Eschatological Implications of Climate Change | Blog | Faith Forward




We look at the connection between Christian beliefs about the end of the world and climate change, suggesting that we need to rethink these beliefs in light of environmental issues.

Samuel P. Shepherd

Samuel P. Shepherd

Delving into the profound intersections of faith and life, I strive to illuminate the path towards a transformative spiritual journey, enriching the soul and deepening our understanding of the divine.

2023-06-07 8 minute read

A woman at a climate protest.
## I. Introduction In the age of the [Anthropocene](, humanity finds itself confronted with an unprecedented ecological crisis that has far-reaching implications beyond the realms of science and politics. The rapidly accelerating phenomena of global warming, mass extinction, and biodiversity loss, collectively termed 'climate change', not only challenge our technological capabilities and socio-political structures but also interrogate our philosophical and theological assumptions about the human relationship with nature. As such, climate change emerges not merely as a scientific fact but also as a theological problem. In light of this, the present article aims to engage with the burgeoning crisis of climate change from a uniquely Christian perspective, specifically through the lens of Christian eschatology, a field concerned with the 'last things'—the end of the world, judgment, and the afterlife. This work seeks to explore the ways in which our understanding of Christian eschatology can shape our response to the climate crisis and, conversely, how the stark reality of this crisis might necessitate a rethinking of traditional eschatological doctrines. ## II. Background **A. Understanding Christian Eschatology** Christian eschatology, from the Greek 'eschaton' meaning 'last' and 'logia' meaning 'study', is a crucial aspect of Christian theology that grapples with the culmination of divine history and the ultimate destiny of human beings and the created order. Central to Christian eschatological thought are notions of judgment, resurrection, the coming of God's Kingdom, and the new heaven and earth. These concepts shape the Christian understanding of time, history, and morality, providing a teleological structure to the human experience and underscoring the transience of the present world order. Nevertheless, Christian eschatology is not a monolithic or static field; it has undergone significant reinterpretations in different historical periods and cultural contexts, reflecting an ongoing dialectic between Christian faith and the changing human condition. **B. The Current Climate Crisis** In the field of earth sciences, climate change refers to significant and enduring shifts in global weather patterns, largely attributable to human-induced increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has amassed compelling evidence]( of the catastrophic consequences of this crisis, including rising global temperatures, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and increased frequency of extreme weather events. Beyond the physical and biological realms, climate change is also predicted to have dire social and economic impacts, exacerbating poverty, inequality, and displacement on a global scale. The climate crisis, therefore, poses an existential threat to humanity, necessitating urgent action across all spheres of human society, including religious communities. This exploration of the intersections between Christian eschatology and climate change provides a unique contribution to the academic dialogue, urging a fresh examination of the relevance of faith in addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time. By reevaluating and reapplying theological concepts in light of current crises, this study contributes to the dynamism and relevance of contemporary Christian theology. ## III. Climate Change: A Theological Challenge The existential threat of climate change significantly challenges Christian theology on multiple fronts, forcing us to critically examine theological assumptions about God, creation, and human responsibility. It destabilizes traditional anthropocentric narratives, calling into question the theological validity of an unbridled dominion over nature. Moreover, the severity and scale of human-induced suffering that climate change is predicted to bring raises profound theodicy issues. For instance, how can we reconcile the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God with the prospect of such immense and preventable suffering? Beyond this, climate change also presents a profound eschatological challenge. The ecological crises induced by climate change, from mass species extinctions to the potential for human self-annihilation, appear to bring eschatological themes from the distant future into the immediate present. This compels a reevaluation of eschatological doctrines traditionally centered around divine intervention and places greater emphasis on human agency within the eschatological narrative. ## IV. The Intersection of Eschatology and Ecology **A. Biblical Narratives and Climate Change** Several biblical narratives and teachings intersect with the climate crisis when viewed through an ecological lens. For example, the Genesis mandate to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28) can be reinterpreted not as a call for exploitative domination, but responsible stewardship. In Revelation, the prophetic visions of cataclysmic natural disasters and the final judgment carry potent eschatological implications when read in the context of climate change. **B. Eschatological Reflections on Climate Change** In Christian eschatology, the eschaton represents not only the end of the world as we know it but also the dawn of a new creation. This can be seen as a hopeful message in the face of climate change. It reminds us that the present world order, with its unsustainable consumption patterns and inequitable power structures, is not invincible or eternal. It inspires hope for the possibility of profound transformation, both personal and societal. At the same time, the sobering reality of climate change urges a more nuanced understanding of eschatological hope. It demands a shift from a passive waiting for divine intervention towards an active participation in bringing about God's Kingdom on earth, which includes striving for climate justice and ecological restoration. ## V. Ethical and Practical Responses to Climate Change **A. Environmental Stewardship and Christian Ethics** In response to the climate crisis, Christians are called to embody a form of stewardship that reflects a respect for the integrity of creation and a commitment to justice. This involves a radical reconsideration of our relationship with the natural world, seeing ourselves not as owners or dominators, but as caretakers and part of the interdependent web of life. It also entails advocating for climate justice, recognizing that the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations. **B. The Role of the Church in Climate Change Mitigation** The Church, as a communal embodiment of Christian faith, has a crucial role to play in addressing climate change. It can provide moral guidance and spiritual sustenance to its members, inspiring and equipping them to live out their faith in eco-friendly ways. The Church can also leverage its influence to advocate for policies that mitigate climate change and promote climate justice. Moreover, the Church can model sustainability within its own operations, demonstrating that a different way of living is not only possible, but also desirable and fulfilling. ## VI. Implications for Christian Theology and Future Research This exploration of the eschatological implications of climate change has significant implications for Christian theology. It pushes the boundaries of traditional eschatology, urging a shift from a future-oriented, otherworldly focus towards an emphasis on earthly realities and human agency. It underscores the need for an ecological hermeneutic in biblical interpretation, one that reads the Bible in light of ecological crises and challenges anthropocentric readings. It also calls for a prophetic stance in Christian ethics, advocating for justice, peace, and sustainability. In terms of future research, there is much to be done. For instance, how can other branches of theology, such as Christology and pneumatology, contribute to a Christian response to climate change? What insights can be gleaned from dialogue with other religious traditions or secular philosophies about ecology and eschatology? How can theological education and pastoral training better equip future church leaders to guide their congregations in the face of climate change? Answering these questions will require the concerted efforts of theologians, ethicists, biblical scholars, pastors, and laypeople alike, attesting to the fact that the challenge of climate change, like the call of the Gospel, is a communal endeavor. ## VII. Conclusion In the face of the global climate crisis, the worlds of theology and environmental science converge, prompting a necessary interrogation and reassessment of traditional Christian eschatology. This article has traversed this convergence, arguing that the climate crisis is not only a scientific and political emergency but also a profound theological challenge that calls for a thorough reimagining of Christian doctrines and ethics. At the heart of this reimagining is a call to integrate eschatology and ecology, to find in the Christian hope for the end times a mandate for proactive engagement with our environmental predicament. Far from advocating a passive waiting for divine intervention, Christian eschatology should inspire and empower believers to partake actively in God's mission of reconciliation and renewal, which undoubtedly includes the healing of our wounded planet. Moreover, this ecological reimagining of eschatology extends beyond the realm of academic theology. It implores the Church, as a community of faith, to translate this revised theology into tangible action: to preach, to advocate, and to model a form of life that is attuned to the rhythms of God's creation and committed to justice and peace. In so doing, Christian communities will not only contribute to the mitigation of climate change but also bear witness to the in-breaking of God's Kingdom in a world groaning for redemption. This opens up new vistas for the task of theology, inviting theologians to engage in constructive dialogue with other disciplines and traditions, and to explore new ways of communicating and embodying the Christian faith in the context of the Anthropocene. The eschatological implications of climate change call for a paradigm shift in Christian theology, one that holds together the hope for the eschaton with a deep commitment to the integrity of creation. Such a shift will not only enrich our theological imagination but also enable us to confront the climate crisis with courage, wisdom, and hope.