Death is the great 21st-century taboo. We humans hate to admit that we are mortal. Not so Jesus. The second half of John’s gospel (chapters 14-17) is dedicated to Jesus’ “farewell discourse,” an intense conversation about his departure and return to the Father.
Humans are avoidant creatures imagining that if we refuse to allow a thought to cross the threshold of our minds the reality will somehow also be held at bay. That goes not only for the brevity of our own lives but for the predicament of our planet, the beautiful earth, on which, God has placed us as caretakers.
We live in what has been dubbed the “Anthropocene.” That is, the moment on our age-old planet when the activities of humans have left an indelible stain: the extinction of species and the climate crisis. We are manifestly driving and drilling our way deeper into the environmental mire. Even as world leaders gather in Sharm El Sheik, a year on from Cop26 in Glasgow, some activists are suggesting that the human species has already sealed its fate through the burning of vast quantities of fossil fuels. Back in 2004 Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, published the provocatively titled book “Our Final Century: Will Civilisation Survive the Twenty-first Century?” Many wonder anxiously if he was right.
I guess many of us remain in that early shock and denial phase of grief when it comes to the environmental crisis unfolding before our eyes. Like a person receiving a terminal diagnosis we find ourselves paralysed and perplexed, and wondering what to do.
Now, before I completely drive you into a spiral of despair, let me remind you that there is plenty we can do personally to make a difference and much that we can do to press global leaders to accelerate the transition to renewable fuels and more sustainable economies.
Yet, as Christians, our concern for action on climate can, thankfully, be driven from a more secure foundation than a fear of extinction or anxious pragmatism. We find this all over God’s word. Here in Jesus’ upper room session, he lays a foundation of deep hope and peace for the future in the lives of those who trust him.
God will not abandon us like destitute orphans Jesus assures us. His going is in order to complete the Father’s mission of salvation. John’s gospel continually repeats the message that God loves the world and has entered his creation in person to restore all that has been broken.
Canadian theologian Jonathan Wilson reminds us that because God’s love is for the whole world (John 3:16) and because God is good and loving towards all he has made (Psalm 145:9) the scope of salvation extends to the whole creation. Creation, he says, is not merely a container in which God brings salvation to people before extracting them out and into a higher spiritual dimension.
“As if this world were the stage set for God’s work of redemption and once that work is done the set is taken down and discarded because it is no longer needed”
Luke tells us that God’s promise is for the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21).
Gospel people then have a message of hope in these times. Our concern for the planet as well as people will increasingly be the test of whether our message is heard or not. And of course, to be heard we must practise what we preach! Yet it is also a massive opportunity to share with an age of anxiety that God loves his creatures and creation so much that he gave his one and only son so that we might not perish but have life everlasting. There is hope!