In 1353, the bubonic plague or “the black death” first appeared in western Europe, and within a few years killed about one-third of the population. Apocalyptic fever swept through Italy and neighboring nations. It was as if the poor Christians were literally living through the plagues of John’s apocalypse.

Today, a new kind of apocalypse confronts us– climate apocalypse. Heat domes, catastrophic flooding, raging wildfires from the boreal forests of the far north to the tropical climes of Maui, oceans so hot that sea life is dying en masse and droughts threatening food supplies for the previously food secure.

In response, multinational corporations that previously doubled down on fossil fuels are at least pretending to be concerned about climate change in their public relations. Mainstream political leaders make bold pronouncements. 

The shrinking cohort of climate deniers are ever more strident. It’s no longer about our children and our grandchildren. The apocalypse now is about us.

There is a long history in American Christianity of “othering” apocalypse. Consider the relatively affluent and financially secure Americans who were the primary consumers of the “Left Behind” book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in the 1990s, and related films in the 2000s. In this scenario, God will catch us up safely from this violent and immoral world and execute judgment on them.    

But many of God’s children have not had the luxury of “othering” apocalypse. Did not the Africans forcibly removed from their homelands, and ferried across the Atlantic during the Middle Passage live and die in apocalypse? And that apocalypse still pervades the lives of African Americans.  

Have not the migrants massed at the Mexico- U.S. border, having fled pervasive violence and chronic poverty in their homelands, lived apocalypse? Do not the peoples living in war zones– from Burkina Faso to Myanmar to South Sudan to Ukraine– with their lives constantly in danger and their homes and livelihoods destroyed, live in an apocalypse?

But the climate apocalypse is about all of us. This is a new thing, at least for the relatively prosperous and secure persons who represent “majority culture” in the rich countries of Europe and the Americas. And we are afraid.

So, what will we do?  Especially those of us who identify as Christians, who know at some level that caring for God’s creation was the very first commandment. However we envision everlasting life, it is in intimate connection with the original creation – all of it, not just humanity.  

If there is to be an effective response to the climate apocalypse, it will come from the grass roots. It will be the result of individuals and communities who make cumulative changes in production and consumption patterns. The change will also be reflected in our relation to the entire web of life.

My purpose here is not to propose actions and programs. The media are awash in them. 

My interest is motivation, and here’s where the image of the apocalypse comes in. I will not presume to generalize about the millions of people who identify with non-Christian religious traditions or as secular.  

But if the apocalypse is for many traditional Christians their rescue from a fallen world, which will careen from catastrophe to catastrophe, then they will tend to be complacent and self-righteous as they wait. It’s an attitude far removed from the loving care offered by Jesus to those suffering in the days of his earthly sojourn. 

In contrast, I would lift up the apocalypse as a sign of hope for this world. The healing, demon-banishing, feeding ministry of Jesus was an apocalyptic sign. 

The resurrection of Jesus is an apocalyptic sign. Life wins.  

The creation of a transcultural, spirit-powered community which shares resources and models the peaceable kingdom is an apocalyptic sign.  

If we believe that God empowers our responses to crisis and suffering and that the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 11 and the Holy City of Revelation 21 reflect God’s goals for creation, then we will respond to the climate catastrophe with love for our neighbor and invincible hope.  

Apocalypse is an opportunity for us to choose our response. 

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