Ecology and Worship – Someone Else’s Problem. Published in the Baptist Times, Jul 13, 2006
Our planet’s ecological crisis is a worship issue for all sorts of reasons, but I would argue it is primarily because climate change is always seen as someone else’s problem. It is not only someone else’s problem because the worst effects of our carbon-intensive lifestyle will be felt by those who have not yet been born, thus robbing us of a sense of urgency. It is someone else’s problem because we are all hypocrites.
With the best of intentions, it is impossible for modern westerners not to contribute to our climate chaos. Not that I haven’t made an effort to reduce my ‘carbon footprint’. I now commute over a hundred miles a week by bicycle, I recycle as much as I can, I haven’t flown since 1997, I have recently given up tuna and cod. But I still travel by train and by car, still consume oil and electricity, and still do many of the things that will bring about environmental disaster. The fact is, that without government control, we cannot help ourselves.
But already I have, once again, made global warming someone else’s problem. For any democratically elected government to take the bold and decisive action of curtailing our freedoms for the sake of the environment, their electorate will need to show strong evidence that they take this issue seriously.
Environmentalist George Monbiot, recently concluded his speech to the Climate March with these words: “We cannot call on others to stop flying if we still fly. We cannot ask the government to force us to change if we are not ready to change. The greatest fight of our lives will be fought not just out there, but also in here.” Or in biblical words, it is from the human heart that either environmental righteousness or hypocrisy will flourish. This is not someone else’s problem.
But according to Scripture, the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. There is only one place where our hearts may be changed, and that is in worship. Our present environmental context calls for very practical demonstration of words we regularly use in worship: repentance, sacrifice, transformation.
Unfortunately, such words become painful as they become meaningful. Much easier to seek hope in alternative technologies – that way our treasured consumer choice remains unconstrained. But even if eco-technologies exceed our best expectations, we still need to reduce our fuel consumption by more than half within the next twenty five years. (See climate-crisis.net).
So somewhere, somehow, massive sacrifices are required by huge numbers of people. Now suppose every Christian in this country were to take seriously our stewardship of creation. Suppose we all embody repentance, sacrifice, transformation in a practical hunger and thirst for ecological righteousness. Suppose we were all to worship God in Spirit (in the very core of our being) and Truth (in which all aspects of our humanity are exposed to God’s transforming grace). Suppose we made a concerted effort to reduce our energy use simply as an expression of worship.
Such an act would be an unimaginable witness to the world because it would reflect the glory of the only One who can truly restore the created order.
But alas, we take our cars, our cheap flights, our holidays in sun, our luxurious conveniences and our consumer freedom too seriously to worship God in Spirit and truth. Most likely we will nod with a knowing smirk to show that though we are well informed about the environment, we are also realistic about what is possible and thus bury our hypocrisy beneath the veneer of a comfortable middle class substitute for wisdom. Worse still, we may make public demands about climate change, and yet in private be unwilling to back it up with our own life-style change.
Content to leave environmental disaster as someone else’s problem, Christians will probably continue to make noise about climate chaos, whilst worshipping a distant Christ, perched atop a white fluffy cloud. Meanwhile, the real Christ is left choking in the exhaust fumes generated by the true objects of our daily worship.