• The Cross & Climate Change Part 6: Finished

    Posted by The Hope For Creation Team

    17 December, 2013

    It is finished (John 19:30)

    Jesus said, “It is finished”. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

    It is perhaps the most remarkable feature of our faith that Christians regard a crushing defeat and painful death at the hands of the most powerful Empire the world had seen at the time as the victory of God over all human arrogance and over the powers of sin and death.

    Far from being merely an execution post, the cross is a throne on which the crucified Lord of all is elevated and from which he has triumphed over all rulers and authorities (Colossians 2:14-15). It is the site at which the forgiveness and reconciliation of sinners – indeed the restoration to life of those who are dead in their sins – has been achieved.

    This reversal of expectations – from death to victory, from cross to throne –  is so powerful that we understand Jesus’ words from the cross not simply as the exhausted words of a dying man, but as a statement of triumph, the conclusion of his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. The powers of the world, and even death itself, have thrown the worst they can at Jesus, God’s anointed one, and yet he (not they) is the one completing the work the Father set for him to do.

    So, how are Christians to live in light of this certainty that Jesus’ mission was achieved and that God has triumphed over all powers that stand in the way of his purpose to reconcile all of creation to himself? Because, while Jesus’ mission and work is ‘finished’ and the fulness of salvation in Christ can’t be added to or subtracted from, there is certainly work for us to do as we follow Jesus where he leads. Jesus’ work of salvation is finished, but his work in us goes on, as he helps us become and bear the fruit of that work in the world God longs to reconcile to himself.

    When the disciples encounter the risen Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel, he directs them back to “the mountain in Galilee”, calling on them to make “disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:16-20). Discipleship is not a passive or intellectual exercise – we are called to obey everything that Jesus has commanded and seek the presence of Jesus as we live his way in his world.

    I wonder, but don’t know, whether the mountain that Jesus directed those first disciples back to is the same as the mountain on which he preached that famous sermon (Matthew 5–7). It would be a nicely rounded way of pointing back to the content of what it means to obey everything Jesus commanded, as the Sermon on the Mount gives a pretty good picture of Jesus’ agenda for a people called to be “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.

    If Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are to be believed and obeyed, then Jesus’ people are to be marked by a commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation, faithfulness and honesty, self-sacrificing generosity and love for all, even for enemies. We are to stand against the idolatry of wealth, knowing that we cannot, truly, serve two masters.

    The relevance for disciples of Jesus walking in his presence and seeking to serve and love in a warming world should be clear. Jesus’ finished work calls us and shapes us to be people who live out these values, and who seek the presence of Jesus as we respond to the challenges of our time and place. We will be challenged, and discomforted, but we will – above all – be nurtured by the Risen One who reaches out to the “least of these” and who is reconciling all of creation to himself. Our prayers, our actions, our lifestyles, our advocacy, must all be informed by this perspective.

    As Bonhoeffer and so many other Christian martyrs and witnesses have taught us, discipleship is costly. There is no cheap grace on tap that does not ask us to walk the way of the cross with Jesus. Discipleship always costs. And true disciples must be prepared to count the cost (Luke 14:25-35).

    One of the largest and most heated debates about climate change, at both the national and international levels, is who pays the costs for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. Who will pay the costs for countries, communities and businesses to shift from carbon intensive sources of energy (especially coal and oil) towards renewable sources, or to shift their exports (and the income it provides) away from fossil fuels? Who will pay to meet the rising costs of risk reduction and recovery for poor countries and communities in the face of more severe weather events?

    Climate change is, of course, already costing the poor. Current warming of just under 1°C since pre-industrial times is influencing rainfall patterns and water availability. It is increasing salt water intrusion and storm surges in low-lying coastal and island communities. And it is contributing to greater temperature extremes and severe weather events.

    recent World Bank study has found that the likely warming for the 21st Century – within the lifetime of those born today – will almost certainly be in the range of 2–4°C. It may even exceed 4°C if emissions continue at their current rate or if a number of intensifying feedbacks in the climate system (such as the release of methane from Arctic permafrost) accelerate the rate of warming.

    Under these conditions, adaptation will be extraordinarily difficult, and – indeed – may well be impossible for the poorest people, subsistence farmers, and marginalised and vulnerable groups. Water availability in Sub-Saharan Africa may fall by 20–50%, up to half of available grazing land may be lost and all staple crops would see significant losses in yield, contributing to a hunger crisis that already confronts hundreds of millions of people.

    So when the question of cost is raised, disciples must ask about human cost as much as financial cost. We must always be prepared to confront the spectre of Mammon – the idol of limitless growth and wealth – that lurks at the heart of our economic system when we think about the costs of responding to climate change. Because if we are not prepared to bear the financial costs we are – in effect – asking others to pay the human cost. Adjusting to a low-emissions future will not be easy or painless, but living simply and loving abundantly are, as we know from Jesus, the hallmarks of God’s good life in a way that money and material possessions can never be.

    And in all this, we are confronted not just with challenges and the call to self-sacrificial love. Jesus promises us that as we walk this path of discipleship in a warming world, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).


    This blog is the sixth 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.