Is There A Spiritual Answer To Environmental Problems?

One of the oldest running self sufficient communities in the Western World is the Amish. Is their shunning of modern technology key to environmental survival? Is there anything inherent in their Christian values that holds the key to environmental sustainability?

Because we are human, and because we care for others, we inevitably seek for such an answer. But we are likely to receive only that which has already come to us from the experts we have listened to earlier. Simple answers are wrong answers when such complicated questions are involved.

We can perhaps begin by looking hard at the word ‘time’, however. The Christian finds this a particularly heavy word, since he is aware that what we call time here is not one of the eternal or ultimate dimensions.

Those dimensions certainly impinge on us here and now, and we can begin already to live in relation to time-and space realities in a style which renders them — and declares them to be — relative. They are important, but not finally important. This is what the New Testament is constantly saying, and what the life, teaching and resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaim.

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In days like ours, therefore, in which secular man has his own urgent concerns with the End, Christians will feel the pressure to restate an eschatology that makes plain their form of reference outside present time categories.

Some, of course, do rush in at such a time, and in a mixing of metaphor and dimension, write best-sellers that more or less date their predictions of each event leading up to the End. In North America, the paperback The Late Great Planet Earth has gone into its second million.

Inevitably, if you insist on treating scriptural prophecy in such ways, you end up sounding like a decoder of divine puzzles. And the element of time — last times — these present decades — swamps any clear sense of proclaiming a life which begins in this world, and will be swallowed up in that which will be revealed beyond it.

End of man’s beginnings. In whatever time remains to us all, Christians will want to be seen as active, involved, stable citizens in the world’s race with the clock. They will relearn their theology of the kingdom of God in their absorption in the political, international, aid and conservation arenas.

All this is nothing new. The New Testament itself is set in an equally urgent context, fully conscious of an imminent End. ‘Redeem the time for the days are evil’ has an ancient as well as a modern feel.

How God comes, or comes ‘again’ is increasingly plainly written. Man’s future is upon him. Christians will be heard speaking of God most plainly when they are seen to cope with Future Shock as if there is One in control, the Lord of all change, the Lord always coming towards them from that Future.

There seems to me to be no particular reason to be shy of the thought that within this process there will come a moment (the last ‘moment’ of that sort) when a universal cataclysmic happening discovers or reveals God’s presence and judgement.

Evangelism in these days must have this urgent dimension, and express this unflappability, if our neighbours are to make much of our words about that God.

A style of life that communicates will have at least three marks: prayer, hard work, and fellowship.

Prayer, however, expressed today, is recognizably an activity and attitude fully affirmative of purpose behind and in all life.

By hard work I mean Christian commitment and action, personal and corporate, in the service of man’s survival and reasonable development. Such must be genuine and sincere, even whilst we recognize that it may just not be possible to pull it off. Even if we are fairly convinced we shall not pull it off, we cannot opt out of trying. The mountain-top ‘let’s wait for the Second Coming’ reaction has always been rejected by the Church.’

Fellowship is extremely important in all this, because however poorly the Church now experiences and manifests the fellowship of the Spirit, it is this which embodies the ‘next dimension’ here and now. It is an ultimate statement of another way of living, God-centred, others-centred, keeping self in perspective. Insofar as we are a reconciled and reconciling body of people, a real family, we are an outpost of heaven, a word about what comes after the End of our beginnings.

In every direction we are committed to drastic change, to revolution. In this we find ourselves followers of the Son of Man.

We need a healthy realism about man and society with their bias towards self-defeat. We have to say that despite all the warning signs we are quite likely to go on taking wrong turnings, and may well end up in self-destruction.

The Christian individually and corporately must seek wherever he is, to express what seems to be ‘righteousness’ (that which closest approximates to human development and fulfilment) and to work for it at whatever cost. Churches together will have to put all their weight and influence behind national, regional and international efforts towards these ends.

To achieve this locally the Christian will be urgently committed to small overlapping groups who find in each other much of their strength to carry on. Some groups will be ‘Christian’ groups, many will be mixed, for the kingdom is impatient when man is in peril, and will not wait to be served till all are Christian. Yet along the way some will find themselves meeting with God who comes to them within their grappling with the future.

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