Updated: Jul 22
In the post Exile to Babylon we compared our current climate change situation to that of the people of the people of Israel when they were driven into exile. Around the year 586 BCE the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple (2 Kings). These events were foretold by the prophet Jeremiah who attributed them to the fact that his people had taken up idolatrous practices.
Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew.
In spite of its rather melodramatic tone, the above Bible verse fits our current situation quite well. The “disaster” that Jeremiah talks about is the decline of our fossil-fuel based society. The “foreign gods” are the symbols of material progress that we often worship. Our cavalier use of fossil fuels can be compared to the burning of sacrifices.
Jeremiah and the other prophets attributed the tribulations of the Hebrew people to that fact that they had abandoned the true faith and that they were worshiping false gods. They maintained that the only way of averting catastrophe was for the people to forsake those gods. We in our time may not worship false gods in quite the same way. But we do “worship” the idea of material progress. It is what we believe in, and we anticipate material rewards as a result of that belief. Just as the prophets of old said that people needed to return to the God of their heritage, so we need to recognize that material progress for most of us is coming to an end — we need to look for a future that is more spiritual, and a way of life that is more in harmony with the natural world.
In spite of their insights and warnings, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible were largely ignored. So it is in our time; the number of people willing to face up to the nature of our current predicaments is small, and the number who are taking action in their personal lives is smaller still.
Leadership is needed. One of the themes of this site and blog series is that the church can provide that leadership. Unlike the secular authorities, church leaders should not feel obliged to offer a future of material prosperity. Like Jeremiah, they are able to offer a different vision.
The Rev. Susan Hendershot of Interfaith Power and Light says,
I’m reminded of the Hebrew prophets who chose to live in the often-painful reality of their time and place . . . they didn’t bury their grief, but instead expressed it openly and vocally to everyone who would listen—and many who wouldn’t.
But the prophets didn’t stop there. They expressed a hopeful vision for the future, like the one in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
BUT, in order to reach this future, according to the prophets, we need to change. We need to come back into right relationship with the sacred, with one another, and with the earth.