What Would Jesus Say To Greta Thunberg?

Ever since Greta Thunberg made U.S. headlines in September speaking to the U.N. Climate Action Summit, I have wondered, What would Jesus say to Greta?

Greta is a 16-year-old Swedish girl who started acting on her climate change convictions just a little more than a year ago. Rather than start her school year in the classroom, she chose to spend her days in front of the Swedish parliament leading up to an early September election. Her School Strike for Climate along with an essay she wrote a few months earlier, led to invitations to speak at events across Europe and subsequently, around the world. She has called for Sweden and others to reduce their carbon emissions by 80% in the next decade.

This young woman has been recognized by many organizations globally and has received a number of awards. She has spoken to audiences around the world, a fact made even more striking given her Asperger’s diagnosis. In many ways I want to applaud the voice of a young person who has such incredible convictions. Yet she seems to have bought into a message that is devoid of a biblical worldview. Greta believes that humanity is facing an existential crisis due to climate change. In September she stated “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.”

So… I wonder what Jesus would say to Greta.

Recently we sang, “This is My Father’s World” on a high school retreat, and I immediately thought of Greta Thunberg. The hymn was originally published as a poem in 1901 after the death of its author the Rev. Maltbie Davenport Babcock, then set to music in 1915 by Franklin L. Sheppard, a close friend of Babcock. Interestingly the tune’s first seven notes were used in the theme song for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. So in an unexpected way, the old hymn is familiar to this generation of environmentally concerned students.

Written as a reflection on Genesis 1:1, the lyrics are saturated with imagery that we find explicit in the Psalms and implied throughout Scripture. The sovereignty of God is expressed, giving comfort to all concerned for the planet. The hymn speaks of the justice of God giving hope to the anxious or sad. Apparently Maltbie (who wrote the poem) would tell his wife upon departing for a long walk that he was going “to see his Father’s world.”

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—

His hand the wonders wrought.

Reflecting on these words makes me want to challenge students to think through a biblical theology of creation. I want to help them internalize a worldview that challenges the narrative of today’s global warming alarmism. By that I am not disregarding concerns for the environment but challenging the idea that we have perhaps a dozen years before the planet will be uninhabitable.

We want students to understand, as this hymn expresses, the truth of Genesis 1:1 that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God existed before creation and is not dependent on creation. God’s being Creator of life means that we are ultimately accountable to Him.

This is my Father’s world:

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

Psalms 8, 24, 95, 96 & 104 assert that God is in control as both Creator and Sustainer of life. We are called in these psalms to worship and praise Him for this. Isaiah 42:5 and Job 12:7-10 also clearly communicate to us that God is in control of the planet and its inhabitants.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

We know from John 1:3-5 that God works through Christ to redeem all of humankind and the world we live in. God’s creation reveals enough of His nature and work that we are without excuse in regards to knowing of his existence (Romans 1:20).

This is my Father’s world:

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the Ruler yet.

If Greta were to embrace this song and its theology, she might not be so alarmed by those scientists who have persuaded her that the earth will perish in our lifetime. This would be a massive paradigm shift. A sovereign God will not allow mass extinction of His creation. Humanity is incapable of overturning His rule! Instead, God has invited His image-bearers to join Him in caring for the planet; but its continued existence is up to Him, not to us.

In the face of the idea that the planet that will be uninhabitable by 2030, we have an opportunity to communicate a message of the redemptive narrative of God throughout Scripture. This story invites us to be stewards of the planet until Jesus returns in glory to make it all new.

This is my Father’s world

The battle is not done

Jesus who died shall be satisfied

And earth and heaven be one

I can’t actually imagine Jesus quoting a hymn in response to Greta, especially if she is not familiar with it. Yet he would certainly communicate the truths expressed in “This is My Father’s World.” A worldview based on the gospel of grace is one in which hope replaces despair. It is one in which justice is seen to be in God’s hands, not ours. And while Christians should work for better stewardship of the planet, we do not do so out of despair but rather out of hopeful care. Our response to a loving God is caring for all of His creation.

This is my Father’s world:

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let earth be glad!

Questions for Further Study with Teenagers:

  • What do we find in Psalms 8, 24, 95, 96 & 104 that suggests God is in control as Creator and Sustainer of life? How are we encouraged to respond to that reality?
  • What do Isaiah 42:5 and Job 12:7-10 tell us about God’s being in control of the planet and its inhabitants?
  • What does it mean that God is sovereign? What are the implications for us to consider about God’s being sovereign?
  • What does John 1:3-5 tell us about God’s working through Christ to redeem all of humankind and the world we live in?
  • What does Romans 1:20 tell us about creation revealing God’s nature and plan?

Dave Wright is the Coordinator for Student Ministries in the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. He previously served churches in suburban Chicago and Cheshire England. Dave has written extensively for a variety of youth ministry publications, contributed to The Gospel Coalition blog and authored a chapter in the book Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. He blogs occasionally at engagingeverygeneration.com.

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