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Date posted: 4 September 2017
The rain it raineth on the just and also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because the unjust took the just’s umbrella.
Promoting his recent film, An Inconvenient Sequel, Al Gore has repeatedly quipped that today’s weather patterns feel like ‘a nature hike through the book of Revelation’. If you’ve been watching the news over the last few days, you might be feeling the same thing.
Hurricane Harvey – which struck the US state of Texas on 26 August – has presented that rare spectacle of a large, Western megacity submerged for days on end. The imagery is both upsetting and, occasionally, inspirational. Against the apocalyptic backdrop of neighbourhoods under water, scenes of great community and courage have also been displayed. Incredibly, the death toll in a city of 2.3 million people currently stands at 44 (at the time of writing).
Reflecting on the flooding, many journalists have been quick to point out the connection to the wider climate crisis. ‘When it comes to the causes of Hurricane Harvey,’ writes one, ‘climate change is not a smoking gun. However, there are a few spent cartridge cases marked global warming in the immediate vicinity.’
In India, meanwhile, another city has been submerged. Mumbai, the home of Bollywood and India’s financial capital, and home to over 18 million, has seen similarly devastating flooding, with thousands killed. But if you’re in the majority, you probably haven’t heard about this flooding. It’s not as ‘newsworthy’, apparently …
Watching these events unfold, and the difference in attention given to Houston’s and Mumbai’s floods (not to mention similar events in Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Niger), I can’t help being reminded of the words of the minor prophet, Obadiah:
The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ (Obadiah 1:3)
If I’m honest, I often read news stories about flooding in a place like Houston with more intrigue than those of ‘yet another’ flood in the non-Western world. All too often, such events only become ‘news’ when the water seems to be lapping at my own feet. Yet when I think like this, I’m not all that different from the Edomites rebuked by Obadiah. Faced with disaster among my global neighbours, it’s awfully easy to ‘run for the hills’ and pretend it isn’t happening.
As Christians reflecting on the ‘signs of the times’ – the real marks of climate crisis which are already afflicting the world God loves – we are called to a very different kind of action. Rather than running from hardship, we are called to run to it, knowing that God himself goes with us (Luke 4:18). As an old classic puts it:
Let us learn how to serve
And in our lives enthrone him
Each other’s needs to prefer
For it is Christ we’re serving
Climate change and its human consequences are becoming harder and harder to ignore today. Faced with this hurting world, Jesus will always be found in the floodplains. But where is his church?
Stephen Edwards is Operation Noah’s outreach campaigner.