|Written by Ben Merkle|
Global warming (a.k.a, “Premillennialism for Non-Christians” or “Y2K Part Deux”) has now worked up enough hysteria that most rational people understand that the whole discussion needs a few important qualifiers. But even after the necessary qualifiers, this issue is still given far too much credence. “We don’t want to be all Al Gore about it or anything, but . . . climate change is still something that we need to responsibly consider.” This sort of attempt at evenhandedness is becoming more and more common in Christian circles, where the issue is seen as yet another opportunity for the Church to make the Gospel relevant to the world.
For the Christian, the seemingly evenhanded argument looks something like this: global warming is a real threat to creation, a Christian doctrine of creation gives the strongest motivation possible for one to be concerned about the creation, thus Christians have a good reason to work with environmentalists in preserving creation, and maybe we can use this as an opportunity to witness to them as we sit on the curb together and sort the clear glass from the colored glass. But this approach misses the point where evangelism needs to begin. In making environmentalism our common cause, we have begun sharing in idolatry rather than confronting it.
To understand this, we must take a diversion and consider the importance of gratitude. The Christian life, a life lived in fellowship with God, is a life of gratitude. The Triune God made the world through His creating Word and gave this world to man, His creature. Man was to gratefully receive this gift of his own existence along with the rest of creation. Gratitude is the duty of the creature. This is the way the Creator/creature relationship is supposed to work. But this relationship was mangled at the fall of Adam and man has been grappling with gratitude ever since. Since the fall, every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve has struggled with the most basic of good manners—simply saying “Thank you” (Rom. 1:21). But, like all of God’s law, the obligation of gratitude is written on our hearts. Though a man may not acknowledge his Creator, the debt that he owes for his creation nags at him. The more he is blessed by the goodness of God’s world, the more intensely he feels the obligation of gratitude.
But gratitude left unexpressed turns sour. It goes rotten and spoils. It turns from the new song of praise and thanksgiving into a heavy and onerous burden of guilt. Guilt is gratitude gone rancid. It shows a man the unworthiness of his place in life. Guilt rides heavy on a man, like Pilgrim’s burden, until mercy intervenes, cuts its cords, and puts a song of gratitude on the weary pilgrim’s tongue. But without this new song, mankind staggers on under the guilty weight of unexpressed thanksgiving.
Some, like Augustine and Luther, must struggle under the burden of this guilt for a long time before mercy intervenes and fills their hearts with gratitude. Others are blessed with no memory of a time when they weren’t singing God’s praises. But for those who never turn from guilt to gratitude, the weight of their guilt calls for some sort of medicine, some way to take the edge off, some kind of feeble sensation that they are atoning for their debt. They craft idolatrous systems of works righteousness, where they are somehow able to pay off the debt of the countless blessings that they have received in this life. Again and again, throughout history, man has concocted ludicrous schemes to justify himself before others and various ways of silencing the nagging voice of guilt in his heart. And it has always been the job of the Church to expose the hollowness of these guilt-remedies and to point sinners to the only true atonement found in Christ.
The priests of climate change are but one more manifestation of this age-old idolatry, preaching another Christ-less righteousness. They have come down from the mountain-top and have delivered a new eco-law, before which we have all fallen short. They begin by appealing to the innate sense of guilt that plagues the Western conscience. We have polluted the planet by making our mark on it. We have altered eco systems and endangered wetlands. We have sinned and our carbon footprints are deep. We have been making too many babies for this tiny globe, and we’re using too many plastic bags at the grocery store. We have been very bad. Of course, the best of lies contain some truth. It makes them sound so much more believable. And the eco-law falsehood contains a great deal of truth. We have messed up the planet. Our sin has scarred creation. Paul says that all of creation has been subjected to futility because of man’s sin and it groans waiting for its deliverance (Rom. 8).
But the problem that is causing this frustration in creation is man’s sin and not deforestation. The cure for creation’s frustration is the proclamation of the Gospel and not an earnest resolution to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The preachers of this new eco-law have delivered an alternative gospel. They preach a new way of living an atoning life, a life where you can make up for all the places that you have broken the eco-law. At the moment there seem to be two varieties of this new Gospel. The first is the Al Gore / Johann Tetzel version for the weak-willed, SUV-driving Bobos who happen to have a slight pang of conscience. For a small fee they can purchase a carbon offset indulgence, and they will be absolved all the way back to carbon neutral. The second version is a sort of Saint Simeon the Stylite approach, lighting the entire home with a three-watt bulb, eating neither animals nor vegetables, but only minerals like salt and bicarbonate of soda, and exhaling only once a fortnight. Only the most determined of ascetics can attain to this level of carbonless nirvana, and once they get there they usually come to the conviction that the world would have been better off had they never been born to squander its bountiful resources.
Though this false gospel comes in varying degrees of intensity, the thing that must be pointed out is that it is a false gospel. And Christians should not be searching for common ground with a false gospel. Elijah did not appeal to the priests of Baal on the grounds of their shared interests in cultic sacrificial rites. Christians topple idols. They don’t try to relate to them. This is why the Church needs a much stronger stand on the climate change nonsense. It’s not just a matter of enjoying the hilarity of liberal Chicken Little madness. It’s a matter of confronting unbelief.
Any truly Christian response to the Global Warming alarmists must be uncompromising on two points. First, it must be clear that only the Gospel will clean the earth and nothing else will. Men who are in rebellion against the Gospel are in rebellion against the earth, no matter what they say to the contrary. These men need the atoning work of Jesus Christ, the only cure. All true renewing of the earth subsequently flows from this cure. Second, the Christian life is a life of gratitude. Global Warming nuts insist on guilt. They insist on guilt because guilt produces a rabid frenzy which has the illusion of progress. But as an enduring motivation to work, guilt is nothing to gratitude. We are thankful for everything that God has given us. This includes the beauty of God’s creation. And when we look at the natural world with Christian gratitude, we can’t help but want to clean it up.