God’s rising water

Caring about climate change has spiritual roots

Jan 4, 2016 by and

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The prophet Ezekiel went on an expedition down a river. This was no ordinary watercourse. It didn’t spring from the usual sources but flowed from the temple of God. In Ezekiel 47, the prophet and his guide discover a strange occurrence: The farther the river goes, the deeper it gets. First the water is ankle-deep, then knee-deep, then up to the waist. Finally it becomes “a river that no one could cross.”

Ezekiel’s vision of wading in God’s flood can inspire us to care for creation today. The river rejuvenates the land. Wildlife teems and thrives. Trees whose fruit has healing power grow along its banks.

Because the river flows from the temple, where God meets humans on Earth, the river symbolizes not only divine power to create and sustain life but also our role to preserve and protect the world God made.

The prophetic image of a life-giving river’s restorative power reminds us of our duty to repair the damage we have done to the Earth and to limit future harm. Signaling new resolve to do this, 196 world leaders on Dec. 12 signed a historic agreement on climate change.

The Paris accord calls for reducing heat-trapping emissions and thus mitigating the effects of global warming. Some called it the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era. The agreement sets a goal to limit the global temperature increase above pre-industrial levels to 2 degrees Celsius. (The global average temperature has already risen about 1 degree.) Nations pledged to meet individual targets for reducing carbon emissions.

The effects of climate change are already apparent in a growing number of extreme weather events that disrupt agriculture and destroy homes and lives. If the Earth continues to heat up at its current pace, rising sea levels will increasingly threaten coastal and island populations. Often those most affected by droughts and floods will be those in poverty who lack the resources to respond adequately. The ones who feel the most severe effects of climate change will be those least to blame for the problem. This is one reason why climate change is a justice issue.

People of faith may care about climate change because they have a passion for social justice or because they see biblical reasons to be good stewards of creation. But all the specific reasons have at their root a spiritual awareness beyond one’s own life.

The Christian faith teaches us to shun a self-centered existence. It challenges us to think bigger than our own short lifetimes. We learn to consider how our actions affect not only our neighbors but also distant strangers. We try to be at peace with everyone, even with the planet.

This is the kind of spiritual awareness that should enable followers of Jesus to play a key role in addressing climate change. It is the motivation that will lead us to make Earth-honoring choices about how we shop, eat and get around. It is the mindset that makes us think of God as the owner, ourselves as guests and future generations as most important. Then the rising water will be God’s healing river, not a climate-change flood.

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