A reflection on Isaiah 24:4-6: Climate justice

By Tim Heishman

The following reflection was first published by the Church of the Brethren’s Southern Ohio and Kentucky District as an invitation to the district’s Climate Justice Workshops being held online each Thursday, 7-8:30 p.m. (Eastern time), through Nov. 12.

The next workshop on Nov. 5 features Nathan Hosler, director of the denomination’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, and Greg Hitzhusen, assistant professor of Professional Practice in Religion, Ecology, and Sustainability at the Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources. More information and a link to attend are at www.sodcob.org/events-wedge-details/632576/1604624400.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left” (Isaiah 24:4-6).

Isaiah levels a devastating judgement and condemnation of the people of his day for their destruction of the environment in Chapter 24:4-6. Even though this was written thousands of years ago it rings eerily familiar. Why have we not heeded Isaiah’s words? Why have we not learned from him? Today, we know that the level of destruction to our environment and climate now is vastly greater than it was in Isaiah’s time. It seems humans have always struggled to uphold their side of the covenant with God. The sin is the same, but now we have fossil fuels at our disposal and significantly more power to destroy God’s Earth.

As the scripture says, humans have broken laws, statutes, and covenants, which has led to the destruction of the environment and led to suffering for the inhabitants of the earth. While we will all suffer from the effects of climate change, if we haven’t already, the poor, persons of color, and the most vulnerable are already suffering and will suffer the most from the effects of climate change. They, unfortunately, have the least ability to adapt, because of the way our society is structured unjustly. For followers of Jesus, this should be especially disturbing to us because the Greatest Commandment is to love God and our neighbors. We also know that Jesus spent most of his time with the most vulnerable, “the least of these” (see Matthew 25).

This section of Isaiah is part of Isaiah’s judgement and condemnation of God’s people for their destruction of the environment. This particular passage of scripture doesn’t offer hope. As I read and studied it, I found myself yearning for some immediate hope. This text doesn’t offer hope. However, we know from the larger story of God’s relationship with humanity that there is always an opportunity to repent, to turn around, and to enter into a more life-giving relationship with God. Learning is one way to repent, which means, literally, to “turn around.” Are you willing to learn?

Come, as difficult as it may be, to hear Isaiah’s words of judgement. Come, as hard as it may be to hear the facts about what the human race has done in the modern day to this precious earth. Come, and be ready to turn around. Come, come out of love for your more vulnerable neighbors. Come, out of love for your children and grandchildren. Come, as an act of love for all of humanity. Come to understand and learn to love more deeply.

As I continue to think about hope in this situation of climate despair, I of course find hope from the knowledge that God will never leave us. But I also find hope from people like you who are willing to show up, to learn, and to act for climate justice. When we come together we can do far more than we can do alone. Communal repentance will lead to change and maybe something new and beautiful can begin with us, together.

— Tim Heishman is co-pastor of Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren in Kettering, Ohio.

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