“They will be tormented with fire” (Revelation 14:10) and burn (Revelation 19:20).
Those are the biblical images of hellfire and brimstone that best describe the burning heat and violent storms this country is experiencing. They also describe the hellish condemnation of those who have callously impeded urgent action to prevent the worst of environmental catastrophe. It’s a judgment, however, that tragically falls on us all.
It’s only the beginning of the summer here in the U.S., and ferocious storms and extreme heat have already caused many deaths, hurricane-level property destruction, and wide-spread power outages in the east. In the mid-section of the country, triple digit temperatures pose a danger to health. Many western states are battling numerous wildfires.
Capital Climate’s graphic tells the tale: The U.S. surface temperature map from Unisys showed 100 degree temperatures stretching almost continuously from California eastward to the Carolinas on the last Friday in June.
The Book of Revelation is a good text for thinking theologically about the roiling catastrophe that abrupt and erratic climate change has become, as I have previously written for On Faith. The abrupt and destructive weather events we are experiencing “can been seen as signs of a global environmental catastrophe of biblical proportions. Revelation 8:12-13 tells of the ‘woes’ to come at the apocalypse,” sounding more and more like the local weather channel. “A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.”
That’s a good description of what’s happening in my adopted home state of Colorado.
Driving from Denver up to the mountains in Colorado on Friday night, my eyes were stinging from the smoke and ash in the air. In case you hadn’t heard, Colorado is on fire, and the massive heat wave is fueling the flames. I wondered about how many cancer-producing chemicals I was inhaling along with the smoke. It’s a good thing for Americans that we now have health care thanks to President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. .
Meteorologist Doug Kammerer explained the widespread, record-shattering heat wave as follows: “If we did not have global warming, we wouldn’t see this.”It’s astonishing that connecting the obvious dots like this still makes news.
But really, this is global weirding, not global warming. “Global warming” is a flop as the primary description for what is happening to the planet through climate change. It doesn’t even begin to get at the dangerous scope of what is happening to our planet now. “Global weirding” is being used more and more to describe the fundamentally erratic, powerful nature of the kind of abrupt climate change we are now experiencing.
But the biblical images of fire and judgment are needed to draw attention to the criminal neglect of climate legislation by our nation and other nations of the world. The “Rio+20 Earth Summit,” which recently ended, is widely acknowledged as a fiasco. The final conference document was a 253-page wish list. Global head of Greenpace Kumi Naidoo called the summit “a failure of epic proportions” and added that the final statement itself was “the longest suicide note in history.”
Judgment in a biblical sense is not meant as a suicide note, however. It is meant as a call to turn around and refine what we are about. The judgments of the Book of Revelation are judgments on those who fail to heed God’s call for justice and mercy both for humanity and for our planet.
Now, as perhaps never before, we need the vision of the healing of the planet that concludes the biblical book of Revelation in order to renew our efforts to save God’s creation from twisted devastation.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal…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.” (Revelation 22:1-2)
This vision can lead us to take effective and feasible action right now.
Or isn’t it hot enough for you yet?
The former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.