Part One: God the materialist
Part Two: The renewal of all things
Part Three: Three steps towards heaven on earth
Part One: God the materialist
Australia's ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd famously described climate change as “the greatest moral challenge of our generation”. It was an exaggeration, of course, and one that has already come to haunt him.
The greatest moral challenge of this and every age is whether we will trust the God and Father of Jesus Christ or an idol of our own construction, whether we will love our neighbour as ourselves, or love ourselves to the harm of our neighbour, whether we will hope in the Spirit who raises the dead, or submit to the spirits of denial, despair and desperation in the face of death.
Within this moral challenge, what place do the real threats found in today’s massive and wide-ranging ecological degradation have for a disciple of Christ? Not just climate change, but biodiversity loss and extinctions, fresh water stress, deforestation and the destruction of other habitats, resource depletion, desertification, soil degradation, ocean acidification, overfishing, disruption of the nitrogen cycle, invasive species: the list goes on and on and investigating any of these issues in greater detail is a task that is both alarming and depressing. Many honest observers despair for the future of life as we know it. Is concern about such matters a distraction from the gospel or even a dangerous false agenda proposed by pantheist environmentalists?
The short answer is that Christian discipleship cannot be reduced to ecological responsibility, but nor can it be divorced from it. The good news of Jesus remains good news even in the face of ecological catastrophes, and is good news to those anxious about a world under increasing strain from the effects of our collective activities.
Let us take a quick walk through some key scriptural and theological concepts here.
God is a materialist. Matter matters to God. He made a physical world teeming with all kinds of life that he declared “good, very good”, and which he blessed so that it might become even more abundant (Genesis 1). The pinnacle of creation was not humanity, but the seventh day of rest (Genesis 2.1-4). He made humanity not to plunder the riches of the earth, but to serve and keep it (Genesis 2), to share with all the living beings in his blessing of fruitfulness and to join with them in praising the Creator (Psalm 148). If our “filling” of the earth undermines God’s blessing on other creatures, then we’re doing it wrong.
Being creatures amongst a good creation means that we belong with the dirt: from dust we came, and to dust we will return (Genesis 2.7; 3.19; 18.27; Ecclesiastes 3.20). Like all living things, we are dependant upon the Spirit of life and so members of the community of creation. Being a creature amongst creatures means acknowledging that the world, though stunningly bountiful, is not infinite, and its ecosystems, though remarkably resilient, are not invulnerable; to claim it is so would be to deify the created order, since only God is truly inexhaustible. And it means acknowledging the goodness of life beyond humanity, and indeed our shared dependence upon the provision of God; we flourish or wither not just like the flowers of the field, but with them. Israel learned the hard way that the land’s bounty or scarcity was connected to their faithfulness to God’s good instruction (Deuteronomy 28).