Psalm 8: Environment Sunday
What is going to happen to life on earth? How serious is climate change? Is life on earth going to freeze or fry? Today is the closest Sunday to World Environment Sunday when churches around the world are focussing their attention on God’s good earth and our biblical responsibility for it. In this regard I want to commend A Rocha to you. A Rocha (which means “the Rock” in Portuguese, is a Christian organisation committed to conservation.
A Rocha undertakes practical conservation work across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and South America. Asia and Australasia. Their projects are about local communities, sustainable livelihoods, practical conservation and environmental education. Today, more and more people are aware of the environmental crisis and acknowledging that the causes are largely man made. But it is one thing to admit we have broken the sacred trust God has given us to care for planet earth. It is another to live day to day to show that we are sorry and that making changes to our life style matters. Why is conservation and care for the earth important?
1. Increasingly people are coming to understand the serious implications of the changes in our climate. It is likely to bring more extreme weather events and more unpredictability. The human consequences of this are enormous and life for millions of people are endangered, particularly in the poorest nations.
2. Earth’s climate is in balance between the sun’s heat and the outgoing heat and light radiated back into the atmosphere, thanks to the natural greenhouse.
3. With industrialisation man is piling more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. From all the electricity we use and the power-stations which produce that electricity.
4. The cars we drive, the lorries and trucks that deliver goods, the planes we fly for business or pleasure all increase the level of COs in the atmosphere.
5. Add to that the methane which is produced naturally but is also produced from animals, from waste and from industrial processes. Methane is a far stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.
6. And then there is the carbon dioxide from our use of natural gas for central heating. An average person in this country produces 10 tonnes of CO2 per annum – while in many African countries the average person produces just 1 tonne per year.
7. Increasing greenhouse gases leads to increase temperatures.
8. Scientists can measure carbon dioxide. For many years it has stayed relatively stable.
9. But in the last two hundred years it has risen dramatically. The level of CO2 now stands at 380 parts per million.
10. There is a close correlation between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the temperature. The average global temperatures has risen sharply in the last 100 years.
11. We stand at 380 parts per million at the moment.
The Government has set a target of 550 parts per million which many environmentalists feel is perilously high.
If we carry on with business as usual we shall reach 700 parts per million by 2100 which scientists agree is highly dangerous and will mean a very sharp rise in temperature.
12. The impact of climate change are: Increased frequency of severe flooding. Global sea level rise,
Increased intensity of tropical cyclones and of sea surface temperature, Increased frequency of storms, Increase in frequency of wildfires on all five continents
13. The effect have already been felt across the world. Do you remember the floods of 2007 or the death toll from forest fires in Greece. These predicted effects can only get worse as the temperature rises.
14. The clearest indicator of the rapid pace of global warming is the shrinking of the Arctic ice. By 2007 it had shrunk by a further 22 percent from the previous minimum (2005)
15. Look at how the Muir glacier has retreated from 1941 to 2004
16. The climate models enable scientists to predict the future. Scientists have to look at the natural factors and human forcing effect on climate. They have to take into account the amount of CO2 which we humans have put into the atmosphere in the last 140 years which will continue to have an impact.
17. This figure is from the International Panel on climate Change, a UN body which draws on the research of 2,500 climate scientists from across the world and produced a momentous and unanimous report in 2007.
They predict that average global temperature will rise by 3 degrees by 2085. The hot summer of 2003 will be an average summer by 2050.
18. So far we have seen almost a 1 degree rise and we are committed to a 2 degree rise and are most likely to see a 3 degree rise. Remember that a 5 degree change would mean a radical breakdown of earth systems and a 6 degree rise would mean the end of life on earth as we currently know it.
19. We will see more and more extreme weather events as global temperatures rise.
20. Ecosystems become increasingly damaged and a rising number of species face extinction. According to A Rocha 5,000+ animal & 6,800 plant species are threatened with imminent extinction.
21. As temperatures rise water will become increasingly scarce. This is already being seen by communities which depend on water from mountain glaciers and their livelihoods will disappear when the glaciers are gone. By 2 degrees there will be a significant decrease in water availability in many areas, including the Mediterranean and Southern Africa. Global sea levels will rise and threaten major cities and millions of people living near the coast. Extreme drought will affect 10% of the planet by 2050.
22. Food – there will be falling crop yields in many areas and increase problems of feeding the world’s population.
23. There is increased risk of abrupt and major irreversible changes – increasing risk of dangerous feedbacks which will accelerate climate change and abrupt, large-scale shifts in the climate system, predicts to occur at the 3 degree threshold.
The science of climate change leaves no room for complacency or naïve optimism does it? What can we do about it?
Anne Martin has written an excellent article in this month’s Connection. She says, “Changing the light bulbs, getting out your bike and switching off the standby are just the first steps on a long and fruitful journey alongside many fellow Christians, who are responding to the unfolding tragedy in many of the poorest communities already affected by climate change. Ignoring the issue or clinging to a passing way of life gives way to acceptance that we can make do with less energy and we reduce our demand now.
If we won’t make that choice, it may be that nature, already close to breaking point, will make it for us.” It will indeed.
And yet climate change will not be averted solely by the appliance of science or technology. World hunger and poverty will not be resolved by developing more GM seeds and giving more IMF loans. Civil strife and war will not be resolved by imposing Western democracy or UN peace keepers. The reason is because the problem lies much deeper, deep in the human heart.
Our psalm today, Psalm 8, explains both the cause and the solution – and the good news is - you and I can be part of it. There are three parts to this beautiful psalm – what C.S. Lewis described as “This short exquisite lyric”,
begins and ends with the same refrain, “O
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1, 9).
The psalm spans time and space. It looks back to creation in Genesis (8:1-3) and looks forward to recreation (8:6-9). And in the middle stands humanity and an enigmatic prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ (8:4-6).
1. The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation
“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” (Psalm 8:1-3)
A few months ago there was a meteor shower over South East England. Mike and I went outside about 11:00pm and stood in the garden and peered into the night sky for half an hour and watched as meteors shot across the dark sky. There is something awesome about the heavens at night, with millions of stars and galaxies twinkling silently their message. Here is, as John Stott observes, “a recognition of the majesty of God’s name, or nature, which his works reveal in both earth and heaven. The enemies of God, blinded by their proud rebellion, do not see his glory; but they are confounded by children and infants.” Jesus quotes from this psalm to rebuke the scribes and Pharisees.
They had objected to children crying our “Hosanna” as Jesus entered the Temple on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:15, 16). Things have not changed. Stott says, “God is still glorified in the simple faith of children and in the childlike humility of Christian believers (see Matthew 11:25, 26; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29).” The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation. God creates.
2. The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)
What particularly evokes David to burst into praise as he ponders the vastness of the night sky? God’s condescension to care at all for you and me. On many occasions as a young shepherd,
David must have laid on his back at night and pondered the vastness of the universe from one horizon to the other. Looking up at the night sky and seeing millions and millions of stars twinkling in the dark makes you feel very small and very insignificant doesn’t it? So David asks the rhetorical question that sooner or later we all ask, “What are mere mortals? What are human beings that you care for them?”
Probably my favourite actor of all time was Peter Sellers, (then John Cleese and then Rowan Atkinson). A few years ago, Time Magazine featured a story about Peter Sellers. He was appearing on the Muppet Show and was being interviewed by Kermit The Frog. Kermit began by reassuring Peter Sellers, "Now, just relax and be yourself." Sellers responded, "I can’t be myself because I don’t know who I am. The real me doesn’t exist." I suppose Peter Sellers was trying to be funny –maybe a dig at Kermit the frog. Sellers was a professional comedian, most widely known as Inspector Clouseau in the 1970s Pink Panther films.
But on this particular occasion his words were anything but funny. In fact, they were rather sad. One of his long-time friends, commenting said, "Poor Peter! The real Peter disappeared a long time ago. What he is, is simply an amalgamation of all the stage and screen characters he has ever played, and now he is frantically trying to unsnarl that mess and find out who he really is." I don’t know if Peter Sellers was ever able to unsnarl the mess or not, for six months later he was dead. But whether or not he did, he wasn’t alone in his feelings.
I’m convinced that the majority of us go through life wondering who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing and where we’re going.[i] Do you know who you are? Do you know God’s plan for your life? Do you realise your destiny is to live as a child of God, crowned with glory and honour. You were created to steward God’s creation on his behalf.
“As we consider the orbiting planets of our solar system, so infinitesimally small in comparison with countless galaxies millions of light years distant, it may seem to us incredible that the great God of the universe should take any note of us at all, let alone care for us. Yet he does; and Jesus assured us that even the hairs of our head are numbered.” (John Stott)
David moves from the vastness of the universe, to the littleness of human beings, then to the greatness of God’s redemptive plan for people on earth. God has invested human beings with royal sovereignty, crowning us with glory and honour, delegating responsibility for ruling creation (Psalm 8:5). But things are not as they should be. While our divinely ordained status is only slightly inferior to angels, sin has marred God’s image in us, and corrupted God’s purposes for us. As a consequence, creation has been cursed (Genesis 3:17). That is why today is Environment Sunday, because everything in creation is not as God intends. Mankind has rebelled against God and treated the world as something to be plundered and exploited. And we are surprised when creation groans through climate change? Humanity is not “lord of creation”, with everything under our feet. The New Testament explains why. Quoting these verses from Psalm 8,
the writer to Hebrews points to God’s rescue plan to redeem mankind and restore the harmony and order of creation.
“In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:8-9)
Humanity has “sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Consequently, Stott observes, we have “lost some of the dominion which God has given us; but in Jesus… this dominion has been restored. It is in Him rather than in us that humankind’s dominion is exhibited. By his death He even destroyed the devil and delivered” us (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus has now been crowned and exalted to God’s right hand. So in these verses, David is describing God’s original purpose for mankind, “you made him ruler over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:5-6) but also points to the One who would come to earth to achieve it. The Lord Jesus Christ.
The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation. God creates.
The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ. God cares.
3. The Purposes of God: Fulfilled in Christ-followers
“You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:6-9)
So the dominion described here is only true in Jesus Christ. However, those who trust in him may also share in his exaltation.
It is in this way that we can become part of the solution to climate change rather than the problem. The apostle Paul quotes this psalm to describe how we only regain our purpose in Jesus Christ.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)
John Stott observes, “Even this is not the end. Although Christ is exalted far above all rule and authority, and all things are potentially under his feet, not all his enemies have yet conceded their defeat or surrendered to him. Only when he appears in glory and the dead rise will he destroy death.
“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-26)
For this we hope and this gives us energy to commit to responsible stewardship of God’s good earth. It is not ours to plunder or do with as we wish. Our rights are not absolute. We are not independent. The earth belongs to God. He has entrusted the earth to us.
Our responsibility is therefore related to our status. Only when we know who we are, we will know what we are called to be.
“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:5-6)
Only when we are in a right relationship with God, made possible through Jesus, and understand our destiny, as redeemed children of God, will we become part of the solution to climate change instead of being part of the problem. Dave Bookless, Director of A Rocha UK in his recent book, Planetwise, says, “Today more and more people are recognising that the environmental crisis is at root a spiritual crisis. We have damaged the world not only through inadequate information or poor decision but through selfishness… healing the environment comes about not primarily by recycling, down-sizing or resource management, but by repentance and returning to God. The land can only be healed when [we] recognise whose land it is, and repair [our] broken relationship with God and each other.”
The Glory of God: Revealed
The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ.
The Purposes of God: Fulfilled in Christ-followers.
God creates (8:1-3); God cares (8:4-5); God calls (8:6-9).
Lets heed the call and respond. Lets pray.
I am deeply grateful to John Stott, Favourite Psalms (Word, 1988); David Bookless, Planetwise (IVP, 2008) and Charles Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind (Guideposts, 1988)
[i] Illustration from Melvin Newland, Central Christian Church, Brownsville, Texas.