A letter about lifeboats

Ten reasons why looking after God’s world matters, regardless of what happens to it in the future.

Dear sister- or brother-in-Christ,

This is a letter about lifeboats. To be precise, it’s a letter about lifeboat theology, and how it influences Christian engagement with the world around us, particularly the environment. Author Paul Marshall describes lifeboat theology like this:

It is as if creation was the Titanic, and now that we’ve hit the iceberg of sin, there’s nothing left for us to do but get ourselves into lifeboats. The ship is sinking rapidly. God has given up on it and is concerned only with the survival of his people. Any efforts to salvage God’s creation amounts to rearranging the deck chairs. Instead, some say, our sole task is to get into the lifeboats, to keep them afloat, to pluck drowning victims out of the water, and to sail on until we get to heaven where all will be well.”

This letter is a heartfelt response to this argument and to my fellow Christians who hold to it. For even if the world will one day vanish in a puff in smoke, and even though it is indeed riddled with sin, pain and suffering, I passionately believe that considering our relationship to God’s world carefully and lovingly still matters in the here and now. Here are ten reasons why.

1. Revelation. Creation speaks of the glory of God (Romans 1:20). Yet the more it is degraded and despoiled, the more it reveals only our flawed human nature, rather than the Divine. We wouldn’t consider ripping pages out of God’s book of words, so why do so with God’s book of works?

2. Relationship. We weren’t just made to have right relationship with ourselves, others and God, but with the rest of creation too. That’s why contact with animals and nature is so good for body, mind and soul. It follows then that the opposite is bad for us relationally, whether due to a lack of contact or the wrong sort of contact.

3. Commission. God has ordained the natural world to provide for many of our vital needs. Dependence on it is therefore not optional but integral, and a wondrous thing at that. We need, for instance, water, food and air to preach, teach, and reach the world: there can be no Great Commission without God’s Great Creation.

4. Poverty. Dependence on local natural resources is especially pronounced for poor people the world over. And the poor are usually the most impacted by the breakdown of such ecosystems, whether locally (e.g. polluted rivers) or globally (e.g. climate change). For the sake of the poor alone, looking after the environment is essential.

5. Consumerism. Yet it is not poverty that poses the greatest threat to creation but wealth, principally the over-consumption of goods and services that accompanies it. This is usually achieved by driving down their financial costs at the expense of their social and environmental ones. Such injustices, as well as the faith-, finance- and focus-sapping effects of consumerism make it a mortal threat to not only to creation but to the Church as well.

6. Fruit. In every relationship-type, the guiding values that shape it ought to be the Fruit of the Spirit. So why is it that in many of our attitudes to nature – and the economy too – it is the rotten fruit of the human spirit that predominates: greed, selfishness, envy, apathy and denial?

7. Pressure. Despite much positive change, in some circles creation care is still seen as a distraction or even a danger. Major barriers to speaking out on this matter within the Church may include being given the dreaded label ‘liberal’, or the influence of powerful vested interests. Theological and cultural peer pressure like this cannot be allowed to triumph over truth.

8. Tradition. Similarly, much opposition to creation care within the Church is primarily influenced not by truth but by tradition. In fact, secular thinkers like Plato, Descartes and Darwin have strongly shaped negative Western attitudes towards nature, which are so deeply ingrained that they are presumed to be biblical. They’re not.

9. Grace. Every individual taught and tended today by teachers and nurses will one day die. But that does not detract from the magnificent value of these tasks. In the same way, the possibility of future planetary degradation or apocalypse cannot be used to justify apathy or antagonism towards creation today. To do so is, quite simply, an abuse of grace.

10. Fatalism. Even if the world vanishes one day in a puff of smoke, and even if nature continues to be fatally tarnished here and now, eco-fatalism is no way for Christians to live out our relationships with the rest of God’s wonderful world. The ultimate theme that should define these interactions ought to be not how much longer it will exist in the way we know it today, but how deeply God loves it, now and forever. Lifeboat theology or not, in everything that we do, this is the reason.

In light of all this, and although God in His wisdom knows best, I don’t really feel quite ready for the lifeboat just yet. For into the stormy sea of life, the Father has thrown me a life-ring, a wet-suit and a first-aid kit; the Son has gone ahead of me and shown me how it’s done; and the Holy Spirit swims beside me in these choppy waters. I don’t know about you, but I’m going back to the wreck for the others. By the grace of God, we’ve got a ship to save.

Your brother-in-Christ,

Jonny.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

For more on reasons to care for creation see the peopleplanetprophet manifesto.

 © Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Wings fit for purpose

There are many seasons in life.  Sometimes they can be trying but we can be encouraged as Christians that God has His hand on all things.  I believe we can take great encouragement from the life lessons demonstrated in nature…

I once read that as a butterfly readies to leave the cocoon it wriggles and writhes, struggling to break free. This battle can last several days. During this time its ceaseless motion encourages blood flow and flexes muscles in the newly formed wings. At the appointed time the struggle ends. The butterfly emerges and flutters away. The relentless battle produced wings fit for purpose. Not only that but the time spent in the cocoon was a time of maturing and change. The caterpillar was transformed into the adult butterfly – a symbol of beauty. Continue reading

Shangri-la

The third and final article in a Himalayan-themed series looks at what we can learn from the people of the region.

In East Asian mythology Shangri-la is a mystical paradise, a magical valley hidden somewhere in the fastness of the Himalayas. Travellers lucky enough to find this perfect place never want to leave, for it surpasses all others in peace, tranquillity and beauty. A fanciful story perhaps, but there just might be a grain of truth in there somewhere. For in remote parts of the Himalayas – as well as in other quieter corners of the planet – we find communities who, as a result of their limited contact with the frenetic modern world, have managed to retain important principles that are cornerstones of any idyllic existence: simplicity, community and ecology. Continue reading

Treehugger Gospel

Three trees waymark the Christian story – and our own.

I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree…

Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

Trees are incredible. They are the pinnacles of creation, the tallest, largest and oldest living things. And while, strictly speaking, algal plants (phytoplankton) in the oceans produce more oxygen than them, it is trees – especially tropical rainforests – that have captured the public’s imagination as the ‘lungs of the planet’. We depend on them for many other practical things too, like timber, nuts and fruit. But we also depend on their beauty and magnificence to enchant and inspire us, to herald the passage of the seasons. A world without trees would be no world at all.

Continue reading

The edges of His ways

The mountains speak of the greatness of God.  My second in a series of three blogs from the Himalayas discusses.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the Everest region of Nepal, setting up a research project on people and snow leopards.  Nowhere is the vastness of the mountains as apparent as here.  Between the Khumbu glacier that tumbles from its eastern flank to the summit of the world’s highest mountain is a distance of over 3,500 vertical metres (11,550ft), more than three times the height of Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohill.  And this reached from a base camp of around 5,300m/17,500ft that is already higher than any point in the whole of Europe.

Continue reading

The Next Generation

In about two weeks our first born is due. This fills me with a nervous excitement that I have also felt before rugby matches or when I’m about to explore a new trail on my bike (not to trivialise parenthood of course). However, it has also got me thinking about my beliefs and the beliefs that my wife and I want to model as parents.

Part of the reason I got involved in the conservation sector was because of an ideal – I believed and still believe that God created the universe, said that it was good, and placed humans in it to look after it. Adams first job, after all, was to tend the garden. While there will always be the need to use parts of creation to sustain human life, there will never be justification for the reckless destruction of the things that God has made, which are also a glimpse of his glory.

Continue reading

Zombie theology

Holism, not dualism, should underpin our Christian faith, including in our relationships with nature.

Zombies stalk our churches.  They shuffle down the aisles, present in body, absent in spirit.  They have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  These zombie Christians sniff out any scent of abundant life in the church and devour it, intent on reducing the earthly kingdom of God to just a waiting room for eternity.  Tackling poverty and injustice leaves a bitter taste in their mouth, caring for creation makes them choke.

Admittedly, there is such a thing as murdering a metaphor, even an undead one.  But the purpose of this caricature is to point out the negative dualism that is at the root of some Christians’ engagement with the world around them, including hostile or ambivalent attitudes towards the environment, poverty alleviation and other aspects of our physical existence.  This article will argue that not only is this zombie theology damaging and inconsistent in numerous ways, but that it is actually heavily influenced by ideas outside of the Christian worldview.  It will also suggest that the positive biblical alternative is to look at life holistically, accepting and marveling at the interconnection and interdependence of all God’s created order. Continue reading