In our local Sunstone symposium I was asked to be one of three respondents to an article in Dialogue about whether or not science supports the story of Noah and the flood. My assignment was to comment on a statement near the end of the article that proposed the story of Noah could be used as scriptural backing for environmental causes. One statement I made in passing was that I feared believing that changes in the environment are part of the “signs of the times” would mean members of the church would not be very vigorous in supporting environmental causes.
Prophecy is not one of my gifts, so I was surprised and dismayed to find myself in a conversation with a relative recently, a conversation that I didn’t initiate, about global warming. She said she believes it isn’t possible for human activity to influence the climate—humans are too puny and weather systems are too powerful. She sees the “hand of the Lord” in the changes in the environment. She thinks the Second Coming and the end of the world are at hand, if not in our lifetime then in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. She feels we should look at climate changes with the eyes of faith and rejoice that the end is near.
Whether of not a person believes the Second Coming is at hand, whether or not a person believes climate change is caused by humans—these are matters of personal conviction and in some respects are not important in dealing with the matters at hand. If everyone can agree there is a problem, then sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are differences of opinion about how the problem came to be. And, putting global warming aside, there are still many environmental issues that are going to affect everyone: loss of species due to the degradation of habitats, water shortages, energy shortages, food shortages.
I am concerned about all the issues that fall under the broad umbrella of “the environment,” and I am worried that believing the end is coming and the Lord will take care of “it” results in passive behavior where we need active behavior. On the one hand, not even the angels in heaven know when the Second Coming will be, and on the other hand, we have the list of the “signs of the times” which are broad enough that many people who were convinced the end would come in their lifetimes are waiting for the end on the other side of the veil. I am worried that complacency won’t solve these problems, which will require effort on a continuum that starts with adjustment and ends with sacrifice. It is not comforting to me that the initial response to melting ice in the Arctic is a race to see who can exploit whatever natural resources become available.
As the oceans rise and climates shift, the poor in any nation and the poorest nations will be affected first. It will require a deep sense of our equal value before God to bestir ourselves to help when the problems are not the ones on our particular doorsteps. It will require us to think of environmental problems, in the words of William James, as the moral equivalent of war—as an issue as capable as war in drawing forth sacrifice and creating a sense of unity, but moral. I think it will require us to include changing our lives to better the environment for everyone as a religious imperative.
Do you think confidence in the Second Coming will make us (or any Christians) slow to act? Do you even think there is cause for alarm?