Plant a Tree, Have a Baby, Build a House image

Plant a Tree, Have a Baby, Build a House

Martin Luther famously (although apocryphally) said that if he knew the world were ending tomorrow he would plant an apple tree today. Apocryphal or not, that saying could be the motto for the COP26 summit.

Even before it begins expectations for the summit are being ratcheted down: neither the Queen nor Xi Jinping in attendance, anticipated strikes on the railways and by refuse collectors, the impression that Boris has overpromised and will underdeliver. I was in Glasgow recently and there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm amongst the local population about the disruption COP26 is causing to their lives as large sections of the city are shut down. But we all know we should be following Luther’s advice and planting trees.

From an environmentalist perspective tree planting is about trying to stave off the end of the world. From a Christian perspective it is a statement of faith – which is why Luther’s statement makes sense and isn’t merely oxymoronic. Christians plant trees because we have faith, for today and tomorrow, regardless of whatever signs of gloom and doom we might be surrounded by.

It is future-oriented hope that enables the Christian to overcome existentialist fear. It means we invest in life. We plant trees, have babies, and build houses as statements of faith: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen…We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. It is future hope that provides us with the faith to invest in life now.

This is very different from the despair that afflicts a faith-less view of the world. As one writer anticipating COP26 expresses it,

If I have children, I can’t protect them. It’s that simple. I can’t protect them, not just from the amorphous dangers that have always kept parents awake, not even just from the severe and multifaceted effects of climate collapse, but also from the all-pervading dread that comes with the looming prospect of climate disaster, which drains every part of life and worsens by the year.

There is a certain logic to this argument: if the planet really is headed on an irreversible trajectory to environmental destruction than having babies is the worst thing we can do. (Of course, the nihilist flip side of this is also true: if we’re all doomed regardless we might as well feed, fight, and reproduce to our hearts content while we have the chance - less hair shirt, more long haul flights and champagne.) That logic can be challenged on rational and scientific grounds – even the most alarmist climate change predictions do not suggest that the planet will become uninhabitable: in economic and lifestyle terms we’re more likely to find ourselves in the equivalent of the 1970s than the 970s.

The response of faith, though, is much more positive than simply a weighing of possible climate outcomes. We have hope, now and forever. We believe! So we plant trees, have babies, and build houses. These are statements of faith, a prophetically lived demonstration of our confidence in the Lord to bless us and keep us.

Whenever the world might end, it’s always the right thing to plant a tree.


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