Category: Pondering Peace

The Renewal of Creation

There’s something about starting a new year that gives energy for a fresh start and hope for a better future.  For me, both in my personal life and in leading the Buttry Center at Central Seminary, this new year calls me to concentrate greater effort on doing all I can to address the climate crisis and to encourage other people of faith to join in this effort. To that end, the Buttry Center is conducting a survey to learn how those it serves feel about the climate crisis, what they are doing to address it, and what learning opportunities we may offer to help in this endeavor.

In addition, the Buttry Center will be offering two zoom sessions that relate our faith to the climate crisis:

The climate crisis was often in the news during this past year of 2022. An April report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted the urgency of climate action by declaring that greenhouse gas emissions must peak and start going down by 2025 at the latest if we are to have hope of containing global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of not more than 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius above preindustrial average temperatures. While acknowledging that progress is being made, it warned that if we stay on our current business-as-usual path, the projection is a rise in global temperatures of around 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, a possibility that has been described as “nightmarish.” Soon another year will have gone by, and carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2022 have continued to rise, heading to an all-time high. This past year we have continued to see the effects of climate change in intensified storms, heat waves, drought, fires, and flooding.

During 2022 there were also hopeful developments.  The passing of the Inflation Reduction Act was very consequential in that it provides financial incentives to more quickly transition our country to renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar. Climate scientists continue to hold out hope.  In his latest book with the bold title Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, Paul Hawken writes, “Ending the climate crisis means creating a society that is going in the right direction and the right speed by 2030, a rate of change that will lead to zero net emissions before 2050.  That means halving emissions by 2030 and then halving again by 2040.” (10) Everyone is needed in this effort to reduce emissions, including us, with our homes, cars, churches, and businesses.

As we begin a new year, it is helpful to remember that Scripture portrays God as entering into difficult situations and doing new things.  In Isaiah 43 we read,

“Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert.” (Is. 43:18-19)

These words were written to the ancient Israelite people, many of whom had been exiled while others remained living in a land devastated by war. Earlier in this chapter there are reassurances that God is still their Creator and Redeemer, and so they may take hope and need not fear.  God’s mysterious activity among the world powers would result in providing a way where there seemed to be no way, and they would return to their land.  The land would be revived with water to sustain them, and both the wild animals and people would have reason to honor and praise God.

Isaiah 65 goes further in a section that the New Revised Standard Version entitles “The Glorious New Creation.”

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”(Isaiah 65:17-18b)

In the verses that follow is one of Isaiah’s prophetic visions that portrays what life would be like under God’s beneficent reign.  This vision imagines a renewed heavens and earth where joy replaces distress, the rich earth produces abundant food, the stability of the land allows people to enjoy the fruits of their labor, people are healthy and live long lives, children are born with a hopeful future, there is harmony within nature, and violence is eliminated under God’s peaceful reign. This vision continues to appeal to our longings as we now face the climate crisis.

While the poetic language of the Isaiah 65 vision speaks of new heavens and a new earth, it is referring to renewal rather than replacement.  The vision is concretely tied to this earth, lifting up stability in the land as necessary for wellbeing.  In the original context, this required an end to war, which in every era devastates the land and lives of people and creatures.  In our time, the renewal of the heaven’s atmosphere and the earth’s health also requires addressing the rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming which is resulting in the many aspects of the climate crisis.

If we were to imagine the new heavens, it would be one in which carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are greatly reduced in the earth’s atmosphere so that less heat is being held in and warming the earth. Balance would be restored so that climate systems would stabilize. On a renewed earth, the use of fossil fuels would be eliminated, and the entire global economy based on fossil fuels would be transformed to one based on clean and renewable energy.  Perhaps this would mean solar panels on every suitable rooftop, wind turbines gracing the landscapes, electric vehicles on the roadways, regenerative forms of agriculture in the fields, restored forests and oceans, thriving wildlife, and so much more.  It would be a cleaner, healthier, quieter, balanced, and more peaceful world shared with all earth’s other creatures. Paul Hawken uses the world regeneration to describe the process needed to address the current biological degeneration.  He writes, “Regeneration is not only about bringing the world back to life; it is about bringing each of us back to life.” (9)  I note that the word regeneration has roots in the Latin word regenerare meaning “create again.”

A previous blog indicated that the early Church Fathers understood themselves to be participating in the fulfillment of the prophetic visions of God’s peaceful reign, particularly those in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4.  They did not assign these visions to a place beyond time, and certainly not to a different earth after this one is destroyed.  Nor did they relegate them to unrealistic dreamers.  Rather, they believed that these prophetic visions were God’s intention for our world now.  They believed that as they taught and lived Jesus’ way of nonviolence, love, and compassion, they were experiencing the vision of a peaceful world becoming more of a reality. Just as the early Church Fathers did not passively expect that God alone would usher in a peaceful reign on earth but believed they were active participants in bringing it about, so too we are called to be participants with God in the renewal of the heavens and earth.

So, let us trust that God is working within our world to do this new thing – this great transformation that is already in process to bring about a renewed creation.  Let us join hands, work together with God’s good purposes for our earth, and rejoice in what God is creating.

Ruth Rosell, Ph.D.

Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence

Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology Emerita


Photo by Chris Thomson on Unsplash