“The climate time-bomb is ticking,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a recent statement. “Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast.” According to CNN, the report is based on the findings of hundreds of scientists, and gives an assessment of how the climate crisis is affecting the earth.
“This report is the most dire and troubling assessment yet of the spiraling climate impacts we all face if systemic changes are not made now,” says Sara Shaw, program coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. The impacts of pollution are more severe than expected, moving us toward dangerous and irreversible consequences.
Sounds like an apocalyptic prediction, doesn’t it? As prophets have long said, “The end is near.”
Changing our lens
“For much of my life, I treated the Book of Revelation like foul-tasting medicine,” writes professor Dean Flemming in Christianity Today. “I knew it was probably good for me, but if you gave me the chance, I’d avoid it.”
As a teenager, his youth group watched a movie that pictured the horrors of being left behind on earth after Christians were taken to heaven. It scared him. Later, he read prophecy books that tried to make connections between current events and the Bible’s script for the end of the world. They confused him. So he gave up trying to understand Revelation.
But now, he has found a new lens. Instead of looking at the book through a prediction lens, he has begun to look at it through a missional lens. Using this lens, he sees that Revelation “concerns what God is doing in the world to bring about salvation and healing at every level and how God’s people participate in that sweeping purpose.” The book “shows us the ultimate goal of God’s loving purpose for the world, which is ‘making everything new’ (Rev. 21:5).”
A vision of the end
This work of God includes many aspects of life, but I believe that at least one dimension is the renewal of the natural world. As Flemming says, God’s people can participate in God’s “sweeping purpose.”
In my novel Windows of the Heavens, a Methodist pastor named Harley Camden preaches a sermon based on the 22nd chapter of the Book of Revelation. He begins by reading the Scripture, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Harley closes his Bible and looks out over a sea of perplexed faces.
“An ancient philosopher named Seneca gave this advice,” says Harley: “Let all your efforts be directed to something, let it keep that end in view.” He notes that Seneca’s insights were picked up many years later by Steven Covey in his best-selling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Covey suggests that one of the keys to successful and effective efforts is to ‘begin with the end in mind.’”
Begin with the end in mind
Harley senses that he is not setting the house on fire, but he continues by saying, “Today’s Scripture is the end of the story. It is the goal to which God is moving, from the first day of creation to the end of time. In the Book of Revelation, an angel shows John the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. At the end of time, there will be a river, clean and refreshing, as bright as crystal. It will flow from a throne shared by God and by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. And this river will flow through the middle of the street of the holy city. Notice what we see here: A river in the middle of a city. A river that flows through an inhabited area, much as the Occoquan River flows through our town. But is our river as bright as crystal? I’m afraid not.”
He reflects on a flood that had recently swept through the town, causing tremendous damage. Then he says, “If the relationship between the river and the city was nothing more than a scientific thing, I would not be preaching on it. But because it matters to God, because it appears in the Bible, I have to proclaim it to you. God wants there to be harmony between water and cities, and between plant life and human developments.” Harley pauses to let that message sink in. “Begin with the end in mind.”
Yes, the end may be near. But we can take action to help create the end that God desires: One in which there is harmony between humans and the natural world. Together, we can participate in God’s sweeping purpose, the renewal of all things.