Coming on the clouds of heaven
A theological blog 18 – vi – 19
Coming on the clouds of heaven
Jesus’s first disciples thought that the end of the world and the second coming of the Lord would happen very soon. But it didn’t happen, so we got used to thinking that maybe Jesus under-estimated the date somewhat here and, in any case, it certainly wasn’t going to happen in our time. But might it? You can’t help but notice the remarkable parallels between the accounts of the last times in the Synoptic Gospels and the dire warnings that the climate scientists are now so urgently giving us. According to the gospels, there will be signs in heaven and nations will be confused by the roaring of the seas and their waves, people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. According to the climate scientists if we cannot halt the increasing carbonization of the heavens whole countries will go under water, there will be searing droughts, category 5 or even 6 hurricanes that will destroy whole cities, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing droughts and rising sea levels, much of the world’s most fertile land flooded (including East Anglia and the Fens, Cambridge could be a seaside town by the end of the century according to the Met Office) and millions starving. It certainly measures up to the prophecy that people will faint from fear once they realise what is to come when catastrophic runaway climate change gets going.
Well, at least all that is in the future, it won’t happen in our time. Are we quite sure? Recently the IPCC issued a report telling us that the degree of increased global temperature beyond which we are likely to trigger catastrophic runaway global warming is not 2 degrees, as they have been telling us for decades, but nearer 1.5. You would have thought it would set off alarm bells ringing urgently, but most of them have only emitted a faint muffled tinkle if even that, particularly amongst the politicians in whose hands, to our great misfortune, our fate rests. But now a new paper has come out of Australia (published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne) claiming that this report from the IPCC, far from being too alarmist was too cautious and too optimistic. If we carry on as we are, according to this paper, civilization will already have begun to collapse by 2050. The paper bases itself on two arguments. One is that the escalating positive feedback mechanism that is the dynamic of climate change is accelerating at a faster rate than the IPCC allows. The Arctic ice is melting far faster than anybody ever dreamt twenty years ago, even ten, with the consequence that the hitherto frozen tundras are beginning to release the billions of tons of methane that are locked up in them. Methane remains in the atmosphere for a far shorter time than CO2, but over twenty years it is 72 times more lethal. As the methane is released the planet begins to warm faster, with the consequence that the ice melts faster still and even more methane is released so the ice melts even faster so even more methane…We are on the brink of this immense accelerating catastrophe. The second argument that the paper offers is the extreme likelihood that as the different nations of the world become more aware of what is going to happen, and they will certainly receive some sharp reminders well before 2050, they will start to fight each other for the resources that they foresee will become scarce in the future. Once vicious resource wars start it will be extremely hard to stop them. I am not qualified to comment on the first argument but to my amateur eye it seems all too cogent to me. As for the second, an elementary knowledge of human nature would surely convince us that this too is most certainly credible.
Then Jesus will come on the clouds of heaven to establish his kingdom. We are used to thinking of this second coming as that of a great emperor surrounded by all his glory. But everything that Jesus has told us about his kingdom implies that it won’t be, already isn’t, glorious in that sense at all. St John sees Jesus at his most glorious when he is at his most abject. His glory is a moral glory, it is when his body is at its most humiliated that he can say “Father forgive them they know not what they do”. And the New Testament tells us too that it is we who are the body of Christ, not in the sense that a great emperor has a bodyguard and millions of subjects butalready the body of which he is the head. So it is we who will come with him in glory in the last times and that glory will be a moral glory. It is then that Jesus’s kingdom of love and justice and forgiveness will be established.
Humanity is now at the most crucial turning point in its whole history. There is no middle way. Under the immense pressure of climate change, either civilization will collapse in an anarchy of desperate struggles for shrinking resources or humanity will pull together to move, together, in a new, better post-fossil fuel age. We are all in it together. If Bangladesh goes under water then very soon Norfolk will too. In spite of everything, the New Testament tells us it will be the second. Christ and his body will come in glory, indeed is already beginning to come in the beginnings of these last times. Yes, Trump’s attitude to climate change might well lead you to despair. But the very fact that Trump is so appalling is at least clarifying. Everywhere people are beginning to wake up to the threat of climate change. Every time we forego our own selfish desires and act for the welfare of the earth we are contributing to that glory. Ten million people only eating one meat meal a week, perhaps even none, is at least sixty million contributions to the lesser demand on the earth’s resources that a vegetable only meal makes. Not a great emperor on his throne but a shared humanity greater than ever before. It could happen. It is up to us.