I have little knowledge about climate change. I know very little about politics. Nevertheless, as a theologian, I believe that I can make a contribution to the discussion that is both meaningful and perhaps a bit refreshing, since it takes a different perspective than what you hear day in day out. If I am honest, the climate panic is getting a little on my nerves. Not because it is not justified – as I said at the beginning, I am not qualified to judge… Clearly, something must be done but I think that the solutions so far are not radical enough.
The problem behind the problem
From my point of view the problem (simplified of course) is the following:
Too many people want too much.
This analysis is neither new nor original, since Thanos already believes that he has to solve this problem in his very own way in the movie Infinity War. But even renowned intellectuals such as Hartmut Rosa1 have recognized humanities compulsion to increase as a fundamental evil; albeit he is somewhat less committed to pop culture. Therefore I would casually say, and I will probably reap some opposition here, that the solution does not lie in a religious zeal for a vegan lifestyle, a radical avoidance of air miles or in a revolt against the prevailing politics. All this might have its proper place, but the solution, in my view, lies a level deeper and is extremely personal: contentment. If my life is not determined by a basic contentment, I will always want more. However, if I limit myself in one area, I will compensate in another (instead of spending my holidays in the Bahamas, I’ll buy a new TV). So the question is how we humans become frugal. But this complete contentment would have a lot to do with our identity: Who am I if I don’t have this and that, if I can’t do this and that, if I’m not this and that? History shows us a very grim picture, for we humans have always wanted more. This ‘more’ simply shows a different face at different times and in different places. Whether wars, totalitarian systems, other human rights violations or the current climate and environmental crisis, everything has to do with the fact that we humans always want more. We seem to have an insatiable desire, a gaping hole that devours our fellow human beings and our world. But why? To really find a solution, we would have to have an answer to that question…
The problem behind the problem behind the problem
As a theologian, I believe I can make a contribution since the grand history of God and mankind as outlined in the Bible has always pointed to this problem. The story goes as follows:
We humans have never been autonomous, but were created in and for a relationship with the living God. Our being is deeply connected with this divine love, in this love and for this love. Total contentment in relationship with God. From the beginning, this love also gives us the freedom to turn to it or to turn away from it.
We humans have never been self-sufficient, since from the beginning we also had a mission that lies outside of ourselves: From the security of this divine love and connection, together with other people, to cultivate (yes!) and preserve (yes!) this world. 2
In this relatedness, this ability to relate and in this concrete relationship to the Creator lies theologically speaking our image of God (imago dei), our identity, our humanity.
But man wants to be autonomous in his God-given freedom. Man wants more and thinks he can find this ‘more’ outside of his relationship with the Creator. 3 He turns away. He opposes the Creator and henceforth also lives in opposition/contradiction to himself,4 for the human is only really himself in this connection.
The original intention is inverted: an inwardly torn human ‘tears’ his fellow humans and together they tear this world apart. They do this in search of what they have lost, in the now legitimate search for more, but in the wrong direction.
In this way the Bible answers the ‘why’ of humanities ever further, ever more, ever greater. In the New Testament this is aptly summarized in the Epistle of James:
You are greedy and yet you get nothing. You murder and envy and even so you cannot fulfil your wishes. You fight and war with each other – and have nothing, because you do not ask for it.James 4:2
This ‘asking for it’ points to the solution. A solution that does not exclude all the current endeavours and yet reaches much deeper. Asking means turning to others, confiding in them. The solution is to turn to God – as mundane as this may sound. But this is easier said than done, since we humans are sceptical. We are afraid of getting involved with a another, because it could be that I do not get more and instead that more is taken away from me. 5 We human beings need God to turn to us first – in a radically unambiguously loving way. This radical love of God in the history of mankind culminated in the incarnation, the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. A radical sign of God’s love with the goal of reconnecting people to full (eternal) life:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for them. Everyone who believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.John 3:16
I find it interesting that it is socially acceptable and omnipresent at the moment to talk about, to paint it on posters, to demonstrate: this world and we with it will perish if nothing radically radical happens. The Christian tradition has always spoken of this, but for decades, if not almost centuries, this message has been anything but acceptable. And yet this Christian outcry has always been only a by-product of the real thing, namely a good news, a solution: the Gospel. God is still for us. He has long since proven it. Turn to him, because only there you will find peace. Only there you have enough. Only there are you truly yourself. And that’s why only there, out of this true self-contentment, can you take care of your neighbour and this world. 6
So I want to do my part. Yes, I want to live modestly. Above all I want to help others to meet this God who is enough, gives enough and is probably the only one who can solve this human, even cosmic problem. Not without us, but with us, because that was his plan from the beginning. I say this not because I really understand something about it, but because I know this God.
- For example, in his work Resonanz, Berlin Suhrkamp, 2018
- Genesis 2:15
- Genesis 3
- See for this formulation Emil Brunner, Der Mensch im Widerspruch, Berlin, Furche-Verlag, 1937,
- Without going into detail here, the findings of relationship science, especially Interdependence Theory and Attachment Theory, are extremely revealing and very congruent with the picture that the Bible paints of human beings.
- In my opinion, this view is also an anti-thesis against any kind of religiosity that does not radically center around this existential relationship – regardless of a liberal or conservative packaging. Unfortunately, there are several examples, especially in so-called Christianity, that contribute more to the problem than to the solution