big fire in the woods caused all animals to flee. They were helpless and did nothing but stare at the fire. But there was a little hummingbird who flew back and forth, trying to carry a drop of water each time from a river to put out the fire. Other animals mocked at it: “Do you know what you are doing? The big fire is unstoppable, and there is nothing you can do about it.” But the hummingbird replied: “I am just doing what I can do.” It is true that there is always something that we can do. Through our actions, we can demonstrate our hope.

Rome wasn’t built in a day; also, the stewardship of the earth takes time. In spite of that, we are still full of hope. For climate change, crisis and opportunity coexist, since this is also a valuable opportunity to call upon Christians to do better work. The future of all human beings is determined by our current actions. Christians are supposed to take actions with love and wisdom. With concerted efforts, we have the faith to save and guard the world our God made.

Author: Guo Wei

Translator: Bei Feng