By Zoe Matties, Manitoba Program Manager
I was recently asked to reflect on how the wisdom of my tradition guides me to respond and take action towards climate change given the current ecological turmoil and crisis. I really appreciated this exercise, because it made me realize that I had forgotten to rely on the wisdom of my Christian tradition. Instead, I had been getting caught in spirals of doom scrolling the news, and then, feeling overwhelmed, periods of avoiding the news. Does this happen to you?
Studies say that over 80% of young people today feel at least moderately anxious about climate change. Climate or eco grief, anxiety, and mourning, are becoming commonly referenced. Apocalyptic, end of the world imagery and entertainment is abundant. How does our Christian tradition help us respond and take action to the very real threats of climate change?
The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were written at a time when people were similarly obsessed with the end of the world. 2 Thessalonians, for example, tells us of a group of people who threw their hands in the air and said, well the end of the world is coming, it is useless to do any work. Paul’s response to them was to say, no, regardless of what’s happening in the world, you must keep on being faithful. Now, more than ever is the time for this.
The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures also faced a world ending when the Israelite people were captured and sent off to exile. The prophets used descriptive apocalyptic language to call their people into lament and repentance. They were not afraid to tell the truth, to speak against the status quo and to call the principalities and powers into account.
In our daily devotional this morning we read through Joel 1. The prophet cries out:
Hannah Malcolm writes in her blog post “Finding Words for the End of the World,” the “apocalyptic prophets…offer us the language we need to tell the truth about the broken community of creation: expressing grief and also hope, almost in spite of material reality.” (The whole blog is worth a read if you have a couple minutes.)
As I read the prophets today, I am learning that anger, grief and lament can be powerful tools for change, especially when used in community.
But the prophets never leave it there. They juxtapose their visions of violence and destruction with visions of peace and healing for the whole community of creation. The visions of hope and peace live alongside the visions of violence and grief because the prophets are aware that there is another way to live. The prophets say to the people, and to all creation, it doesn’t have to be this way. There is still time to make a change. Here is God’s vision for what the world could be.
In Joel 2, the prophet addresses the land, the animals, and the people of Israel saying “Don’t be afraid! The meadows will turn green, the tree will bear fruit… God will pour down abundant rain for you” (Joel 2:21-23).
We need both the visions of grief and of hope today. We need to hear that there are dire consequences to our actions, and we need the solutions and the alternative way of living to guide us towards God’s vision of healing and peace for all creation. The words of the prophets help me to be realistic about the consequences of sin and greed. They call me to grieve, and lament in community what has been lost. They help me have the words to call for transformative systemic changes, and they help me to have hope, even when it seems impossible.