“The world is coming to an end.” “Jesus is on his way back.” “These are signs of the times.” “They talked about this in Revelations.” “These are the last days.”
This is how climate change, wars, partisan politics and any form of injustice was explained and explained away by family members and faith leaders when I was growing up.
The world was always on fire and if I didn’t want to burn in hell with it, then I needed to give my life to Jesus.
To be honest, my family still talks like this and so do their pastors.
Hellfire and brimstone, I cannot tell you how many sermons I heard on the God who was going to get me if I didn’t accept Jesus and who was punishing the earth for its sins, evident in hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, obviously.
Difficult moments in history and dangerous present realities were used as reasons for conversion. This is why we needed to “come to Jesus” and stay in church.
The world is a dangerous place to be. It was best for us to worship behind our closed church doors nearly seven days a week.
There was no talk of saving the planet, of community engagement, of being in fellowship with our neighbors – at least not for the sake of getting to know them.
No, they needed to know Jesus. If they are hungry, feed them but serve them a side of alphabet soup, the ABCs of salvation: accept, believe, confess. Shove it down their throats if you have to because they are lost, and we know the way.
We weren’t making friends; we were making disciples. Salvation was serious business.
However, the scriptures tell a different story about Jesus. It wasn’t simply following him via “The Roman Road,” the set of scriptures recited to ensure one’s salvation (Romans 3:32; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:9-10).
Jesus’ behavior was unpredictable. So how did we reduce following him to a series of steps?
What he said was often unbelievable, which calls into question the tracts that were handed to me. His words don’t go down or come out that easily.
Following Jesus and repeating after him includes bumps in the road and lumps in your throat. None of this goes smoothly.
Salvation was offered as “fire insurance.” But the world is on fire now.
What about following Jesus leads me to take care of the birds and the bees, the plants and the trees, the oceans and seas? What difference does the church make in times like these?
Because Lucille Clifton is right, “the air/ you have polluted/ you will breathe/ The waters/ you have poisoned/ you will drink.”
According to the National Interagency Fire Center’s Twitter account, “83 large fires and complexes have burned nearly 2.8 million acres.” On a scale of 1 to 5, we are at a Level 5 for national preparedness, according to their website.
There are active fires in California, Minnesota, Montana and Washington.
There was heavy rain and flash flooding in the northeast caused by Hurricane Ida, which has killed at least 43 people across four states. Residents also lost power, phone and internet service as well as their homes and precious valuables.
The damage was so significant that President Biden approved emergency declarations for Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
The National Drought Mitigation Center published a U.S. Drought Monitor map that reported 11 states are experiencing extreme drought conditions: Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
According to Climate.gov, June’s heatwave, which impacted the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and northern Mountain West in the U.S. as well as western Canada, literally broke records with temperatures well over 100 degrees.
This extreme weather is not coming out of nowhere and certainly not from up there. God is not punishing the earth; we are.
The world has a fever and its citizens are burning up. We could offer a damp towel to cool its brow. But the citizens of Flint, Michigan, didn’t have clean drinking water for years, so I am not sure we know how.
Climate change, and specifically global warming, is being driven by human emissions and activity. According to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
Unfortunately, even with the strictest of emissions cuts, it is unlikely that we will prevent global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The world as we have known it is coming to an end. What are we going to do about it?
Even Jesus doesn’t know when he will return (Matthew 24:36). But when he does, let’s make sure that the earth is not hot as hell.