Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter. The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night. Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in mid-heaven, ‘Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!’
I used to avoid preaching about, or even reading, these parts of the book of Revelation. Why would anyone want to hear this tale of woe? What could it possibly offer us?
Then I started reading about climate change. The phenomena described in this passage are disturbingly similar to those currently being wrought by our addiction to fossil fuels – grass and trees burnt by wildfire; plants unable to survive; sea creatures dying at an alarming rate; fresh water becoming saline and acidified.
Now, I think that we should all be reading the book of Revelation. Not because it is a prediction of future events – I do not believe that the author foresaw climate change. But because this is the Bible’s tool to help us live through dire circumstances. If the Book of Revelation reflects the persecution of Christians by emperors like Nero, then their troubles, like ours, were of human origin.
Dear reader, you may well say ‘But you must offer people hope’. I agree – but false optimism is not hope. Saying “it will be alright in the end”, “technology will sort it out”, “perhaps it won’t be as bad as we fear” do not cut it. Saying “the climate has changed before and the planet is still here” ignores the fact that last time we had this much carbon in the atmosphere, humans did not exist and few mammals survived.
Revelation was not written to tip people into despair, but to bring hope – as we see in chapters 21 and 22. But that hope is offered by a writer who understands how bad things have become and how terrifying the next few years will be – and who believes that God is in the midst of it all. That is the kind of hope we need now. So – read on!
Creator God, we look at what is happening to your world and we can easily despair. We turn away and comfort ourselves with pipedreams of magical technology or bury our heads deep in the sand. Help us to be, like the author of Revelation, clear sighted about the realities of our world, willing to hear God’s call to repentance and change, and conscious of the judgement that Jesus will bring on our response. Amen.
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is Policy Officer for Cytun (Churches together in Wales) and a member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff