Jeremiah 22 (link) offers a clear and concise warning from God. The message is addressed to the King of Judah who sits on the throne of David. But, as verse two of the chapter indicates, God is not only judging the king, he is sending a warning to all the “people who enter these gates.”
God says in verse three, “Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.”
In this verse God is describing the world as he wants it. God calls the people of Judah to seek justice and righteousness for the last and the least. To protect the innocent. God desires a people who obey God’s commands and who seek the flourishing of those who others would ignore.
God’s promise is that if the people of God do this, not only do the vulnerable receive a chance to thrive, but all God’s people will endure long into the future. In verse four it says, “For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their servants, and their people.” The long reign of the throne of David is possible because the kingdom is bent toward justice for all. I can easily see the supernatural blessing on offer here while at the same time acknowledge the practical political benefits of being a kingdom that seeks justice and righteousness for all.
God offers a stark reminder of the consequences for continuing on in the selfish ways of past kings. Verse five says, “But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.” Supernatural destruction, political upheaval, and injustice at every level. And of course no one suffers more during war than the “alien, the orphan, and the widow.”
This passage was in my mind recently while I was reading the summary of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (link). The report was requested by the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the world during the signing of the Paris Climate Accord in 2016. The official goal of that accord is to limit global climate change to substantially less than 2°C. The nations most exposed to the devastation climate change will bring requested that scientists explore the consequences of a 1.5°C change in global temperature as compared to pre-industrial averages.
The summary of the full report reads at least a little bit like Jeremiah. It describes the changes in the world that the scientists want. In section C they lay out in detail the sweeping changes to the world economy, industry, energy production, transportation, and urban planning that would be necessary to avoid reaching a 1.5°C change in global average temperature. In section D, the authors stress that these changes are necessary to protect the poorest and most vulnerable. They also indicate that while the changes are likely to be disruptive, they will minimize the injustices inherent to global climate change.
Section B of the report describes the consequences of failing to live according to the policies they recommend. At 1.5°C change in global average temperature, human flourishing suffers, sea levels rise to disastrous heights, and species loss and extinctions increase. They could have shortened it to say we would become a “desolation.”
The tragedy of the book of Jeremiah is that of course we know what the kings on David’s throne choose. They choose selfishness, idolatry, and independence. They neglected the alien, the orphan, and the widow, the rejected righteousness, and they ignored justice. As promised, Babylon destroyed the kingdom and left desolate the throne of David.
The Hebrew Bible does not offer us a window into how individual faithful followers of God responded to the Jeremiah’s warning. Surely some righteousness believer choose to “obey this word” even while the official policy of the kingdom was to ignore the warnings from God. I wish I how those faithful Jews responded to God’s warning while knowing that because of choices of the nation, it was all for nothing.
Because that is where I am with climate change. I want to respond so that I know that at least I did what I could, even if I am a citizen of the only nation in the world to leave the Paris Climate Accord. The recent IPCC warning reveals that the Paris Climate Accord is nowhere near severe enough to avoid catastrophic consequences, but it was also the only framework available upon which to start the new recommendations. My government is opposed to doing anything when this report asks us to do much more.
What does it look like to be faithful when it seems like it will make no difference? Here I think of the Parable of the Talents as told in Matthew 25 (link). I remember the servant who was given just one talent. I am sure that it looked like nothing compared to the five his partner held. His neighbor who had doubled his five talents now had a fortune. What was the point of worrying about the little contribution he could make with his one talent? He just decided to ignore the whole activity and go about his life. Of course, he ends up thrown “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 25:30)
Therefore, while my faithfulness to these warnings about the consequences of climate change may not affect the global outcomes, I am not allowed to ignore my part. I must be faithful. So what does that look like?
Here I could brag about my small house or riding my bike to work, but those answers don’t really count. I was already doing that. The new IPCC report demands we do more. So, for me to be faithful I will do three things. First, I will repent and ask God’s forgiveness for my own selfishness and that of my leaders. Second, I will pray for God’s mercy on this world. I will pray that God will protect us from our own sin. And finally, I will act. I will commit to doing at least one thing that I was not already doing.
It could be driving fewer miles, eating less meat, getting involved with an advocacy group, or changing my consumption practices, but it has to be new for me and I have to stick with it.
Even if in the end, our world is left a destruction, I want to stand on the side of the aliens, the orphans, and the widows who requested this report so that I can one day hear the master of the house say, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)