Are humans causing the earth to grow warmer bringing about global climate change? This is an issue that scientists are debating, and there are good Christians all across the spectrum on this issue in the scientific world as they struggle to understand the data. But can the issue be solved on theological principles alone? I see that there are two competing theological principles that could be brought to bear on the problem.
First, there is the possibility that to humble us, God has put our ability to control the earth’s climate out of our control. This would fall into the realm of God’s questioning of Job, asking him to explain mysteries of nature that were beyond his understanding in order to humble him. In this view, humans claiming to be able to control the climate are trying to take on responsibilities that are God’s alone. In claiming to be able to control the climate, we are attributing God like attributes to ourselves in an attempt to attain some measure of control of our circumstances. We do this to gain some level of emotional security in our changing world without having to trust God and to call on him for help. We want to believe we are in control to make us feel better, and thus we assert that we are the ones causing changes because then we would be able to change them back ourselves without reference to faith in God.
The second view would be that God placed us as the stewards over this planet, allowing us to make decisions in its care for good or for ill. In this view, humans by our choices were able to plunge the creation into sin and misery. We continue to have this power today to bring a curse upon this planet by our sinful, greedy, selfish ways.
Humans were created by God with the glory of being able to affect the operation of this planet and thus yes, humans could be causing global warming as part of the curse of the fall. From this standpoint, refusing to take responsibility for global warming is like a brat that won’t admit all the harm he or she has done.
Which view is correct? I believe both are theologically sound arguments. Yes, there are some aspects of creation that God has put outside of our control or understanding in order to humble us. Yes, he put us in charge of this planet and our choices do affect it. The question then is whether climate change falls into category 1 or 2. I do not believe the Bible addresses that issue, and thus it must be decided on scientific grounds alone. Theology cannot answer this question.
However, in examining the motives of the heart, I believe both arguments have their place in convicting humans of sin. Some who want to believe humans are affecting the climate do so out of deep insecurities and out of a refusal to humble themselves before God’s infinite nature. They may be wrong or they may be right about the science, but they are motivated by fear and a refusal to trust God for what is out of their control. On the other hand, others who deny humans affect the climate may do so out of not wanting to do something about it that might be painful. Regardless of whether they are right or wrong about the science, they want to exploit the earth for their pleasure without concern for the consequences. As Christians we need to closely examine the scientific evidence and make the best decisions that we can, realizing other brothers and sisters may come to different conclusions. But which ever side we take in the debate scientifically, we need to pray, “search me and try me and see if there be any wicked way in me” for “the human heart is extraordinarily wicked and who can understand it.” Scientific positions, whether right or wrong, may be taken for sinful motives.