An inconvenient truth?
Whatever you think about global warming, you can’t ignore it. It’s already the subject of Hollywood blockbusters. Take the move, The Day After Tomorrow, based on the fear of massive natural disasters caused by climate change. The Day After Tomorrow is, of course, fiction. But ex-American presidential Candidate Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, claims to be fact. Apparently, the science shows that records are being broken all over the world. Ten of the hottest years on record were in the last 14 years. In 2003, heat in Europe killed 35,000 people. Typhoons are stronger and more frequent, powered by the warming ocean. Rainfall is changing. Lake Chad in Africa, once one of the largest lakes in the world, is almost dry. As Al Gore says, ‘Our ability to live is what is at stake’.
How do you react to the news of this coming global catastrophe?
Are you afraid? Are you afraid about where the world is heading? Are you afraid about your ‘ability to live’, your future, family, your friends?
Or perhaps you are confident it’s be OK in the long run? Australian scientist Tim Flannery is very optimistic about the potential for us to fix our environmental problems. He believes that it’s easy to avoid global warming—all we need to do is make smart consumer choices. According to Tim Flannery, ‘If enough of us buy green power, solar panels, solar hot water systems and hybrid vehicles’ we’ll have a market-driven solution without having to do much about our lifestyles at all. He even reckons nuclear power is the way to go. He’s confident that it’s safe and clean.
Maybe you’re a skeptic on the whole issue? Only five years ago, global warming was doubted by most people. The scientific community was pretty convinced that global warming is happening. According to Science Magazine, December 2004, of all peer-reviewed scientific studies on climate change, 928 papers supported global warming and 0% denied it. But in a similar sampling of stories from the mass media, 53% suggested global warming is unproven. It’s changed a little over the last five years; it seems that more people believe in global warming today. But are we right to believe in it? Who’s to say that the scientists are right? They’ve let us down before. They’re human like the rest of us They’ve got hidden agendas like the rest of us. Al Gore himself may have had political aspirations—he’s not exactly unbiased.
Perhaps you believe global warming will happen, but you just don’t care! You’re past the point of fear. You’re too exhausted to be afraid. You may be saying, if our world is going to be destroyed, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die…
The story of the world so far…
In this final article in the series on the Bible’s view of the environment, we’re looking at the future of the world. Where is our world heading? Just to remind you of where we’ve been:
We’ve seen how God created a good world. A world he loves. We’ve seen how he created men and women to rule his creation. And we learned that when humanity rules the world properly, this is good for the world and for God.
But we’ve also seen how we human beings turned our backs on God. Adam and Eve did it. We keep doing it day after day in our own lives. Instead of listening to God, human beings disobey him. As a result, we live under a sentence of death. And the creation we are supposed to rule is cursed, out of order. God’s image is broken. God’s creation is cursed. So we live in a world where there are storms, natural disasters, environmental degradation; even the possibility of environmental degradation on a global scale, such as global warming.
But we also have seen Jesus Christ, the man who is the image of God. The man who never disobeyed God. The man who died for our sins, in our place, and who rose from the dead. And we saw that Jesus’ death on the cross is the great event of history that puts the world back into order. When Jesus died and rose from the dead, he restored the image of God. He created a whole new humanity: you and I and all who trust in Christ. He restored us as rulers of God’s creation. Instead of curse, forgiveness. Instead of the sentence of death, life. And when the image of God is back in action, there is hope for our world.
But what exactly can we expect to happen to our world now? It’s pretty obvious that our world hasn’t actually been fixed yet. It is still under a curse. It is still subject to death, decay, tsunamis, bushfires, earthquakes and storms. It is still mourning, because its rulers have turned their backs on their maker. What will happen to our world? And how? And when?
The future of the world
The Bible describes what will happen to our world in two ways
The first way the Bible speaks about what will happen to our world is ‘judgment’.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:3-7
God made the world, and he also cares about the world. And so God he is going to do something about the world. God won’t let this world go on forever the way it is. He has set a day when he will judge the world. That ‘day’ is called the ‘day of the Lord’. It’s the day of reckoning, the day of judgment.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
2 Peter 3:10
The image used is fire—destroying, melting fire, that lays bare the whole creation, the whole world. Why is that?
Our sin against God has resulted in a curse. Humanity is under a sentence of death, and the world has been fatally poisoned. That curse is so serious, that the only way to make it right is through the judgment of those who have sinned, and the destruction of the world that they have poisoned through their sin. That is what God promises to do.
Judgment isn’t a very popular idea nowadays. Perhaps you think a God who will judge the world isn’t worth following.
But would you rather have judgment, or catastrophe? There is a big difference between judgment and catastrophe. If global warming does cause huge storms and rising sea levels, that would be a catastrophe. It would be nature out of control. There would be indiscriminate death, especially for the poor and disadvantaged.
But judgment is different to catastrophe. Judgment is when the God who made the world takes firm and complete control of the world he has made. In judgment, God is firmly in control; in a catastrophe, things just happen. Judgment is deliberate; catastrophes are random. Judgment is fair, right and just; catastrophes are unfair, wrong, accidental.
Judgment will happen when God decides. The day of judgment will not come before God is ready for it to come. In verse 7 above, the heavens and earth are being ‘kept’, ‘reserved’ by God for destruction. That means God will judge when he is ready. It means that the judgment day will not come before he is ready. So if you think that the human race will wipe itself off the face of the map through environmental disasters, then that is actually an arrogant attitude. Final judgment is God’s job. Right now, God is keeping the world until he is ready to judge. And we can’t wipe ourselves out because God will not let that happen until he is ready to judge us!
How will you face the judgment of God? There are two ways you can face God’s judgment.
The first way is to face God’s judgment by yourself. If you don’t know and trust the Lord Jesus Christ, you will stand before God alone God will carefully and perfectly weigh each action and thought you have ever done or had in your life. And God will pass judgment on you. Are you willing to face God like this? To stand before the maker and judge of the whole world, naked, exposed, unable to hide anything whatsoever? Not even what you have so desperately tried to forget yourself? The sentence that God passes on those who fail his judgment is terrible. Jesus called it hell. This isn’t just an ‘inconvenient truth’; it’s more serious than life itself.
But if you are in Jesus Christ; if you trust Jesus Christ, then consider how you face God! You face God as somebody who has been forgiven, whose image has been renewed, whose sin has been dealt with, whose curse has been lifted. You face God as somebody who has new life; not a life that comes from yourself, but a life from Jesus Christ who died for you and rose from the dead. If you trust Jesus, you will be saved through that judgment.
The second way the Bible describes what will happen to the world is ‘renewal’. Let’s look at the second-last chapter in the Bible:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
After judgment, comes renewal. The picture here is of a new heavens and a new earth. That doesn’t mean two different places, but it’s a way of saying a whole new creation. It’s a place where relationships are made right again; God living with his people. No death, no curse. God will wipe the tears from our eyes—isn’t that a beautiful picture?
Now let’s look at the final chapter in the Bible
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Here we see that the new creation is not completely different from the old creation; rather it is the completion and perfection of what God began in this creation. Genesis 1 is incomplete. In Genesis 1, the human beings are told to fill the earth and subdue it. But here in Revelation 22, we see human beings actually filling the earth and subduing it. A large number of people in a city, not two people in a garden. Reigning forever and ever.
Of course, it’s not a city like we know them; not just steel and concrete. It’s a city with a river and trees—a garden city. It’s a picture of humans, many human, living in harmony with their environment. Revelation 22 is the fulfillment of God’s original purposes in Genesis 1. When God renews the world, the earth will be filled and subdued, and God’s servants will rule and look after his good world as servant kings.
Notice that our hope is in a new creation, not an eternal boring fluffiness. Our future as Christians is not to float around playing harps in an endless Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial. Our future is a deeply physical existence in a renewed, joyful world; eating really good food; living in a relationship with God himself. Our future is in a place where God’s servants reign, where the image of God is restored, where we will be occupied in joyful service, where we will look after the world perfectly; where there is no curse, no death, no sin.
Doesn’t this fill you with hope and longing? Don’t you yearn to be there, rather than here in this cursed and futile world? If it does, know that you’re not alone! Look at Romans 8:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Our world itself is groaning, waiting, yearning, for us to be set free.
In one sense, Jesus has already set us free. By his death on the cross he has forgiven our sins, given us new life and made us right with God. We are even now renewed in the image of God—rulers of God’s creation.
But physically, our bodies are still rotting. We’re still under the sentence of death. As I grow older, I have to keep seeing more and more doctors to fix all the problems with my body—and I’m relatively healthy! Some of you know the pain of sickness and death only too well. The same is true of the world .It is still under the curse, still subject to decay, still out of order.
But when Jesus returns, our bodies will be redeemed, resurrected. We will be remade as new physical people. We will be rulers of creation, the image of God in both body and soul! And when the image of God is back in action, when the rulers are redeemed, the world will be finally, and visibly, complete. Liberated from its bondage to decay. Death will not have the victory, and neither will global warming!
But in the meantime, you and I and the world groan together. Groaning is not the same as complaining. You groan when your heart is broken at the state of our own lives and our world. You groan when you know that it can be, it will be, far, far better.
Judgment and renewal together
Here are the two facts about the future of our world: judgment and renewal. On the one hand, the world will be judged and destroyed. On the other hand, the world will be renewed and completed. How do we fit these two facts together?
It’s similar to the question that you and I face about our own bodies. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 tells us that, on the last day, our mortal bodies will be destroyed; but we will be given new, immortal, resurrection bodies. And yet, we will still be the same person. So it is with the world. The curse has affected our whole world. The cursed world will be destroyed, and there will be a new world, created by God. Nevertheless, it will still be the same world, somehow. Not a totally new world, but a renewed world. 1 Corinthians 15 uses the example of a seed. When you look at a seed, you can’t tell what sort of tree it will grow into just by looking at it. But you do know it will grow into a tree. All the DNA is in there. So we don’t exactly know what will be the same and what will be different between this world and the next. But we are promised that there is something that will remain through judgment into the new world. What will remain? What will remain is the work you have done for the sake of the Lord Jesus.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
While you wait
So what is this ‘labour in the Lord’? What should we do as we wait for God to bring about this judgment and renewal of our sick and decaying world?
Eager expectation (Rom 8:18-23)
The first thing we should do is not actually a thing to do at all. It’s simply groaning and enduring suffering and waiting. We’ve done enough in mucking up the planet—doing doesn’t necessarily help the world! Instead we trust Jesus in eager expectation of the future, and we groan with our world and weep for our world and its people and suffer in our world. That is a right response to our cursed world, because as we cry over our death-bound world it helps us to remember that we are looking forward to the time when God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Active waiting (2 Peter 3:9-14)
But secondly, there is active work to do. Our labour in the Lord involves living our lives in obedience to Jesus.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?
2 Peter 3:10-11a
You ought to be a wild self-indulgent party animal, shouldn’t you? The world’s going to be destroyed, live for the moment! Party like there’s no tomorrow in a big Armageddon rave! Right? Wrong. But that’s not what Peter says. He says,
You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
2 Peter 3:11b-13
We are looking forward to a new home, a new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness. Judgment is not the end for us. We can and should start living for our new home, even now.
I made a compost heap a few years ago. Let’s think about my compost heap for a second. What use is my compost heap, when the whole world is going to be destroyed? Well, I need to ask, what is the compost heap for?
Is the purpose of my compost heap to save the world? That would be arrogance, not to mention dumb. Thinking I can somehow save the world from its death sentence through my compost heap—that would be far worse than not having a compost heap at all, wouldn’t it? But it is the way many people think!
Is the purpose of the compost heap to pay homage to Mother Earth? That would be pagan idolatry. I would be worshipping the earth instead of God. Many people do that too!
Is the purpose of my compost heap to give me an illustration for this article? That would be hypocrisy.
But if my compost heap is an act done for the sake of the Lord Jesus, an act that affirms the purpose of the earth that God has made and Jesus owns, an act of love for other human beings so that they can enjoy the land in other ways, an act to stop the land being filled up with my landfill that I couldn’t be bothered to cut down on; then I am doing something that will remain into the renewed world. Not the compost heap, but the act of love, the relationship with God and others that act expresses.
You could also extend this principle into more organized, corporate action Christian aid groups, for example who are lobbying G8 leaders because they are, I quote, ‘making appallingly slow progress with helping vulnerable countries cope with climate change. Poor, rural farmers in Africa struggling to cope with drought are still struggling this year and will be next year.’ This is a good thing, isn’t it? The same principle as the compost heap, but on a bigger organized scale. It’s an act of love for others in our world, especially the poor and needy
The greatest labour in the Lord
But what is the greatest labour in the Lord? Compost heaps take time. Lobbying G8 leaders takes even more time. And we don’t have an unlimited time here on earth. Sure, they’re a good idea. But how do I decide what is the most urgent thing? The primary, the greatest labour in the Lord?
Isn’t it to speak the word of the Lord to others? Isn’t it to share Jesus with your friends and family? To warn them of judgment, to explain to them the offer of forgiveness in Jesus, to share with them your hope of the renewal of the world? Isn’t that the best thing you can do in and for and with the world God has given you?
For when people come to trust in Jesus, the image of God is renewed, and the world is set to rights.
I used to work as an engineer for a solar energy company. I was directly involved in the task of reducing global warming. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But really, most of us were there because we wanted to make lots of money. There’s a huge potential in the solar energy field. We were a company full of greedy people. And it’s greed which is at the root of most of these problems! The world doesn’t need more solar cell research.
What the world needs is Jesus. As people come to know Christ, they will put greed to death, and they will live in love for others and with regard to the good world God has made. But more than that; when you share Jesus with those around you, God is using you to create new servant-rulers. People who will rule God’s new creation forever and ever. Kings and Queens of God’s new creation! It might be an ‘inconvenient truth’ for them to hear: the truth that this world is under a curse, the truth the they and you and I are responsible for that curse; the truth that this world will be judged; the truth that each person who has not been forgiven by Christ will face God’s justice alone and without any excuse. That’s an inconvenient truth. But why should that stop us? It’s the truth! And besides, this truth is also a truth that brings wonderful and perfect comfort.
Al Gore’s inconvenient truth is this: ‘There’s a global catastrophe coming. It might be bad and we might be able to do something about it if we’re not too late.’
But this is God’s truth: There’s a definite day of judgment fixed for our world. If you don’t trust in Christ, it will be very, very bad for you. But if you do trust in Christ, it will be wonderful beyond your wildest imaginings. You will live as a ruler in God’s new world, and he will wipe every tear away from your eyes. And there’s nothing you have to do about it at all. Except trust to trust him. Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Jesus, the image of God; now and forever.
This article is part 3 in a 3-part series, adapted from a talk given at the Wollongong ECU Reload Conference in 2009.