This has been quite a week. Here in the US, we have been rocked by news of Donald Trump’s election to presidency of the United States. Many of our friends around the world were also surprised and shocked – I’ve heard from some of you. We’re all wondering what this means for the US and for the world.
We are also wondering what it means for my organization, Care of Creation and for the Lausanne/WEA Creation Care Network. It is already clear that the one of the Trump administration’s priorities will be to try to reverse many of the environmental protections that already exist within the United States. More ominously for those outside of this country (which is most of you who are reading this) he intends to back out of the United States’ international obligations with regard to climate change. Will this happen? If it does, will other countries stay the course or choose to back out as well? What does it all mean for God’s creation? So we are asking ourselves: What does Creation Care look like in the Age of Trump?
As a former pastor, my first response in any crisis – and make no mistake, this is a crisis – is to look to the Bible. On this occasion, I find myself meditating on the experience of one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Isaiah. Isaiah’s account of his call to service begins like this (chapter 6):
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD…
This is more than a calendar notation: King Uzziah (probably one of Isaiah’s relatives) had been a fixture in the political scene of Jerusalem, reigning for more than 52 years. He was a strong, powerful and stable ruler (see II Chronicles 26 for his story), and his death almost certainly brought uncertainty and fear. Isaiah’s response to this event contains some useful lessons for all of us in our time of uncertainty:
Isaiah saw the Lord because he sought the Lord. The great event here, of course, is Isaiah finding himself face to face with the Lord of the Universe, but what interests me is where this happens. We find Isaiah in the temple. Perhaps this was a regular visit for worship, perhaps a special time of quiet devotion because he needed comfort, assurance, certainty, answers. This is where we need to start as we process recent and ongoing political events in our own day. There will be a need for planning, for strategic regrouping, perhaps for marching and protesting. But first, before anything else, go look for
God. Find your temple, wait for him to appear. Feel free to interpret ‘temple’ loosely. My favorite spot to seek the LORD is on a bike and hiking trail…
Isaiah’s encounter with God drives him to humility… “Woe to me! …I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” (v. 5) Few of us came out of this election with much to be proud of, and with Isaiah, humility and confession is necessary before we can move on. This process can take many forms: personal confession of sin or rebellion, examination of motives, asking forgiveness of those we might have treated harshly in the heat of passion. But it springs naturally from our time spent with God. If we’re going to move on, and we must, we dare not skip this important step.
…and results in a commission, a call to ministry. “Whom shall I send? …here am I. Send me!” (v. 8) These are familiar words and standard missionary fare. I could not count the number of sermons I’ve heard (and quite a few that I’ve preached) on these words. In this context, a crisis that drives us to God will also push us toward action, and this is good and natural. For us at Care of Creation, this means doubling down on our commitment to our mission of calling the church to respond to environmental crises everywhere.
Notice, though, that Isaiah is being called to obedience, but not to results or success. He is to preach to a people who will not listen, offering healing that will not be accepted, and he is to carry on “until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged.” (v. 11) Does this sound familiar? Who wants a ministry like that? Not I. But that is exactly what we have been called to. Whether the occupant of the White House is sympathetic or not, whether the church at large understands or not, our task is to continue to proclaim this truth: God loves his creation, and he has given us the task of taking care of it.
In the end, Isaiah’s message was one of hope, not despair. If you are familiar with Isaiah’s entire body of work, you know that gloom and doom was not his entire message. He gives us many beautiful predictions about the coming Messiah (Jesus), as well as glorious portraits of a new earth and new heaven:
See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more… (Isaiah 65:17-19)
This, then, is the tension we face as we work to care for God’s creation in the Trump age, or in any age for that matter. We know that things are falling apart around us. We know that there is very little that we can do to stop the destruction. But we will do what we can now, and persuade as many people as we can now, and weep over the tragedy now, while always keeping our eyes on that final hope that Jesus will return with final and complete and glorious healing, restoration and reconciliation.
One of my friends and colleagues, Lowell Bliss, reminded several of us in an email this week of a quote from one of his favorite authors, Walter Brueggemann:
Jesus’ concern was, finally, for the joy of the kingdom. That is what he promised and to that he invited people. But he was clear that the rejoicing in that future required a grieving about the present order. Jesus takes a quite dialectical two-age view of things. He will not be like one-world liberals who view the present world as the only one, nor will he be like the unworldly who yearn for the future with an unconcern about the present. There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present so that the future may come. . . (1)
So I invite you to join with us in this uncomfortable place – caring for the Garden, weeping for the parts destroyed (Brueggemann’s “grief work”), healing what we can, while keeping our eyes on Jesus and his promises of a final, complete and glorious future, the whole growing out of an ongoing, genuine encounter with God himself. Did I say “uncomfortable”? Yes, but what an exciting adventure, as well!
Thank you for your part in caring for God’s creation in your own place and as part of this wonderful world-wide network. Always remember, Presidents come and go – and in the final scheme of things matter not at all (Isaiah 40:23-24); we, on the other hand, we are serving the King of Kings. And he will be victorious!