Climate Change, Crisis, and the Coming Christ

earthskull

Strange days these. Temperatures are soaring. Glaciers are shrinking. Asphalt is melting. Ocean levels and acidity are rising. The planet’s crust convulses. Drought spreads like gangrene. Rivers and lakes vanish; vast, formerly verdant landscapes lie cracked in thirst. The climbing temperatures of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere also trigger more intense storms, including deadly tornadoes, hurricanes, and increasing numbers of dramatically intense rainfall events. Floods ravage entire regions, washing away homes, cities, and whole mountainsides. The once reliable seasonal clock is all akilter. And in the animal kingdom, species after species meekly evaporates into oblivion. The earth’s entire ecosystem seems agitated and confused.

Environmentalists wring their hands in dismay. Grim voices cry out in the troubled wilderness. Scientists sound their sober warnings amid the heedless, ravenous, belching machines of the industrial orgy. Their concern is no ideological fabrication, nor are the symptoms easily dismissed as part of a benign natural cycle. The signs are nonpartisan, widespread, and insistent. Even among staunch skeptics there is quiet note of nature’s troubling personality shifts. The stark, cruel world of Mad Max doesn’t seem quite so implausible anymore. Freaking out is beginning to look more and more reasonable.

My interest here is not who is to blame but what it all bodes. To quote W. B. Yeats, “Surely some revelation is at hand.” Climate change holds not only serious implications; it has profound intimations. These unusual climactic phenomena sweeping the globe signal something even more momentous, something that will radically alter not only the whole earth but the entire universe as well.

Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, his disciples asked him what would be the signs of his coming and of the end of the age. In addition to political conflicts, social upheaval, and religious persecution, Jesus foretells great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences. He then makes this remarkable statement:

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken (Luke 21:25-26).

Jesus clearly anticipates, as signals of his coming return, profoundly distressing events in the natural world. Whether these phenomena are, in some degree, consequences of human activity or not (the mention of celestial bodies suggests not entirely, at least), they are, according to Jesus, conspicuous signs that point to the imminent and predestined end of the current order of things. Climate change is part of a prophesied chain of events that testify both to human culpability and to divine sovereignty.

Such a view in no way implies that we should not do all that we can to nurture the health of this planet. It has been given to humankind, after all, to be good stewards of the earth. To shrug this responsibility, even in the face of the inevitable, would only deepen the trespass. Ecological nihilism is disobedience and unbelief. (Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.) Judgment is not a binary proposition. As the Apostle Paul writes, We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Co 5:10). You can be sure that those who champion the integrity of the ecosphere, whether they are believers or not, will be acknowledged by the Creator. This is our Father’s world after all.

And yet, ultimately, what is befalling the earth is part of a divinely ordained sequence heralding the return of the Son of God and a cataclysmic cosmic transformation—and we would all do well to pay attention. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus concluding his prophecy this way: “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (16:2-3). It is one thing to amass statics about ice melts, sea levels, carbon emissions, global temperatures, and erratic weather patterns; it is another to discern what all that information means.

As serious and troubling as the earth’s agonies are, they are only birth pangs. They speak of the universe’s own longing for rebirth and redemption. Paul tells us that the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed . . . in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. The salvation of Jesus Christ is not only the hope of humankind; it is the profound desire of the entire universe. It is the end of entropy.

One day, sooner than when we first believed, the Lord and Savior will appear to judge the earth in perfect righteousness. And when he has once for all cleansed creation of the cancer of sin and death, he will do something astonishing, something incomprehensibly marvelous:

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

And then, for the first time since that disastrous day in Eden, the earth shall be at peace—and this forevermore.

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