Dark Night of the Planet - Climate Crisis, the Bible, and Confession

Over the last several months, I’ve been taking a slow read of Nature as Spiritual Practice by Steven Chase, a book about how delighting in the natural world can enhance our delight in God.

In chapters nine and ten, Steve talks about ‘The Dark Night of the Planet’. The idea is that, as a result of the Climate Crisis, the earth is experiencing a time of darkness, mourning, and pain that’s similar to the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ shared by Christian thinkers like St. John of the Cross, et al. Only, whereas the Soul’s dark night ultimately leads one into more profound restoration and communion with God, there is no guarantee that the planet’s Dark Night will have such a positive outcome (end times intervention notwithstanding).

He argues that one of the effects of the Dark Night of the Planet is that it should change how we read the Bible. In one example, he quotes Psalm 65:9-13, which I include below and encourage you not to skip over:

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
The meadows are covered with flocks,
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.
~ Psalm 65:9-12 (NIV2011)

On p. 128, Steve then asks the question “How, some say, expect perhaps as confession, can you with honesty pray this psalm today, in the midst of the earth’s dark night?” He raises a good point: Westerners might get gooey-eyed reading these verses while walking their favourite footpaths. Yet this passage is less and less describing the reality of many in the majority world where the rivers of God are dry and fields are barren.

This got me thinking (TLDR):

  • How much ought the climate crisis change how we read joyful nature passages in scripture?
  • To what degree should passages like Psalm 65:9-12 now be read as a lament or confession?
  • To what extent does our hope of a New Creation (even among science affirmers, like us) make it harder to hear (and act on) the cries of the planet’s dark night?

As always, they are not so many questions to answer but conversation grenades lobbed out to start a conversation. Looking forward to thinking out loud with you all.


Or Leviticus 26:43 or 2 Chronicles 36:21

The land will eventually enjoy all the sabbath rest it had been denied.

A sobering consequence for them back then, …
… and also for us now?


Yep, good observation. I’m reminded also of Leviticus 20:22:

You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out.

Seems to me that there are certainly places where the wider land (the earth) is retching under the impact of drought, famine, hurricanes, etc. I think a key difference between our context and that of ancient Israel is that those who have contributed the least to the illness (the majority world) are suffering the most. In that sense, the largely innocent poor will be vomited from their lands long before us (largely) culpable Westerners.


38 posts were split to a new topic: Climate Change - Debating the Facts

This is of topic, but in addition to all the sabbaticals denied (it was maybe only practiced once?), the never practiced once per generation economic reset of the Year of Jubilee will eventually be enjoyed, at least in effect. The disparities of excessive wealth the Jubilee was intended to allay will be no more (as well as the deceitfulness of wealth itself).

That’s really not so off topic, because the deceitfulness of wealth and extreme economic disparities is a significant if not the major factor that has led to the decimation or the planet with its associated environmental crises.

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I’m sorry I don’t follow.

We most certainly are. Sure, some are more guilty than others, but we all share a portion of the guilt at least for the way our own lifestyles and life choices have contributed towards the problems.

I’m reminded of this quote from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ:

Herod and Pilate, Gentiles and Jews … had together “conspired” against Jesus (Acts 4:27). More important still, we ourselves are also guilty. If we were in their place, we would have done what they did. Indeed we have done it. For whenever we turn away from Christ, we “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Heb 6:6). We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the old negro spiritual asks. And we must answer, “Yes, we were there.” Not as spectators only, but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining and handing him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate. But our attempt will be as futile as his. For there is blood on our hands. ~ Stott, The Cross of Christ, p.63**

If this is our natural inclination towards God’s Son, how much more do we sacrifice God’s world to our greed, envy, and ambition and then try to excuse ourselves? Steven Chase puts it even more bluntly “We are Pilates to the Planet’s Jesus” (Nature as Spiritual Practice, p154). I believe the first step towards change is recognising our part (mine included) in the mess we are currently in. Confession precedes repentance.

Funny, these arguments sound so similar to those used to justify slavery in the 18th Century. The UK committed economic suicide when its parliament voted to end the slave trade, but due to the work of Wilberforce and others, the ‘few rich’ at the top of the trade changed their ways - they had no choice. Don’t underestimate the power of the ‘plebs’.

The rich oppressing the poor, the people abusing the land, behaviour, greed, and people refusing to take responsibility for their sins. They all sound like Biblical Issues to me. Gospel issues, no less.


That certainly is the solution if we want to keep the current system the world operates by.
Being fruitful and multiplying is the only commandment from God mankind has stuck with. However, in not keeping the others too, obeying that one command has thrown the world into chaos.

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Unfortunately, if you cannot reason with the enemy, you aren’t left with many other options if you want to see change. I, as a Human being, not as a theist, understand completely and agree with the idea that sometimes, you have to kill the bad guys. Come to think of it, God agrees too.

Who is the enemy this time?

Not the God of Christ. Only a Satanic monster of a god. People who have bought into what you just said are ripe pickings for populist dicators and despots. The ‘bad guy’ is always the guy you’ve been trained to hate (not by Christ, but by whatever political affiliations you’ve sold your soul to). They sell you on the utterly Satanic notion that the ‘bad guy’ is always someone ‘out there’. Someone that just needs to be eliminated before the world can possibly be a better place. So rings the cry of every violent despot of history as the deluded rush to give them power. We forget Solzhenitsyn’s observation that the line between good and evil runs through each and every human heart.

As somebody else (maybe around here) recently said (quoting Chesterton): I’m not horrified because somebody could commit these atrocities. I’m horrified because I know I could!


I’ve really no interest (in this thread) in debating the truth or falsity of the climate crisis but feel free to start your own if you feel strongly about it. I am sure those more knowledgeable than I will be happy to wade in.

I’m a theologian at heart, and so my interest in this thread is how the climate crisis should inform our reading of the Bible and our prayerful confession, both individually and corporately.


But it shouldn’t. Christians will do what they have always done, be good stewards of the Earth. Anything done that harms the Earth is not Christian. However, that will not solve any global-level crisis. Those who cause the troubles are not Christians. Those who could stop it aren’t either.
And the methods that must be used to stop it, they definitely aren’t Christian.

It’s a tad dramatic to label this issue as the Dark Night of the Planet. Like I said in my original response, natural disasters have done more in the past to wreck the Earth than mankind ever could, and the Earth bounced back.
Species will be lost, but we’ve already lost 99% of those. The truly terrifying thing, like I said before too, is the cost of Human freedoms, rights and lives in trying to “solve” said issue.

Liam, this sounds like a book worth reading, and Ilike your questions.

One and Two:
Glomming your first two questions together, while I am no fan of catharsis, because it never actually happens, while lament and confession can lead to real change. In one BL interview with a naturalist, he mentioned that whenever he is in nature, he finds himself in mourning. His friends might be ooohing and aaaahing about something beautiful, but he finds himself lamenting internally about what is not “right” in the scene.
I think we need to do this. We need to be overwhelmed by the beauty, but also allow ourselves to recognize the problems and feel them.
We also need to do this with the lives of people, who don’t live like us. We aren’t all going to travel to those places, but we can pay attention to the news, and even art (what is the ancient hymnal of Psalms but poetry, that is art?). Contemporary art, which speaks loudly to me, is populated by artists like Edward Burtynsky, who examine the effect of contemporary life on resources and how that affects the lives of people all over the world. Salman Rushdie, Mulk Raj Anand, Sonya Sanchez, Audrey Lorde, Imari Baraka, Ethridge Knight, and on and on and on are authors who have changed my life by showing me what social injustice is like for people and how it destroys us all.
Let our passions be formed well, if they are what drive our reason.
And lament and confess.
And get to work.

Hope of a New Creation
I’m horrified to hear people talk about there being no reason to concern ourselves with the environmentalism and ecology, because it’s all going to burn up in the end, anyway. They better hope they understood the metaphors right.
“The Earth is the Lord’s”
If this is the case, how can we possibly justify an attitude that it’s fine to treat the Earth as something disposable. It doesn’t even belong to us.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Who is my neighbor?”
—Really? You have to ask?
The Earth is the Lord’s and the provision of it is for everyone who lives here now and will live here. This is an enormous responsibility.
I live in an area where there are all sorts of concerns about rights to life. Preserving the Earth for future generations is an issue of life and the right to it. But we can all too easily ignore the fact, because so many of us are protected from it by our wealth and socio-economic stability.
Our passions need to be informed well, if they are to rightly drive our reason.
And our reason should lead to ethical action.


Approximately 2,200 nuclear bombs have been detonated on the Earth since their creation.

Your vege garden and hybrid car can never make up for that.
You can apologise, but you didn’t launch them.


Don’t forget the rest of that verse: " fill the earth and subdue it."
Mission accomplished. We are now beyond that.

I readily admit that I am not as good as I should be environmentally, and enjoy the conveniences of life in our age, but try a bit, live modestly in general, plant trees here and there. It seems to me that our attitude toward creation should be one similar to what Jesus advocates we do regarding sin: Not to worry about what others are doing so much as changing our hearts and behavior to be in harmony with God and his heart.


On a personal level, I can sometimes become discouraged when thinking that my individual efforts to act “environmentally” will not make any difference to the climate crisis or save the planet. But as a Christian, such fatalism doesn’t get me off the hook. I choose to limit my personal consumption of resources and look out for the interests of others ultimately, out of obedience (if nothing else). As I see things, God never rescinded the original human mandate to care for and to steward the planet. On the final day, God will not hold me accountable for what China did, or did not do, but on how I lived faithfully.


Totally, I can, and do, get in a major funk about it. I think this is where collectivism (in the sense of a collective cause) can be such a powerful thing. When I talk with others and discover the things that they are doing, I’m encouraged to hear that so many are doing something. Whether it is enough is another question, but it is a start, and that encourages me that I am not alone.

Churches, I believe, should be a beating heart of creation care, sadly many are not, some are even aggressively hostile, which only compounds the sense of isolation.


Too true, and as bad a witness as rabid YECism and largely related to each other?


While I focused on individual behavior and heart in my previous post, you make a good point about corporate responsibility. The Bible is certainly full of examples about how we are responsible and accountable as a people for our behavior, regardless of our personal positions if we look at the Flood, at Sodom, at Israel. Perhaps in democratic societies, that responsibility is magnified, not lessened. And, if not responsible in the greater culture, we are responsible as we are part on the body of Christ in our churches, as you state.


With limited resources, there has been a historical tension between financially supporting our calling to “go and make disciples of all nations” with and against the necessity of other financial outlays and overhead (megamillions into lavish church buildings and salaries? :angry:), but evangelical environmentalism is a healthy way of addressing both.

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What gain is it to save the world, but then we lose our collective soul?