Note: Not a week goes by that I don’t read one or two letters to the editor of our local newspaper decrying the supposed effects of man-made climate change. The fear is palpable, the proposals sincere, but the misunderstanding hurtful. In hopes of shedding some (biblical) light and warmth into people’s hearts, I decided to submit this short essay on the subject. Since our community is quite progressive, I felt it wise not to include too many Scripture citations. I did, however, want to introduce my readers to the biblical worldview, and to show how, in the face of so much alarmism and doomsaying, it has great power to calm our fears and fill us with hope. Opinion pieces in the Press Democrat appear under the heading Close to Home. To date, the article has not hit Close to Home. I’m praying it will.

 

Climate Change: A Biblical Perspective

My subject is global, but for Press Democrat readers it will strike close to home. In biblical perspective, I would like to address climate change.

Presently, a naturalistic worldview dominates public policy on climate change in California and elsewhere. Modern naturalism posits that the universe evolved through random physical processes. This hypothesis entails that our earth is extremely fragile, and that man, who is often viewed as a clumsy Johnny-come-lately, could completely destroy it if he’s not careful. Therefore an observed trend towards global warming, possibly caused by us humans, generates existential alarm both in naturalistic scientists and the people who listen to them.

The biblical worldview (BWV) posits that God is the creator, sustainer, and ruler of all things, including the weather. It also posits that man is his vice-regent on earth, specially appointed to develop and care for the home he has given us. Because of man’s fall into sin, God has temporarily burdened his originally perfect creation with various natural evils such as extremes of heat and cold, drought, storm, earthquake, etc. Ultimately, these “severe mercies” are wake-up calls designed to discourage nature worship and bring the wanderers home.

Sinful man can and does damage his environment, but the Bible assures us he can never destroy the earth. That prerogative is reserved for God alone, who has explicitly said he will preserve the earth in its regular cycles until the return of Christ (Genesis 8:22). Only then will he destroy it, after which he will create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed (2 Peter 3). Knowing all this, Christian citizens are indeed concerned about environmental abuse, but also confident that man can never “destroy the planet.”

With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at climate change in biblical perspective.

Christians acknowledge that for the last 100-150 years there has been a modest warming trend. They point out, however, that within this time frame, and also throughout prior centuries, there have always been climatic fluctuations. Following the Medieval Warm Period there came the Little Ice Age. Back in the 1970’s a brief cooling trend engendered fears of a new Ice Age. Last winter a Polar Vortex clobbered the mid-west with record cold. Polar ice caps wax and wane. The BWV predicts such changes. They are normal for a world under divine care and discipline. Good and bad weather happen. We should try to hear what God is telling us in both.

Christians go on to emphasize what all honest scientists admit: It is difficult to ascertain the precise cause(s) of climate change. To say that the recent warming trend is caused solely by man-made CO2 is simplistic and highly improbable. 90% of greenhouse warming—so vital for life on Earth—is due to water vapor and clouds. As one scientist puts it, “CO2 is a bit player.” Furthermore, most CO2 is generated by sunlight interacting with the oceans. Human activity accounts for a miniscule 5%. If our contribution were truly significant, why the constant fluctuations of the last 150 years?

Knowing all this, researchers now look elsewhere for the causes of climate change. Many cite a demonstrable correlation between sun-spots, solar radiation, oceanic warming, and patterns in the weather. Others ponder the effects of natural weather cycles (e.g. El Nino), clouds, and volcanic emissions. Dr. Roy Spencer thinks climate change is normal, the result of “the climate system itself.” Christians conclude: Whatever the complex causes of climate change, they are in God’s hands, not ours.

Such considerations will shape our response to climate change. Here are a few policy suggestions I think would serve us well.

First, let’s lay aside all the climate alarmism and doomsaying. According to the Bible, they are not based in reality (or on faith), but only terrify the Greta Thunbergs of the world. God has said to the proud waves of the sea, “Thus far, and no further” (Job 38:11). They will obey.

Secondly, let’s keep in mind the upside of global warming: increased global greening and decreased desertification, relief from deadly winter cold, reduced energy consumption, and greatly improved quality and quantity of agricultural products. The folks at the CO2 Coalition invite us to see global warming as a blessing. Imagine.

Finally, and most importantly, let’s swiftly rethink our current attitude towards fossil fuels. In biblical perspective they are a fabulous gift of God, laden with manifold benefits. If we turn our back on them we will increase the cost of energy, curtail technological advance, and condemn the 2 billion people living in undeveloped countries to poverty, disease, injury, environmental degradation, and death. Oh, and one more benefit of using fossil fuels: We can get rid of those horrid windmills that blight our landscape and kill millions of our birds!

Here is a solemn tautology: Our worldview has a profound influence on the way we view the world. It determines how we see, think, feel, love, fear, hope, choose, and live together in our precious home. As we think about climate change, let’s think carefully about our worldview as well.1

Dean Davis
Santa Rosa CA

Dean is a retired pastor and the director of Come Let Us Reason, a Bible teaching ministry specializing in Apologetics and Worldview Studies

Notes

1. Material for this essay was taken from the little book Global Warming: A Scientific and Biblical Expose’ of Climate Change, published by Answers in Genesis (2016). For helpful information on the scientific, economic, and political aspects of this issue, please visit the website of The Heartland Institute, available here. Also, here is a fascinating and easy to use website showing that CO2 (along with fossil fuels) is actually a friend, and not a foe. Finally, here is a link to the Cornwall Alliance, and to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have likely heard of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when, for a few brief hours, the Brits and the Germans left off their fighting and came together to celebrate Christmas.

That fascinating event raises an important question: How could one man—or rather the memory of one man—stop a whole world war? How has it been able to do so for over 2000 years? And how will it continue to do so until the end of time?

If you’re like me, you are grieved by the cultural and political war that seems to have engulfed us. If you’re like me, you may also be grieved by the part you have played in it. How in the world will this end? How can we extricate ourselves from this all-consuming anger and polarization?

Here is my best thought: At Christmas it is God himself who draws near to us, and who draws our attention once again to the baby of Bethlehem. Then, as we pay such attention, he somehow reveals to us what we are actually capable of being—as individuals, and as the family of man—if only we could abide in this Spirit, and enjoy this peaceful presence year round.

Thus, the revelation is also an invitation: to consider afresh, not only the baby in Bethlehem, but the life he lived, the death he died, the aftermath of the death he died, and what all of this might have to do with us dwelling permanently in the presence of a divine being who can truly change the world.

As in 1914, so today: When the Christmas truce is over the world will go back to war.

But the memory of that truce, and of the invitation to consider the baby of Bethlehem, will linger throughout the year. And in my experience, those who take time to accept the invitation will often find, to their great joy, something they have been looking for all their lives: not just a temporary truce, but an eternal one.

Well, lest my inner preacher overtake me, I will cut short here.

I will, however, leave you with this lovely short clip about the Christmas Truce.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KHoVBK2EVE

May it—and the baby of Bethlehem—be a rich blessing to you and yours throughout 2020.

With All Our Love,

Dean and Linda Davis

Hinting broadly at the deity of the promised Messiah, the prophet Isaiah spoke of Jesus Christ as Immanuel, which means “God with us us” (Isaiah 7:9). That name got me to thinking about the many fascinating ways in which Immanuel is related to us. Here are a few of the choicest:

  • He was before us—with the Father and the Holy Spirit—prior to the time when time began and the world was created through him
  • He was ahead of us, when, for four millennia, the Old Testament prophets longingly foretold his coming
  • He was down here among us after he left heaven and, through the Spirit’s work, took up residence as a true human being in a virgin’s womb
  • He was out there among us, when, in the days of his flesh, he lived, worked, taught, and ministered (miraculously) to the children of Israel
  • He was in behalf of us, when, through all of the above, he obeyed every divine command, fulfilled every law, and passed every test, thereby attaining a perfect righteousness that God will credit to all who believe in him
  • He was instead of us, when, on the cross, he endured the sentence of suffering and death for all who would place their trust in him for the forgiveness of their sins
  • He is now over us, having risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and taken his seat at God’s right hand as King of the Cosmos and Head of the Church
  • He is now facing us in the person of his people and their proclamation of the Gospel, through which he urges everyone who hears to receive him by faith as Savior and Lord
  • He is within us (and at work within us) through the gift of the Holy Spirit, if and when we do receive him
  • He is up above us in heaven, where he is praying for us, and where, on the day of our death, our perfected spirits will see him and fly to him with inexpressible joy
  • He is up ahead of us in the World to Come, which he himself will create at his return, when he raises the dead, judges the world in righteousness, and welcomes the saints to eternal life with God in the new heavens and the new earth

This is our Immanuel. As we think afresh about him this Christmas, may he be with us all in every possible way.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast at all?” So Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn while the bridegroom is still with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be made worse. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins, for if they do, the wineskins burst, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” —Matthew 9:14-17

 

The New Testament—a single long book comprised of 27 short books, written over a span of some 40 years by eight or nine chosen followers of Jesus Christ, telling us who he was, what he did, what he taught, how he died and rose and ascended into heaven, and what all of this means for Israel and the nations—may aptly be called God’s Wineskin. The New Testament text cited above helps us to understand why.

When the disciples of John the Baptizer came to Jesus, they brought both a question and (it would appear) a complaint. “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast at all?” Jesus’ answer—cordial but firm—is twofold.

The King Has Come!

First, in light of his current presence in the world, it isn’t proper that they should fast. He is the Bridegroom—the long-awaited Savior, King, and spiritual Husband of Israel. How can the friends of the Bridegroom fast when he is right there with them? This is not a time for mourning, but for celebration!

Note, however, that Jesus himself casts a shadow over the celebration: “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.” With the benefit of hindsight, we know what he means. Through treachery, injustice, and a shocking death by crucifixion, he and his friends will soon be separated, seemingly forever. And that indeed will be a proper time for fasting. But on the subject of joy and celebration, Jesus is not yet finished. Far from it!

A New Covenant is Coming!

For now he tells them (and us) something further, and something staggering to the Jewish mind. There is another reason his disciples cannot fast: God is now doing something new, something that calls for uninterrupted celebration, indeed, eternal celebration. He is fashioning a new patch of cloth. He is stitching a new wineskin. In other words, he is now revealing a new and definitive body of spiritual truth. What’s more, by means of this new body of truth he is also unveiling a new and definitive covenant (or spiritual agreement) between himself and everyone on earth who is willing to enter into it.

In the days ahead Jesus will have much more to say about this New Covenant. For the moment, however, he is focused on one of its outstanding characteristics: its fundamental incompatibility with the Old Covenant. And so he says, “No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be made worse. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins, for if they do, the wineskins burst, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Why did Jesus press this point? Why was he so keen on exalting the new wineskin above the old, and on separating the two once and for all?

The Old, the New, the Eternal 

The rest of the New Testament supplies the answer. The Old Covenant was instituted through mere men, Abraham and Moses; the New Covenant will be instituted through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant was an agreement solely between God and Israel; the New Covenant will be an agreement between God and all who trust in Christ the whole world over. The Old Covenant pictured, promised, and prepared for the things of Christ; the New Covenant gives us the things of Christ themselves, and Christ himself. Under the Old Covenant, life was characterized by much spiritual failure, sorrow, and penitential fasting; under the New Covenant, life will be characterized by much spiritual victory, joy, and celebratory feasting . . . with persecutions.

All of this and more was in Jesus’ mind as he spoke to John’s disciples. For he knew that from the very beginning God had but a single plan for the spiritual life and joy of people everywhere. Now that he (Jesus) is here, the plan is beginning to be unveiled. Later—after his death, resurrection, and return to heaven—the Holy Spirit will fully unveil it to his apostles. Moreover, in the apostles’ writings that same Spirit will definitively lay out the plan and treasure it up in a book called the New Testament; likewise, he will lay out the new way of life that is proper to the plan. Thus, through a great chain of divine revelation, the spiritual truth, power, and joy of God’s New Covenant people will be preserved forever.

Here then is why we may aptly refer to the New Testament as God’s Wineskin. According to his own testimony, given through Jesus Christ, it is the God-appointed vessel in which he now brings to all mankind his ultimate spiritual truth, truth that will bring all who hear and obey it into an everlasting covenant with him, thereby enabling them to partake of the new and intoxicating wine of eternal life (John 17:1-2). For this reason what was said long ago to an earthly father about a marriage feast prepared for his daughter, may now be said to our Heavenly Father: “Every man sets out the good wine first; then, when the guests have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the good wine till now” (John 2:10)!

The Wine in the Skin

But what exactly are the contents of God’s Wineskin? What are these definitive truths that he is so eager for us all to know? Surely the best response to such questions is for each of us to take up the Wineskin and drink from it ourselves. But in hopes of encouraging you to do that very thing, please permit one of the friends of the Bridegroom to share a little of what he has seen, tasted, and come to cherish.

The One True Worldview

First, God’s Wineskin contains the answers to what I like to call the Questions of Life. Every human heart is familiar with them; and sooner or later every human heart is deeply concerned about them. They include: What is the ultimate reality, the source of the universe and everything in it? What is the origin of the universe, life, and man? What (if anything) went wrong: Why are evil, suffering, and death present in the world? What (if anything) can be done about them? Does human life have a purpose, and if so, what is it? What are the moral standards by which we should govern our lives? What happens when we die? What is the future of the universe, life, and man? And finally, is it really possible to find trustworthy answers to all these ultimate questions?

The answers we give to the Questions of Life determine what is called our worldview: the way we look at all things as a whole. True philosophers tell us that the unexamined life is not worth living; that the primary purpose of a meaningful life is to find the answers to these questions, to go in search of the one true worldview. According to Jesus and his apostles, God has poured them all into the New Testament. If you are a philosopher or a theologian (and in a way we all are), such a claim, and the prospect of validating it, is intoxicating indeed.

A Treasure Trove of Good Gifts

Secondly, God’s Wineskin contains instructions as to how we may receive certain gifts from God, gifts that we desperately need, and gifts that are meant for our eternal joy. These include spiritual rebirth, forgiveness of sins, rescue from the peril of eternal punishment, adoption into the family of a loving heavenly Father, free access to his throne in prayer, a blessed assurance that he is ordering all events for his children’s good, slow but steady progress in holiness, wisdom and strength for daily living, the sure hope of heaven when we die, and the ultimate hope of eternal life with God in a brand new world that Christ will create at his return. Again, Jesus taught that we all need these gifts; and he knew that many of us thirst for them. Accordingly, he promised that all who drink from God’s Wineskin—and respond to its contents with simple childlike faith—will find that their thirst is slaked once and for all (John 4:13-14).

A Proposal From the High King

This brings us to our final point, and to a further gift that may actually be the supreme goal of all the rest: a proposal of spiritual marriage to the High King of heaven! We catch a glimpse of this stunning offer in our text, where Jesus identifies himself as the Bridegroom. His disciples would likely have understood. In Old Testament times the prophets had spoken of God as Israel’s spiritual Husband (Jeremiah 2:2-3, Hosea 2:2-20). Elaborating further, they also spoke of the coming Messiah—the promised Savior of the world—as the spiritual Husband of his devoted people (Psalm 45, John 3:25-30). When Jesus answered John’s disciples as he did, he was saying, “I am he.”

Truly, this is a captivating way of thinking about the mission of Christ and his Church. During his life on earth, Jesus sent out his own disciples—“the friends of the Bridegroom”—to speak to their Jewish countrymen. In effect, they were saying, “Here is your Messiah, your long-awaited King. He would have you for his Wife. Will you take him for your Husband?” Later on, following his death and resurrection, the High King would send out still more of his friends into the Roman Empire, where they would ask the Gentiles the same question. Today, as we ourselves drink from God’s Wineskin, we hear him and his friends asking it of us as well.

A Holy Intoxication

But what are we to make of the intoxication component of Jesus’ message? Does it not seem strange—and perhaps even dangerous—that he would speak of the new life he offers to those in covenant with him as wine? Have we not all seen how destructive it can be to mix the fruit of the vine with the sin in man?

Yes, it was risky; but it had to be. For it is written that Jesus Christ did not need anyone to tell him about man, for he knew perfectly well what was in man (John 2:25). And because he did, he also knew that there is only one reality powerful enough to overcome man’s intoxication with sin: intoxication with God.

O Taste and See!

But how shall the great transformation occur? How shall sin-inebriated idolaters become God-intoxicated worshipers? Jesus has given us the answer. It is by drinking the new wine contained in God’s Wineskin. It is by prayerfully entering into the New Covenant with God our Father, through faith in Jesus Christ, his divine Son. It is by saying, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes” to the High King’s proposal of marriage. It is by living with him in intimacy, fruitfulness, teamwork, testing, struggle, adjustment, and deepening friendship. Above all, it is by the experience of an ever-growing fire of love that is stronger than death, and that at the moment of death will flame up into eternal glory. In short, it is through the wholesome, life-giving intoxication that flows from spiritual union and communion with God in Christ.

Here then is one friend’s humble attempt to introduce you to the New Testament, to give you a taste of God’s new wine. But again, I reckon it a far, far better thing for you to open the Wineskin and drink deeply for yourself. As you do, may you find yourself at a marriage feast, celebrating with great joy!

Dean Davis
Winter, 2019

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man;
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed:
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks,
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him,
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out—
God knows what He’s about.

– Anonymous