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The Age of Stupid: Would God Allow Climate Change?

December 18, 2009

I was really struck by The Age of Stupid movie on BBC4 last week (currently available in the UK on iPlayer). The Times, The Telegraph and Time Out all gave it four stars, deservedly so. It’s very provocative and obviously a dramtic scenario, but it looks at the issues of hyper-consumption and climate change in a powerful and helpful way. (The popular science documentary The Climate Wars episode two is also worth watching, for some of the arguments about global warming).

Watching these terrifying prognoses of earth’s future has left me with a question: would God allow climate change?

My instincts say no. I’m deeply convinced that God loves the world he made; and that somehow things will be OK (deep theology, I know!).

But then I started to think about it differently. Has God allowed villages to face catastrophe? Yes, of course. Like the village of Eyam in the Great Plague, which then chose to act with incredible selflessness to prevent the disease spreading. Has God allowed cities to face disaster? Of course. New Orleans, for starters. Has God allowed nations to be ruined? Yes – this was the message of Jeremiah the prophet, and in his own way, of Jesus too. How about an entire civilization? This is what we see in the plagues in the Book of Exodus; Augustine had to witness what must have felt inconceivable – the events surrounding the fall of Rome before his death in 430AD (Jared Diamond’s book Collapse concerns this very issue of societal extinction).

The calling of the church isn’t always to deny the disaster (as with false prophets in Jeremiah’s day). Sometimes we’re called to face it, to reflect wisely on the lessons to learn, and to act with courage and sacrifice to mitigate the effects. There is no guarantee of a life without catastrophe. Quite the opposite, Christians are called to bring hope and healing in the places where catastrophes of all kinds have been and are at work.

Of course, the story of the Flood is the perfect example of God allowing climate change; and yet also the promise that somehow he’ll prevent it happening again (OK, strictly, it’s a promise that he won’t flood the earth – what if we ourselves do it??!). But it’s clear that God has allowed a good many disasters to take place. Not least, I suppose, because there is a principle of sowing and reaping in the universe which is bound up with the freedom and dignity of the entire creation.

So will God allow global warming? I don’t think we can say. My prayer is that he prevents it by any means possible. But the answer to that prayer could well be us.

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