• The Cross & Climate Change Part 4: Despair

    Posted by The Hope For Creation Team

    10 December, 2013

    My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

    This is the fourth post in a series on The Cross & Climate Change, focusing on Jesus’ “seven words from the cross”. Earlier posts are: Introduction1: Forgiveness2: Heaven, & 3: Family.

    It’s easy – even for Christians – to forget or gloss over the stark and uncomfortable reality of Christianity. Its central event, the heart of faith, is an experience of utter defeat and despair. Although we have come to accept it as a symbol of devotion to Jesus or see it as some sort of residual cultural symbol (worn on necklaces or as tattoos), the cross is a symbol of torture, degradation and death. Just as a gas chamber or gallows might be today.

    To be a crucified Messiah was to be (in the first century mind) a contradiction in terms. How could a Messiah executed in the most shameful and degrading way the Roman Empire had devised be God’s anointed one, the saviour of his people? And to take it further, how can a crucified God, one who knows suffering and abandonment, be at the centre of our faith? ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13).

    Jürgen Moltmann in The Crucified God puts it starkly,

    God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.

    We look at the blackest, bleakest moment in Jesus’ life and we see despair. The sense of a man for whom communion with his heavenly Father has been broken and who faces his own physical annihilation, the end of his own life, at the hands of a powerful oppressor.

    It is not hard to wonder in our context whether we shouldn’t be despairing at climate change and climate inaction. Are we godforsaken and without hope in the face of global warming and potentially massive climate disruption?

    Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is at its highest level in recorded history and there is no sign yet that the global emission of greenhouse gases is slowing or reversing. Arctic sea ice is at its lowest level for over 1,400 years. We are, whether we care to acknowledge it or not, already staring in the face of dangerous climate change and a radically altered future. Yet policies and actions to respond to climate change seem to fall far short of the challenge.

    With Jesus, then it is right to cry out in the words of Psalm 22:1. He wept at the thought of his approaching death. He grieved over Jerusalem and her lack of faith. Grief and lament, hurt and fear, should not be a foreign language to any reader and prayer of the Psalms, not to any follower of Jesus. What is broken and damaged, unjust and oppressive, in God’s world should grieve us deeply and personally.

    Since the creation groans, it is appropriate to groan and mourn with it. We are to give the mute suffering of creation voice just as at times the Spirit groans for us when we have no words for ourselves (Romans 8:26-27). Paul speaks of the creation being subject to frustration under human misrule (Romans 8:19-23), and we know that in turn people suffer as a result. Just as Roman clearing of forests led to the growth of swamps and the spread of malaria which played a role in the collapse of the Empire, so global warming is resulting in the spread of malaria to highland locations in the tropics, causing death among the global poor. Sea level rise and the formation of standing water in places like the Carteret Islands is also causing malaria to spread. We know that the impacts of climate change on the poor will also only get worse.

    Yet in the midst of his trial, struggle and crucifixion, Jesus still hoped because he knew the faithfulness of God. When Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22:1, he had the whole Psalm in mind. The lament is genuine, yet from verse 20 onwards in the Psalm there is a cry for deliverance and a trust that God would deliver. Even on the cross, Godforsaken, Jesus knew that God could be trusted to be the God of, and for, even the Godforsaken.

    With Paul, we know from the verse in Galatians mentioned earlier that Jesus became a curse for us, in order to liberate for us the blessings that God had promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:14). Even when God appears to be silent, he is working.

    But this is not counsel for indifference or apathy. The sovereignty of God is never to be used to abrogate human responsibility. God is sovereign, but we celebrate and rejoice, praising people for their efforts when they act justly and perform deeds of courage and mercy. God is sovereign, but we punish murderers and thieves for their acts. God is sovereign, but we are called to work together to confront the effects of the global warming and climate disruption we are causing.

    In this, we are  called to give voice to the poor and largely powerless as they suffer the burden of climate change. As those who carry a treasure in jars of clay, the gospel of hope, redemption and restoration of all things (2 Corinthians 4:6-7), we are called to love in the hardest of times and the hardest of places. We are called to speak truth to power – sometimes even in confrontation with rulers and authorities – in a changing climate to avoid the worst consequences, and getting alongside the poor, helping them adapt to the inevitable.

    We are called to be signs of hope, to bear the presence of God even in dark and seemingly God-forsaken places. In this, for our own sake, we also need to take hold of the signs of hope that are around us. The fossil fuel lobby is powerful, yet renewable energy is within our grasp. In the Australian context, Beyond Zero Emissions promises base load power via solar and wind. Germany leads the charge in solar while China is starting to make big commitments to renewables (though still taking lots of Australian coal).

    Climate conversations can be hard, but Christians are increasingly speaking out. The Lausanne Movement is taking climate change seriously as part of its understanding as mission, while recent Popes have spoken about the interaction between human and natural ecologiesMicah Challenge and many Christians seeking action against poverty are taking climate change seriously; progress towards the Millennium Development Goals could be short-lived in a world irrevocably altered by climate change.

    So, with Jesus, despair deep and despair well. Understand what is at stake and grieve for what is already lost.

    Then hope with all your heart and with your whole life. What signs of hope do you see? And what sign of hope will you be?


    This blog is the fourth in a eight part series on 'The Cross & Climate Change' originally posted by Hope for Creation. You can read the other blogs in this series here.