A sermon preached by Nikolaj Christensen at Evening Prayer on 24 October 2021. You can also listen to the sermon on YouTube.
‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth’ – is the article of faith that comes most readily to mind when we contemplate our theme of creation, or the natural world, created by God. And yet, we might wonder, isn’t this notion of God as ‘Almighty’ a distraction from our human agency and responsibility for the environment? After all, if ‘all things work together for good for those who love God’, as we just heard, what difference does our actions make?
There are indeed religious people who use this line of argument as an excuse not to care about the environment. After all, the thinking goes God is all-powerful and has generously provided a bounty of energy in the form of fossil fuels for us. We are but tiny humble humans, so how dare we believe that anything we do, such as burning these fuels, could possibly permanently alter the earth’s climate?!
It’s a tempting argument, perhaps, although one that has no scientific basis whatsoever. The problem is, we all know that humans have the ability to alter God’s creation. Is the cutting down of the rainforests just a figment of our imagination? Did the plastics in the oceans that fish and bird eat come out of nowhere? Is the heavy smog over some of the world’s biggest cities just a coincidence?
No, we know perfectly well that our actions impact the environment and affect the other creatures that we share the earth with. Global warming is just the icing on the cake, if you will. I don’t say that to downplay it as a problem, only to say that even if we didn’t have climate change, we would still be in trouble. And many of the actions we will take to prevent a climate disaster will also benefit life on the planet in other ways.
And yet, we don’t lose sight of God’s almighty power to avert catastrophe – instead, it seems by now that nothing we could ever do would be enough to stop the climate from being permanently changed. But we can stop pushing against God’s purposes for this earth. Because God’s purposes will happen, ultimately, and resistance is futile, as they say. But we have a choice whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution.
Let me put a more positive spin on that though. I don’t think we should see God’s omnipotence so much as a rod on our backs as an invitation to wonder and be enticed by what purposes God has. The Old Testament is a rich source of that kind of wonder. Our psalm this evening, for example, is full of wonder at the might with which God created the mountains and the seas, as well as the tender care that he takes over watering and planting the earth.
Or think of that invitation from the Book of Job that we heard to ‘ask the animals, … the birds of the air, … the plants of the earth, … and the fish of the sea’ to teach us about God. And what will they declare to us? As it says that in God’s ‘hand is the life of every living thing — and the breath of every human being.’ The life of the natural world and our own lives are inextricably linked.
So, we also need to listen to the groaning of creation, that St Paul described – the labour pains of creation. We notice the beauty as well as the pain – the pain that the natural world goes through for our sake, or because of us. Because as the Apostle says, it is through this created world that our own salvation, our own ‘adoption’ by God will come – what he calls ‘the redemption of our bodies’. We believe in ‘The Resurrection of the body’. We can’t ignore the physical. Our God is the ‘Maker of heaven and earth’. So let us work with him and not against him. Let us honour what he has created. But first and foremost let us come to him as our only hope for grace when we feel powerless, as we so often do.
Let us pray…