What’s Exegetical About Climate Change?

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At this point in my blog’s two post history, you’re probably like, “Come on, Patrick, spare us these titles!” To this of course I respond, “I have titles like these and to spare!” (This of course diverts your frustration from the article’s title to the strange situation surrounding the word spare, a word which somehow means both to have no excess or to be totally kept from something and to have too much of something).

My goal, as with my previous post, is to make you feel more at ease with the word exegesis as well as its brothers: exegete (with the middle name, “noun”), exegete (with the middle name, “verb”; you would think their parents could have been more inventive), exegetically, and, possibly my favorite of the clan, exegetical (some heretics are attempting to change his name to exegetic – don’t you let them!). When the boys get together, they like to exegetically discern Bible truths by exegeting Scripture, undertaking a process known exegesis that makes them all exegetes and a truly exegetical family.

Please keep reading.

So, About That Title…

In case you didn’t read my first post and this is your first encounter with this word and its variants, exegesis is the technical term to describe something that isn’t always simple but that is incredibly important. It describes the process by which the truths intended by the inspired authors of the Bible are drawn out of the texts they wrote. To keep things simple, I’ll generally refer to exegesis as something that we do with the Bible, though I suppose the same process would be necessary in any attempt to understand communication.

So, when I ask, “What’s exegetical about climate change,” the answer depends on how you define the term, “climate change.” If you mean, “the gradual warming and altering of the climate here on earth due to human activity,” the answer is possibly something. If you add the phrase, “leading to the destruction of life here on earth as we know it,” then the answer is definitely nothing. If you scrap the whole thing and define it as, “a term that was created by liberal politicians and thinkers in an effort to push the agenda of environmentalism which has no bearing on reality because climate is controlled by natural processes as of yet not fully understood by science,” you may be right, but you’re also wrong (and you’ve created a rather verbose definition).

Let me explain.  

| THE REALITY OF A CHANGING CLIMATE

It’s possible that you just got angry after reading that header, and if so, I apologize. There can be little doubt but that this is a sensitive and emotionally charged issue. Still, no person who is aware of anything more than the weather in their county or state can deny that the climate of this world is changing. The internet abounds with charts highlighting the unmistakable rise in global temperature averages over the past century. While sceptics are perhaps right to 1) doubt the reliability of global weather records in the earlier years of some of these charts and 2) point out the issues in studying the history of climate change given our relatively short history of reliable global data, they can’t argue against the obvious trend of the past 50 years.  

| WHO TURNED UP THE THERMOSTAT?

The debate regarding climate change really should not be over what is happening, but why it is happening.

It’s pretty common to see “human affected,” “human induced,” or “human caused” attached to the phrase climate change in the media because the majority of people who care about a warming world believe that human beings are the ones to blame. It’s just as common to see the phrases “carbon emissions,” “greenhouse gasses,” and “greenhouse effect,” as an explanation of how humans have brought about climate change. Essentially, humans burn things (slash-and-burn farming, manufacturing, running combustion engines, etc.) and the byproducts of burning (smoke, exhaust, etc.) get trapped in our atmosphere and cause the temperature to go up. Keep burning, and the temperature keeps rising; stop burning, and the temperature rise stops. Or so the theory goes.  

People attack this theory on a number of bases. I’ll let you further research the scientific aspects of this debate, as, and I’m sure you’re aware of this, this is not a science blog (and I am not a scientist). This is a Bible blog (a Bblog?) though, and I do feel the Bible should have some bearing on both the debate and the way people approach the reality of a warming climate.

| ONE ARGUMENT AGAINST THE IDEA OF HUMAN INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE

Ok, so if this subheading were a little more specific, it would be, “One Argument Against a Certain Conclusion Reached by Some Who Support the Idea of Human Caused Climate Change.” But, if I headed it that way you probably would have quit reading. But, I’ve included it now, so there’s still a chance you’ll quit reading.

Please keep reading.

It’s pretty common for those who support the idea of human caused climate change to paint a doomsday picture in an effort to get us to believe their gospel (which is not another, even though it is troubling [Galatians 1:7]). Humans, with their carbon emitting ways, will destroy the world and life as we know it

But wait, this is a gospel story, right? So, it turns out that if these humans repent of their carbon emitting ways and adopt more environmentally friendly practices, they’ll be able to save the world! Raise taxes, penalize companies and individuals that emit carbon, subsidize companies that go carbon neutral, and plant some trees, and the polar ice caps will actually apologize to us for starting to melt in the first place! And exclamation points make it all seem more plausible!

There’s a serious problem with believing these environmental doomsday scenarios for those who are living by faith. And no, it’s not just that they feel no alarm, even though the song is right about that.  

The problem is this: human beings cannot destroy this world.

Now, I’m not making this statement from the standpoint of capability. I’m sure if we set our minds to it, we could create enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world (and we may have already). No, I know we can destroy the world, but I also know that we won’t.

Destroying the world lies in the exclusive realm of God’s abilities, not ours:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).

Now before you say, “Well, Patrick, maybe God intends to use mankind to destroy the world,” realize: 1) I’m impressed that you think you know me well enough to refer to me on a first name basis (or perhaps depressed at the scope of this blog); 2) If God intends to use us to destroy the world, good luck trying to stop Him (cf. Revelation 13:8; Acts 2:23, 36); 3) This isn’t all that the Bible has to say on this subject.

Do you remember what Jesus said life would be like when He returns (an event which will usher in the end of the world)?

And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all (Luke 17:26-29).

Some might confuse the words of Luke 17 with texts in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 and assume that Jesus is describing the destruction of Jerusalem, however, Luke records that discourse later (Luke 21). Study the words of Luke 17 carefully – while all texts describing God’s judgment share similarities, the language of the context describing people being suddenly taken doesn’t really fit a temporal judgment. So, Jesus says that when He returns, people will still be carrying out the normal functions of life: marrying, eating, conducting business, farming, and building. This implies we haven’t destroyed ourselves by rendering the globe uninhabitable.

Not convinced? What about the words of Paul regarding the Second Coming:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Paul says in no uncertain words that people will be “alive and remain” when Christ returns. 

God’s promise to Noah seems to settle the matter in no uncertain terms:

 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). 

There’s no way around it for people of faith: hate to break it to you, but we’re not going to destroy ourselves. Even though we are capable of it, I can safely say we can’t because God can’t lie (Titus 1:6), and we’ll all become liars before He will (Romans 3:4).

| ONE ARGUMENT AGAINST THOSE WHO OPPOSE THE IDEA OF HUMAN INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE 

Before you rejoice (or pound your keyboard in frustration, depending on your point of view) at the above section, realize there’s more to be considered here about this debate. Just as there are some extremists in the climate change debate that believe humanity can destroy (and is destroying) the world, there are some on the opposite end of the spectrum that believe that man has no role in the changing the world whatsoever.

Let’s think about this end of the spectrum as we did the other: from the standpoint of faith. When God gave man his first instructions, He said:

“Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28)

Focus on the words dominion and subdue. Add to your understanding of this verse a psalm of praise that seems to have been written celebrating God’s trust in man:

What is man that You are mindful of him,

And the son of man that You visit him? 

For You have made him a little lower than the angels,

And You have crowned him with glory and honor. 

You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;

You have put all things under his feet, 

All sheep and oxen—

Even the beasts of the field, 

The birds of the air,

And the fish of the sea

That pass through the paths of the seas (Psalm 8:4-8).

Before you run to Hebrews 2 and say that Psalm 8 is talking about Jesus, realize that Psalm 8 is only talking about Jesus because He became a Man (and that’s exactly what Hebrews 2 says). Psalm 8 is an inspired utterance of shock that God would entrust mankind with the care of His world. Note again the word dominion, and the words that follow: “over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.”

Exactly how many things is all things? We know that mankind cannot destroy the world entirely, but experience ought to teach us that we do have considerable power to make certain portions of the world rather unlivable. Poor irrigation practices have nearly destroyed the Aral Sea. Other lakes around the world also appear to be in a terminal decline. Mining rare earth materials and refining them has created a “nightmarish lake” in Mongolia. Many more examples could be cited. While these kind of articles generally also speak of drought and climate change, they often cite human mismanagement as a major contributor to the issues facing the area under discussion. 

While limited, my experience in Bible study has taught me that all means all. It could be that when Jesus and Paul said humans would be around when Jesus returns, they were being descriptive rather than prescriptive.

As I said above, I’m already convinced that we can destroy the world using nuclear weapons – I’m just equally or perhaps even more convinced that we won’t. So what about climate change? Will man change the climate and destroy the world? Absolutely not. But, does man have the ability through greed, covetousness, impatience, a lack of neighborly love, and a host of other sins (as well as through the exercise of what would be best described as “liberty”) to mismanage the world’s resources and through this mismanagement radically affect the world, perhaps even to the extent that global temperatures rise? Am I crazy if I say, “Maybe”?

The truth is, I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone can; verifiable science involves controlled variables and repeatable experiments, two things that don’t truly exist in climate study. What I do know is that there’s more to this whole climate thing then people on either side of the argument seem to be acknowledging. And while I’m not prepared to rule out man as an instrument of climate change, I am prepared to rule out that man is the one in total control of climate (or anything, Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 8:4-8 notwithstanding).

| WHAT BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT ARE MISSING 

You’ll notice that when I gave some examples of mankind’s poor handling of the environment above, I gave examples of lakes. I did this purposefully – in two of those articles, you’ll find the term “drought” tossed around a fair bit (the other article about the lake in Mongolia was just an interesting read). Let’s focus our exegetical efforts on the concept of drought, realizing that principles can be extracted from what the Bible says about this specific weather phenomenon and applied to other weather phenomena that are also attributed to climate change.

Drought is nothing new to the human experience. In fact, the Bible has a considerable amount to say about drought, and no, it does not attribute droughts to people burning things. Consider a few of the passages containing the word drought and an associated word, famine:

“Then Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had restored to life, saying, ‘Arise and go, you and your household, and stay wherever you can; for the LORD has called for a famine…’” (2 Kings 8:1).

“…thus says the LORD… I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them, till they are consumed from the land…” (Jeremiah 24:8, 10).

“…thus says the LORD of hosts… I will punish… by famine, and by pestilence” (Jeremiah 44:11, 13).

“‘A sword is against the Chaldeans,’ says the LORD, ‘Against the inhabitants of Babylon…A drought is against her waters, and they will be dried up. For it is the land of carved images, and they are insane with their idols… As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors,’ says the LORD, ‘So no one shall reside there…’” (Jeremiah 50:35, 38, 40).

“Thus says the Lord of hosts… ‘I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands’” (Haggai 1:7, 11).

The above passages are not reflective of all that the Bible says on drought and famine, but they are also not all the passages of their kind. What they show is that, contrary to popular opinion, God is responsible for drought and famine. Not the phantom menace of climate change. Not mankind. Not carbon emissions.

Hey, phantom menace was a perfectly acceptable description before Jar Jar came along.

| THREE POINTS OF CAUTION

At least three caveats are needed for the above statement (no, not the one about Jar Jar, the one in bold about God):

1. Not all Biblical droughts and famines are described with a cause or a reason.

Famine features heavily in the book of Genesis; each post-flood patriarch had to deal with at least one (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 42:5). No commentary is given in Genesis on why these famines came or who caused them. However, it’s interesting to note that later (inspired) commentary on the famine of Jacob/Joseph’s time still describes God as being the One Who “called for” it, even though a reason is not given (Psalm 105:16). This would lead one to believe that at the very least no famine exists outside of the realm of God, and lends support to the above statement (remember, the one that says that God is responsible for drought). It is entirely possible though that God allows some specific weather phenomena to occur simply as a matter of “time and chance,” a product of the ordered world He created (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

2. Some passages portray God as the One Who causes drought and famine, while other passages portray God as being a Protector from famine (e.g. Psalm 33:18-19; 37:18-19).

It’s very easy to look at what the Bible says about droughts and famine (and other natural disasters) and view God inappropriately: negatively, as a malevolent bully Who sends famines when He’s got nothing better to do, or more positively (but still falsely), as a Judge Who sends famine with only sin and punishment in mind. As you can see from the above passages, God does send famine in response to sin. However, if you consider the famine in Jacob/Joseph’s day and the Psalmist’s examination of it (Psalm 105:16-23), sin is nowhere in the picture – merely His provision of providentially placing Joseph in Egypt to spare His people.

Weather is supposed to be an evidence of God’s goodness, not His severity (Acts 14:17). Sometimes, God uses weather to punish sin and encourage repentance; much more often, God uses weather to show love (Matthew 5:44-45). Even during those times when God uses weather with the former goal in mind, we must never think that He has forgotten the righteous and innocent and that He doesn’t at the same time have an even greater goal in mind:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Remember, all things is all things; even destructive weather phenomena somehow contribute to God’s story of salvation. It certainly did in the case of Jacob/Joseph.

Before moving on from this point, let me go ahead and say this: The very fact that I’ve pointed out what the Bible clearly says about God and weather is going to make some feel uncomfortable, even though I’ve pointed out the negative alongside the positive.  Grappling with the idea of how a loving God could allow the suffering that we know is associated with drought, famine, and other natural disasters is a discussion beyond the scope of this article. In fact, if someone claims to be able to “answer” this problem in an article of this length, realize they’re likely approaching the subject logically rather than emotionally and in so doing will never fully answer anything. Keep searching, studying, reflecting, and praying. But don’t ignore what the Bible clearly says.

3. Man appears to have something to do with at least some famines and droughts.

I have a feeling that some would see the whole “God is in control of weather” aspect of this post and draw the conclusion that we should simply to trust God and do nothing. This explains why I believe that we must both be practical and exegetical; we must properly derive truths from the Word of God and consider what they might require of us. The truth that “God is in control of weather” is only part of the truth; any practice that is derived from only part of the truth is at best incomplete and at worst potentially wrong.

The truth is we do have something to do with drought (and other negative weather phenomena) both in inception and in response. Rather than dwell upon a possible link between stewardship and climate change (which the Bible does not confirm), I’d like to close this article by thinking about the two links between weather phenomena and man that the Bible does confirm.

| TWO WAYS IN WHICH YOU CONTROL THE WEATHER 

Now, don’t forget everything I’ve said so far just because of a fancy heading: God is responsible for weather. We’ve already seen though that there is at least one definite link between God withdrawing His “weather blessings” and human behavior: God does so in response to sin.

Throughout Old Testament history, God used famines, droughts, and other natural disasters to inspire repentance in people. Consider the words of the prophet Joel:

The grain offering and the drink offering Have been cut off from the house of the LORD; The priests mourn, who minister to the LORD. The field is wasted, The land mourns; For the grain is ruined, The new wine is dried up, The oil fails. Be ashamed, you farmers, Wail, you vinedressers, For the wheat and the barley; Because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine has dried up, And the fig tree has withered; The pomegranate tree, The palm tree also, And the apple tree—All the trees of the field are withered; Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men (Joel 1:9-12).

Sounds like a drought, right? Now, listen to what Joel says the people of his day should do about it:

“Gird yourselves and lament, you priests; Wail, you who minister before the altar; Come, lie all night in sackcloth, You who minister to my God; For the grain offering and the drink offering Are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders And all the inhabitants of the land Into the house of the LORD your God, And cry out to the LORD” (Joel 1:13-14).

Joel knew the reason for the drought in his day. It wasn’t because of time and chance, and it wasn’t because people were being poor stewards of the earth. It was because of sin, and the proper response was to repent and turn to God.

Can we know that some specific natural disaster is God’s response to some specific sin, either amongst the local community of faith or the community at large? Without a prophet to tell us,  the answer of course is no. However, I can’t believe that all of these historical accounts are of no benefit to us at all.

I believe that the practical thing in a time of a weather related disaster is to look in at ourselves – not at our personal environmental habits, but where we stand with the Lord. It should then be to look out, but not to the corporations polluting the air or the government allowing them to do so, no, only as far as our local congregation. Are we as God’s people doing right in His sight? Could it be that He is trying to teach us – not everyone else – something? While we can’t rule out that God might be using a natural disaster for some greater good as He did in the days of Jacob/Joseph, self-inspection is never, ever a bad thing (2 Corinthians 13:5).

There’s yet another twist in this tail. Tale? Tale. According to Scripture, we actually have a proactive role in determining weather patterns. James said:  

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:17-18).

No rain for three years and six months. What’s that sound like? A drought? Was that drought a miracle? If so, why use this as an example of the effectivity of prayer (v. 16)? Why highlight the fact that Elijah was a man who had a nature like ours?

I’m going to suggest something, and I hope it is not radical to you: I believe that we’re meant to conclude from James’ words that the drought of Elijah’s day happened because of prayer. Of course, more specifically, it happened because God answered prayer. But if I understand James correctly, had Elijah not prayed, there would have been no drought.

While it’s probably worth examining the thought of why someone might pray FOR a drought sometime, I think for now we’ll just focus on the responsibility this places upon our shoulders. In response to a changing world climate and associated (or not, it really doesn’t matter) destructive weather phenomena, we should pray. We should pray specifically about the weather.

Wait, scratch the above, maybe we do need to give some serious thought as to why someone of faith might pray for a natural disaster rather than against it. Maybe we do need to think about what’s eternally best for ourselves, our family, our congregation, our town or city, our country, and our world. And maybe then we should pray about the weather.

CONCLUSION

The truth as I hope you have seen is that God has more to do with the weather than He’s given credit for. Further, the truth is that man definitely has something to do with the weather, but not in the way that he’s generally given credit for.

Don’t let your faith in climate change make you a doomsday prophet of a carbon fueled apocalypse. Don’t let your disbelief in human fueled climate change make you a poor steward of that portion of the earth that God has entrusted you with. Don’t let scientific studies for or against climate change lead you into believing that weather is a closed system and that the God Who created that system is not involved. And don’t let anything about the climate change debate distract you from the need for reflection and prayer both before and after natural disasters.

::

In Christian Love,

Patrick Swayne

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6 thoughts on “What’s Exegetical About Climate Change?

  1. Wow. Gutsy. I am a scientist. You, by your admission, are not. My scientific training is in the discipline of air pollution meteorology. My profession is dealing with it, and air pollution’s effect on climate, every single day. That said, I bow to the effort and thoughtfulness you put into this article. You definitely have it right. Good job! In your first blog on this did you include a reference to Genesis 8.22?

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    1. Thanks for your comments! My first post had nothing to do with climate change; I linked back to it for a further explanation of the term “exegetical,” which I intend to use frequently on this blog. Genesis 8:22 would have been a great passage to include in this discussion, and, in fact, I may see if I can edit it in neatly enough. Honestly, it just slipped my mind. When I first envisioned this post, I never imagined how big of a subject it would end up being! I know this post is not exhaustive; I simply hope it can be a catalyst for people to engage the Bible on this issue.

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    1. Thanks Kevin. These posts are so long that they send me into hibernation. I appreciate you “bear”ing (ha) with the length and my late response as well as your kind words.

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  2. Hi Patrick,

    I’ve been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award – which is more of a “nod” than an award – and part of this award is to read and nominate 11 other Christian bloggers who encourage you by their writings in Christ. As part of this award-chain, I’ve nominated your blog because I think your blog shows that you have poured your effort and thoughts into making spiritually encouraging and beneficial content online!

    I’ve nominated you on my blog at Honoring Jesus’ Body: Blogger Award (https://bibleexposition.blog/2018/11/07/honoring-jesus-body-blogger-award/). You can read the rules and answer the questions there, if you want to participate.

    And if you want to participate, this is a great opportunity to read and support other Christian bloggers, which surprised me to find how encouraging this was.

    Otherwise, if you don’t want to participate, I just wanted to say thank you for the work you put into making truly encouraging content that honors Christ.

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    1. Hi David, Thanks for your kind words and for the nod! I’m going to do my best to live up to them. I’ve not been as active on this blog as I ought to be, but I hope to change that in the coming year. May God bless you as you seek and serve Him!

      Liked by 1 person

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