Ken Keyte, Senior Pastor of Te Puke Baptist Church, completed a research paper with Carey Baptist College in 2008. This is the third of a four part series based upon his research.
In the previous two articles, “what’s the future of planet earth?” has been raised and the main Christian positions have been identified. Despite marked differences in the millennial views there is considerable common ground between them when it comes to the issue of how Christians should live in relation to God’s creation.
Equipped with conclusions that come from a basic understanding of all three millennial views, any Christian can offer well-reasoned biblical answers to the burning question about the earth’s future.
Here are some examples of the sort of well reasoned biblical answers we can provide to the questions being asked by people today who are rightly becoming increasingly concerned about the earth’s future.
Many New Zealanders are asking whether global warming is being caused by human activity or not. This can be answered by pointing out that both the Bible and history reveal that humans have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to care for each other and the environment.
Revelation’s graphic description of environmental destruction on a global scale (Revelation 6:8-10, 8:7-13, 11:15-18, 16:1-12, 18:8-20) are intended to turn people to God and away from their sin. What is described has similarities to predictions about global warming. According to Revelation, then, something like global warming and its consequences could be a divine warning against continuing destructive activity against each other, the earth, and God.
Another question that arises from the considerable amount of money and effort being devoted to the reduction of carbon emissions, is whether humankind will ever be able to develop technology that will rectify the climate change problem without sacrificing our present standard of living.
To answer this question it is worth examining what motivates human behaviour. The Bible teaches that the pursuit of selfish priorities at the expense of others and in place of God is idolatry. If New Zealanders had to choose between maintaining our present standard of living or preserving our environment for the generations to come, which would we choose?
The book of Revelation portrays a society in which people practice self-centred idolatrous behaviour (e.g. Revelation 9:20) with many similarities to the way in which many New Zealanders are selfishly pursuing a better lifestyle at the expense of the generations to come. Revelation warns that those who continue to practice idolatry have no hope of sharing in an eternal future (Revelation 20:12-15).
But why should New Zealand introduce environmental measures that will disadvantage our economy when our competitors have not and our environmental impact upon the world is so insignificant? Two seemingly contradictory factors need to be considered. On the one hand, Revelation describes the state of world affairs becoming so bad that it is beyond the capability of even the most powerful and rich people on earth to rectify (Revelation 6:15-17). This might cause us to wonder whether there is any point in taking any environmental measures.
Yet on the other hand, Revelation explains how God has established a new way of living through Jesus, in which the needs of others are to be sacrificially valued above the needs of ourselves (Revelation 12:11).
If New Zealanders are able to take sacrificial measures to lead the way in protecting the environment for future generations, then this is one way of following the sacrificial lifestyle of Jesus and preparing for his return.
A final question to consider, which arises from the many apocalyptic predictions from the climate experts, is how much longer does the earth have left? The Bible says that no one knows when the world, as we presently know it, will come to an end (Mark 13:32-37, Acts 1:7). But the Bible is very clear that the end of the world as we presently know it will not happen according to any human timetable but by God’s and will occur when Christ returns (Revelation 21:1-5).
At this point, the source of evil will be removed forever (Revelation 20:10) and everyone from the whole of history will be judged according to their relationship with Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:15).
Our hope for the future of planet earth does not rest upon environmental action alone, but upon faith in Jesus Christ from whom our motivation to care for creation comes, and who will provide a new or renewed (as I believe it will be) heavens and earth for our eternal home. The ultimate good news of Revelation is that God is going to rectify the situation before events get too far out of hand (Revelation 21 and 22).
But do our actions speak louder than our words?
The kind of people Revelation describes as being victors over evil are people of both word and sacrificial action.
In Revelation 12:11 we read, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
In the fourth and final article we will look at how we can start backing up our words with sacrificial actions as a starting point for living more sustainably for the generations to come.