Christians in North America have ignored environmental issues for far, far too long. We have justified our actions - or lack thereof - by leaning too heavily upon complicated, if not abstractly vague, eschatological schematics. It worked too, at least for the time being. Why would or should anyone care about ecological stewardship if Jesus was returning tomorrow? You see, Jesus’ cataclysmic return not only signified the beginning of a new age for the Church, but also the subsequent end of the old age of the world. The total and utter destruction of earth as we know it, for some mysterious reason, become a practical if not fatalistic reality. The logic of this sort of apocalyptic thinking, of course, leads one to what would seem to be a very solid conclusion: if the world is going to be morphed into dust, why then should we worry about environmental issues? Well, most Evangelicals did not worry about it at all!
Christians have been given a promise: Christ is returning for his Church. That’s the extent of our knowledge concerning the event. We do not know the time, place, or even what this will look like, really. The Gospel writers did not even know! In fact, a careful and critical reader of the New Testament can actually observe the Gospel writers struggling over this topic and actually changing their outlook/minds regarding the event (see, for example, this post re: the overarching Lukan concern with the delay of the second coming of Jesus of Nazareth and the use of this delay as literary catalyst for much of Luke’s eschatological material). The simple truth is that no one - not even Jesus - knows when or how this event will take place (Matthew 24:36).
Given the fact that no one - not even Jesus - knows the specifics (day/hour) of Second Coming of Christ for his Church, then what in the world should Christians be doing in the meanwhile? Should we sit idle, stewing in our own abstract fatalism? Should we ignore the world and enter a prayer closet of fear and trepidation? The answer to this unnecessarily perplexing question seems quite obvious, actually. We should be busy, according to Jesus of Nazareth, investing God’s talents. Jesus discusses as much as he shares “The Parable of the Talents” in an attempt to explain the end of the age to his disciples in the 24th chapter of Matthew:
The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25: 14 For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Lest we limit this incredible parable to literal “talents” and “bankers,” let me simply suggest that what Jesus is talking about here includes the totality of life and living in this age of meanwhile. In other words, rather than curling up in a fetal position of “righteous” fear and “holy” anxiety, Christians should actually be busy interacting with and improving this world. It is from this sort of action that the actual “profit” and/or “interest” is produced by the “servants” for their “master.” It is, according to Jesus of Nazareth, a wicked servant who does not produce “interest” for the coming “master.” It is no stretch, theologically or hermeneutically speaking, to suggest that an aspect of this “interest building” includes environmental sustainability and improvement. Ecology is, in light of Jesus’ parable, a Christian stewardship issue, for sure. Jesus point in this parable was not the actual event of his return, but the meanwhile, and the Christians duty during this time period.
The fatalism of yesterday’s Evangelicalism, and the detrimental effects it has had upon numerous aspects of life and living, including but not limited to ecological sustainability, is over. There is a new generation of Christians who are taking seriously Jesus’ call to faithfulness in the meanwhile. We also take seriously the truth of Christ’s coming return. It is not a case of either/or, but both/and. In the midst of such balance, one discovers a holistic Christianity not given to the wild apocalyptic extremes of those who went before us. So we work, for as long as the Lord tarries. In that meanwhile, we find the blessing Jesus speaks of in his parable.