Climate Change Prayer

Climate Change Prayer

For the week of October 7, 2023 / 22 Tishri 5784

Message info over a dramatic stormy sky

Shemini Atzeret
Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17; B’midbar/Numbers 29:35 – 30:1
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 8:54-66

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (Divrei Hayamim Bet/2 Chronicles 7:14)

In the almost twenty-seven years that I have been producing TorahBytes, I almost never stray from the particular week’s Torah or Haftarah readings. As you will see, I am not straying too far this week in that the verse I quoted is related to the events of the Haftarah reading for the festival of Shemini Atzeret (the eighth day of solemn assembly), which marks the end of the autumn holy day season that began three weeks ago with Rosh Hashanah. Shemini Atzeret follows the seven days of Sukkot (Booths/Tabernacles). According to Torah, the people of Israel were to live in temporary dwellings (sukkot) for seven days, followed by an additional holy day back in their normal homes. Shemini Atzeret was to be treated as a sabbath day and featured special sacrifices.

The Haftarah reading for Shemini Atzeret is 1 Melachim/1 Kings 8:54-66, the end of the section of Scripture when Solomon dedicated the temple, which occurs on this specific holy day. The Second Book of Chronicles provides an expanded version of the temple’s dedication, including God’s words to Solomon immediately afterwards. In other words, the verse we are looking at is from God’s speaking to Solomon during the same occasion of the Haftarah reading for the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. And this is most relevant to us because it is a God given prayer for climate change.

First, let me be clear that whatever implications we may derive for our own day from this verse, we mustn’t forget that it is primarily a word to the people of Israel. Through all the challenges throughout the history of the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is this prescription that guarantees God’s forgiveness and restoration. At the same time, we discover here the very core of the climate change problem.

As for “the climate change problem,” I, like many others, am reticent to be too certain as to what it is exactly. Are we facing the end of life as we know it or is extreme weather simply part of the normal cycle of climate throughout history? Some would have us believe there is no climate issue at all. Perhaps, but simple observation suggests otherwise. And then, environmental issues aside, the world is in turmoil. Hitherto tolerant, pluralistic, democratic societies are becoming increasingly polarized to the point that the potential for civil war is increasing before our eyes.

Be it the environmental climate change or social climate change, God’s word to Solomon is the solution. God instructs his people through King Solomon that if and when they observe issues in their land, here’s what they were to do:

First, humble ourselves. Stop self-justifying and blaming others. Stop talking and start listening. Take the time to do personal inventory. Become teachable and correctable. Second, pray. Don’t just think about the problems at hand. Stop complaining and start petitioning the only one who can effectively bring about the needed transformation. Third, seek God’s face. This might be simply another way of referring to prayer, but it focuses that prayer on the one and only God. It’s not good enough to be vaguely spiritual. Only the God of Israel can make a difference. Also, to be directed to “seek” God, implies focused, ongoing prayer, rather than performing a superficial formulaic duty. Finally, turn from our wicked ways. As we go through the process of humbling ourselves, praying, and seeking God, we need to be ready for him to show us what’s wrong with us. As that occurs we need to take responsibility for our actions and change course.

If we do all of this, God is committed to take notice, forgive us, and bring about the needed environmental and social restoration. If this is true, much, if not all, of our efforts to treat the symptoms of climate change are misguided. I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to be better at taking care of God’s creation. We should always be open to how we can be better stewards of our beautiful planet. But if the problems are as dire as some say, we are fooling ourselves to think that we will fix them through taxes, electric cars, recycling, and so on. Focusing solely on human solutions will only result in making matters worse, not better.

Political leaders impose restrictions on us in an effort to fix the environment when the environmental problems are actually due to spiritual and moral failure. I don’t expect our governments to heed God’s word in this matter, but perhaps it’s time you and I did.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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