Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The End Of The World As We Know It (I Feel Fine)

On the flight home I watched An Inconvenient Truth. Twice over. This is an excellent film, a must-see – I’d love to see church communities watch it and process it together. Al Gore is a brilliant communicator – a near-perfect blend of presence and passion; a technical topic, presented accessibly but not dumbed-down; a serious matter, deftly handled with just the right amount of humour to leven the mix; a global crisis, interwoven with a very personal story of one family…

To the predominantly economic arguments against addressing the crisis of global warming that Al Gore addresses in the film, I’d like to add and address two religious – and specifically Christian – arguments. The first is that “God would never allow a disaster of such global proportions to happen”; and the second is that this world is passing anyway…

The first religious objection to the claims presented by Gore is that “God would never allow a disaster of such global proportions to happen”:
Such a claim sounds pious, but isn’t. It echoes the people addressed by the Old Testament prophets, who claimed, “God will not allow disaster to fall on us” even as disaster was at the gates of the city. Such a claim really states “We are absolved from our responsibilities. God may have commissioned humanity with the stewardship of the planet, but, he’ll always step in to bail us out.” But God doesn’t seem to intervene in ways that absolve us from our responsibilities; though I believe he does intervene to help us fulfil responsibilities we could never meet on our own. An environmental catastrophe that resulted in the end of a majority of life on earth would be one hell of a self-inflicted judgement on human sinfulness; but we need to take such impending judgement seriously, and repent – which is, change the way we live, in very practical, and very manageable, ways. If we don’t, we will find ourselves fulfilling these words of Jesus:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” [Matthew 7:21-23]

The second religious objection is that this earth is passing away; that there will be a new heaven and a new earth; and that our attention should be focused on helping others get there: let the pagans worry about keeping the earth going – ultimately it is a futile exercise, attempting to hold back the inevitable.

The New Testament uses two different Greek words translated into English as “new”: neos and kainos. Neos means something that didn’t exist before and hasn’t existed for long – new like my seven-week-old son. Kainos means something pre-existent that has been transformed so as to be given a new, or fulfilled, purpose: new (kainos) wine skins are filled with new (neos) wine; Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb that had never been used (kainos new) but may have been hewn years earlier (not neos new) – my daughter started at a ‘new’ school this spring, a school that celebrates its centenary next year…When the New Testament speaks of the new earth, it uses kainos. Just as Jesus’ physical body is resurrected – transformed into something new and imperishable, but recognisably the same – and our bodies will be resurrected – again, different and yet in continuity with our present form – so the earth itself will be made new: not replaced. And if Jesus’ resurrection body still bears the scars done to it by human hands, it is not inconceivable that the ‘resurrected’ earth will bear the scars inflicted upon it by us…

Al Gore is a prophetic voice in our world today, and an American. And like most prophets before him, he has been ridiculed by the religious and political leaders of his own people. But perhaps the tide is beginning to turn, one citizen, one voter, at a time; and perhaps a tipping-point will be reached before it is too late. Go see the film. And God speed to Mr Gore, and to Participant Productions.

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