Between Saving the Planet and Saving Souls–Part1

Hartmut Jaeger

Where should a Christian’s emphasis be in conversations about the climate? And how should believers be treating Creation? Commentary from a biblical perspective.

There is so much uncertainty, and there are so many radical claims. Climate protesters are gluing themselves to floors and works of art, or even blocking highways by sliding down ropes secured to overpasses. They’re creating traffic jams, obstructing ambulances, and offering up their profession of faith: “The world is ending!” These climate activists are calling themselves the “last generation.” Their name points to their perception that they’re the final generation of humanity. What they mean is that they’re the last ones who can avert the worst-case scenario, and they’re breaking laws and resorting to coercive tactics to achieve this objective. Yet the traffic jams they cause are resulting in countless CO2 emissions, detours, and more waste… Security guards have to step up their efforts to carefully unstick the activists from their targets. As you can well imagine, all of this is enormously costly, contributes to pollution, and makes people angry. What can be done?

In his commentary on Psalm 46, Spurgeon wrote, “When it is very dark with us, let brave spirits say, ‘Come, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm!’ ‘A fortress firm, and steadfast rock, Is God in time of danger.’” Psalm 46 says: 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

What does this nearly 3,000-year-old Psalm have to do with the subject at hand?
This song of battle and fortresses probably emerged around 700 BC, while Jerusalem was under siege by Sennacherib, King of Assyria (cf. Isa 8; 36–37). The Psalmist is describing changes that relate to our topic: the earth trembles, mountains sink, floods rage, peoples rage (for example, the Russian invasion of Ukraine), the earth melts. There have actually always been tremendous changes in nature. There have been ice ages and “warm ages”—hot spells. There have always been earthquakes and floods.

When the previous German Chancellor visited the affected parts of the Ahr Valley after the 2021 “Flood of the Century,” she pointed out how important it is to combat climate change in this moment. Then local mayor Helmut Lussi asked to be permitted to speak. He explained matter-of-factly that in the annals of that locale, a comparable tidal wave was recorded as early as 1790, which couldn’t have had anything to do with climate change (since there was simply no industrialization at that time). I can imagine the Chancellor wasn’t too enthusiastic about this mayor’s objection. Instead of saving the climate, disaster response could have been the order of the day.

Oh, how I wish for an approach to the problems of our time that’s free from ideology!

Back to Psalm 46. Through every change, the Psalmist emphasizes the stability that comes thanks to God alone: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble … God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved … The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

God can be relied upon. His Word is true. What He foretells will come to pass. And God has promised to basically maintain the ecosystem. The visible proof that God is standing by this declaration is the rainbow (Gen 9:12). “And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen 8:21-22).

How do we respond to change, in the context of the stability we have in and through God? Consider Psalm 46’s imperatives: “Come, behold the works of the LORD” (v. 8). “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10).

Calm resignation. This is the holy serenity of a godly man. If we have a deep connection to Him, then our troubled souls will find peace, even when faced with climate debate. There is power in silence. We read of how the Israelites reacted to the Assyrians’ threats: “But they were silent and answered him not a word” (Isa 36:21a).

This is an important principle: When crossing the Red Sea, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Ex 14:14). “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa 30:15b). That was the recommendation when Israel was seeking help as Egypt was overtaking them. I wish we would have this serenity. And who can we learn the most from? Who lived in an unjust system and didn’t bend, even when the behavior and demands of the rulers and the masses were absurd? And at the same time, shaped humanity more positively than anyone else?

Jesus Christ.

We learn from Him. Jesus came to save people. In the house of Zaccheus, the tax collector, He said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). 

His mission is to save people. In 2019, the government of Germany adopted a climate action program. It “supports people taking action to protect our climate.” Greta Thunberg said at the 2018 World Climate Conference, “What I hope we achieve at this conference is that we realize that we are facing an existential threat. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. First we have to realize this and then as fast as possible do something to stop the emissions and try to save what we can save.”

And in 2019, on the trip from Stockholm to Davos she said, “I want you to panic.”

Fear is the best way to manipulate people. It’s the same old song and dance that gets people to go along with anything, no matter how far-fetched.

“Climate rescue”—it’s a noble goal, but yet an illusory one. However, we all agree on one point: We must treat Creation responsibly. We have a mandate, and we take it seriously: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).

One aspect of conservation: Please don’t pollute the environment! When I see all the things that are discarded in our forests, it’s clear that this mandate is being disregarded millions of times per day. In other words, we shouldn’t rob others’ access to a clean, livable environment. Our task is also to protect every life—including the unborn!

We have to ask ourselves whether Greta’s analysis is correct. Is this really “the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced”? Isn’t this someone who doesn’t have her eye on history at all—let alone redemptive history? This earth has known an even greater crisis, which was the cause of every subsequent crisis: the Fall. Because people overlook this worst of crises, this legitimate concern—to deal responsibly with Creation—becomes an ideology, a worldview. In fact, environmentalism is now being spoken of as a religion. A hallmark of religion is pressure, even to the point of forced conversion. Unfortunately, that is how I have to describe the behavior of some climate activists. But this contradicts the Gospel of the Bible. God never forces anyone to act in their own best interests. The solution isn’t coercion, but a voluntary decision born from love.

Nearly every political decision today is being made in light of climate goals. Climate, climate, climate… The “climate” has been made into a god to whom everything else is sacrificed. Writer Cara Swan penned an article entitled “Childfree by Choice—World Childfree Day.” In it, she discusses how many of the world’s problems—and especially climate woes—could be remedied simply through voluntarily foregoing reproduction, limiting the population. “As the world increasingly groans under the overwhelming weight of too many human beings, we hear nothing but dire news from politicians about the problems, and ridiculous rhetoric about ‘maintaining the status quo’ regardless of how we have to damage the earth’s environment to do so. Our energy supply is becoming inadequate, gas prices soar, gridlock on the metropolitan highways, and yet no politician dares speak about the one aspect that would help curb these growing problems: Limit the population by incentives not to reproduce.”

For me, such absurd excesses of wanting to protect nature in every circumstance, no matter the cost, are the result of an evolutionist worldview. A wrong worldview sets wrong priorities. When nature is declared the supreme principle, priorities shift absurdly.

Instead, I’d prefer to heed what wise Solomon said: “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day” (Prov 23:17). Let’s briefly review some recent history: after a time of domination by distant rulers, the authors of the US Declaration of Independence wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Acknowledgement of our Creator and His blessings can help us rightly address the day’s problems. In fact, every US state constitution makes reference to God (four of them using another term for the concept). When we remove God from the framework of our society, everything collapses.

Proper acknowledgement of God and His gifts are key to properly engaging with each other and Creation. As Solomon says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10a). Wise choices require reverence and respect for God. Ernst Albrecht, former Prime Minister of Lower Saxony (Germany), once said, “The problem of our time isn’t the atomic bomb, but separation from God. When we solve this problem, we’ll also solve the other problems.”

That applies to the climate problem as well. We won’t be able to solve it in our separation from God! Our efforts will fail. I’ve asked myself how it could be that intelligent people can be so naïve as to believe that they can change the climate, saving the world. Ultimately, all of this is the fruit of having turned away from God and His Word.

Midnight Call - 05/2023

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