Inverness Otherwise: Getting real about the climate challenge

Saving the earth

A personal reflection from John Dempster

Inverness Otherwise

This week, between Ascension and Pentecost, we are asked to focus on the theme ‘Thy Kingdom Come,’ praying for our world, our communities, families, and friends.

When we say a heartfelt ‘Thy Kingdom Come,’ we have in mind two levels to the fulfilment of that prayer. The immediate level:  ‘Father, we open our hearts to your life-changing presence. Come among us, come into this situation of trouble or challenge. Help us to be agents of Light.’  And a future level when we look forward to a full coming of God’s Kingdom, when ‘all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.’


I think the most fundamental problem facing the world is climate change, and the other consequences of human exploitation of earth’s resources.  This is an issue of major concern: the scientific consensus is that already we have done too much damage to prevent global warming increasing by over 2 degrees. Already, the planet is experiencing abnormal weather events. Rising sea levels; the unpredictable consequences of the release of methane as the arctic thaws; the blight of worldwide harvests; the possibility of parts of the world becoming too warm for habitation; the potential breakdown of communications networks.  Scientists are cautious people by nature, and aware of past examples of much-heralded potential threats to humanity which have not ultimately been as threatening as it was feared. But many, many scientists are deeply concerned about the decades which lie ahead.  Some even speak of the possibility of human extinction. See this paper for the views of Professor Jem Bendell of the University of Cumbria.

I wonder how, as Christians praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ we can react to this threat?  We might imagine that God must surely intervene once again to rescue the human race.  Perhaps. But I remember hearing of some London Christians at the start of World War II who believed that God would protect their houses from falling bombs. When they found that they were not exempt, their faith was shaken. But I believe that even though we are not always spared from trouble, yet we are accompanied by God in and through our troubles. We can pray ‘Thy kingdom come’, seeking both light and life in the present, and longing for that day when ‘all will be well.’

Some things to think about:

Awake  I believe we need to awaken to the reality of climate change. We are distracted by other pre-occupations; we don’t want to face up to what’s happening; we are lulled into complacency by the ‘business as usual’ insanity of consumerism. (And I use that word ‘insanity’ very thoughtfully and intentionally.) Our awakening to the threats facing us will come with the force of a conversion to a new way of seeing and thinking.

Talk about it  I believe we need to bring our fears and questions about climate change out into the open; discuss them with our neighbours; discuss them with our colleagues; discuss them with fellow-Christians and atheists and pagans; think about them theologically.

Repent and seek to live differently  As human beings, particularly in humans in the West where there have been high levels of carbon consumption in recent decades, we are complicit in a way of living and being which is not sustainable. Our lifestyle choices, our industrial-scale agriculture, are crucifying the planet which God entrusted to our care.  We need a humble recognition of our part in this, and a resolution to do what we can to make amends.

A message of hope  Increasingly, people are becoming worried about the implications of climate change, and are afraid of the future. Because Christians believe that God is with us through trauma, and that the kingdom will one day come, we have a message of hope, a reason to choose life, to choose joy in situations where otherwise we might feel like giving up hope.

Showing the world otherwise  It has always been the calling of Christians to live counter-culturally, to show that God’s vision of life on earth is very different from the vision of those who have not been awakened by God. Unfortunately, over the centuries, the church became associated too much with the establishment and with power, and Christians often were found living in ways which were indistinguishable from those around them.

We are called to be God’s living community (a term which is perhaps more helpful to 21st century people than God’s kingdom.)  We are called to show love, compassion, care, self-giving: and it is values like these which will enable us to be salt and light in troubled communities in the days ahead.  Perhaps awakening to the reality of climate change will speak to us abut the urgency of seeking to aspire to be ‘the world otherwise’.

Learn from others  Sometimes as Christians we focus too much on the individual, and individual salvation.  Our awakening to the challenge of being ‘the world otherwise’ may be stimulated as we encounter people who are deeply concerned about the coming decades, who are discerning the root cause as an economic system in which the enrichment of the few, and the need for constant, unsustainable financial growth are paramount.  Such people are hungry for a better, more equal way of organising society, a way which sets people free rather than ensnaring them in the web of consumerism.

We need to learn from people who, in facing an uncertain future have learned to accept their mortality, and to glory in the sheer beauty and loveliness of this afflicted planet, and are living life as a result more fully, not less fully.

And we will find that people alive to climate change  are alert to the spiritual, to the nurturing web of life.  Tranditionally, some Christians have seen the earth as a ‘thing’ to be used for humanity’s benefit.  But now we have been reminded that it is a living entity, with millions of interdependent systems, and many of us have come to see that the earth is an expression of God’s being, a garment God wears.  We do not worship creation as we worship Jesus, but we see Christ’s breath, Christ’s finger in ever atom.

Work together with others   And having made common cause with all who care for the planet, we need to work co-operatively with others. We need to make personal decisions about our consuming and flying. We need to work with other to call for urgent political change to address carbon emissions.  We need to be active as we are able to highlight the need for a better way of doing business and economics. We need to develop local options  – to take part in Transition initiatives – to developed local self-sufficiency, local, smaller-scale agriculture.

And we need to do this not as another ‘project’, but as a  task and a way of being to which God calls us, and God inspires us.  We are called, as Christians of all denominations and none, to be ‘Inverness otherwise’, showing in the very way we live a different way of being.  We will  fail, as we often do, but by God’s grace we will be agents of life and hope.


I read words from a farmer recently. She had been reading 2 Chronicles 7:13-14:

13 ‘When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

She had been familiar with verse 14, as a call spiritual repentance, and a promise of spiritual renewal. But she had particularly noticed that the context is v13, which speaks of devastation of the land. God presents the problems as a divine judgement: climate change is one of those situations where, as human beings, we reap what we have sown – perhaps it is a ‘judgement’ in that sense.

But can we take verse 14, the farmer wondered, as a call to repent of what has led to climate change, and to seek God’s healing of barren, dry land, and a damaged ecosphere?

And I guess that as humanity has been complicit in damaging the planet, so humanity, in a glorious, creative, God-blessed complicity can work together for earth’s healing.


I remembered the words of Habakkuk (3:17-18):

Though the fig-tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

Despite agricultural crisis, in a very desperate situation, Habakkuk envisages being able to say ‘Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.’ Whatever lies ahead of us, whatever crises humanity faces, the challenge is to find our security, our foundation, our joy in God, and to pray in all circumstances ‘They kingdom come.’

And we look forward to a future when the crucified earth will emerge into its resurrection garden.


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