This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a big step towards combating climate change when it announced that it is implementing the Clean Power Plan, which will cut the amount of carbon that power companies are allowed to release into the atmosphere to 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. The EPA and the Obama administration are hoping that this first step will encourage growth in clean and renewable energy sectors while also improving public health and showing consumers and other industries that business can continue successfully while complying with standards that allow us to be better stewards of our climate.
This is the first large public policy action on climate change that has been taken by the United States government under President Obama, but how are we to think of such things from a theological perspective? Why should the church comment on such matters? Well, perhaps the wonky details of the EPA’s plan are not of much immediate interest to many, but these wonky details are some of the biggest concrete steps towards addressing climate change that the US has ever made, and that should be important to us. Because when we talk about climate change, we are talking about God’s good earth that we are commissioned to be stewards of. We are talking about the same planet that the Psalmist praises God for in our lectionary text this week:
“O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.”—Psalm 104: 24-25
The Psalmist’s song of praise reminds of the goodness of God and all of creation, but we must also remember that this is the same Earth that we so often use and abuse for our own purposes. Ezekiel reminds us of our exploits and their consequences:
“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?”—Ezekiel 34:17-19
We have for too long been like the stubborn, sheep and goats in Ezekiel’s passage who have had their fill of water and food and left nothing but fouled up water for everybody else. We have willfully ignored the global destruction of creation so that we could be comfortable in our little patch of earth.
But, despite this grim picture, the beauty of God is that God is always faithful. Even when we are unfaithful and foul the pasture and the water, God remains with us, pushing and prodding us to realize our sin, repent, and forge a new path. The miracle of Pentecost reminds us that new life is possible, but only with God. As the Psalmist reminds us:
“When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.”—Psalm 104:30
Pentecost is God fulfilling his promise to not abandon us. God sends the “Spirit of Truth” to the whole world and its people and this Spirit comes like a violent wind and shakes us up! God has sent the Spirit to renew us as a church and also to renew the very face of the ground we walk upon. We must never forget that just as all of creation was spoken into being by God, all of creation can and will be redeemed by God.
The way forward in addressing climate change will require many things of us because the EPA, or the United States for that matter, will not be able to protect creation on its own. Adequately addressing climate change will require first and foremost an understanding of our role as stewards of God’s good earth, and our failure up to this point in fulfilling this role. From this humbling position we must seek out ways to personally live so that we honor creation, love our neighbors, and help build up our communities.
If this means changing how and how much we consume, so be it. If this means supporting policies and legislation that protect God’s creation, so be it. If it means we have to change our behavior so that our lifestyles do not negatively affect our neighbors, communities and future generations, thanks be to God. Because ultimately that’s what this is all about, getting back into right relationship with God and the world around us. By consuming without conscience and exploiting the Earth’s resources without thought for the future, we have prevented the shalom God intends for us, our neighbors, and the whole world.
This is part of what the church will be discussing at Annual Conference this summer in Columbus. Our office will help present a statement on Climate Change and its effects on God’s Earth and God’s People. This statement will hopefully generate some constructive conversation about how the church can begin to creatively engage this pressing issue in a way that honors the Creator and Sustainer of all life.
We must never forget that the Spirit is leading us towards the time when the Lord will be called King among all the nations and the very trees of the forest will sing hymns of joy. The Heavens will be glad and the Earth shall rejoice at the coming of the Lord!
May it be so and may we join in this divine work of redeeming and honoring God’s creation.