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Image by Keith Hardy

HARVEST – DID YOU MARK IT BY CELEBRATION OR LAMENT?

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

This article was warmly commended for publication by: Sir Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon; Sir Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham; and Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland & Lonsdale;


Also by Professor Robert White FRS, University of Cambridge; Paul Cook, Head of Advocacy at the Christian Relief & Development Agency, Tearfund; Peter Shaw, Editor of Tear Times at Tearfund.


It was first published in The Church of England Newspaper, on 14 th October 2022, entitled “Remember to Celebrate harvest, but don’t forget the climate”. It appeared on page 10, but its presence was flagged up on the front page!


My grateful thanks to David Carey, the Editor, and his staff.


 

I was disappointed, indeed, dismayed, by a programme for Harvest last Autumn (2021), on BBC. It abounded in expressions of joy and gratitude for harvest, such as:


“Come, ye joyful people, come,

Raise the song of harvest-home!

All is safely gathered in,

Ere the winter storms begin, etc.”

(Henry Alford, 1810-1871)


“We plough the fields and scatter

The good seed on the ground,

But it is fed and watered

By God’s almighty hand, etc.”

(Matthias Claudius, 1740-1815)


And that was good and right, but the severe hunger stalking the lives of millions of our fellow human beings throughout the poorer countries didn’t get so much as a mention, and nor did the fact that climate change, for which we in the rich countries are mainly responsible, is a major contributory cause of the failure of their harvests. The latter is now “unequivocal” according to the latest report by the IPCC – i.e., beyond dispute, an established fact. This has been formally endorsed by 195 of the world’s governments

and its denial is as irrational (and reprehensible) as denying the causation of AIDS by HIV, or the damage to the ozone layer by CFCs.


Earlier in the year, my concern was to counter the claim, commonly and foolishly made by Christian leaders, that we can discount the truly alarming warnings which dominate informed comment on climate change on the basis of the promises to Noah in Genesis 9, namely that, "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, etc., will never cease", etc. I believe I effectively refuted the assumption that the promise to Noah was absolutely unconditional and undermined the pernicious complacency it fosters in


That was also good and right, but, nevertheless, it is important to assert and celebrate the ongoing faithfulness of God with respect to his ancient promise to Noah, which is the basis of the harvests we do enjoy – albeit that in many parts of Europe, the yields will be considerably down this year, probably due to the impact of climate change-induced drought, even here. Nevertheless, it is entirely appropriate, at this ‘Season of Creation’, for Christian believers to sing,


“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with Thee…

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest…

Join with all Nature in manifold witness,

To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”

Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960)


Entirely appropriate, because the seasons – “seedtime and harvest, etc.” – result most fundamentally from the continuing, regular orbit of the earth round the sun and the earth’s rotation about its axis, as also from the ‘miracles’ of germination, growth seed-setting, etc., and as Christians we trace their functions back to the one “who sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1.3) and in whom “all things hold together” (Col 1.17) – yes, even the Laws of Physics!


Nevertheless, in celebrating and giving thanks for the harvest, we should not forget that, right now, “Four years of failed harvests have left millions of people in East Africa on the brink of famine”, according to Ephraim Tsegay, from Tearfund’s East Africa Team. In this connection, the image of a little girl, Zewdie, comes to my mind:



"Zewdie Abayie’s eyes were swollen shut through malnutrition and her

delicate skin was no longer able to mask the skeleton beneath. Brushing

away flies from her face with a small twig, the little girl stood quietly as her

father, Tamirat, explained how three years of crop failure in Ethiopia had left

his family facing starvation. Pitiably, she attempted a smile for the

cameraman. "


(Text, courtesy Keith Ewing; Image, Jim Loring, Tearfund)


That was in the year 2000, but it came like a bolt from the blue when, reading up on climate science early in 2006, I found that global heating was “probably responsible for the drop in rainfall in Ethiopia since 1996” (Lord Robert May, President of the Royal Society). In other words, rich country pollution was probably already, back then, doing terrible damage to the world’s poor, and the situation has deteriorated further since that time. So in celebrating and giving thanks for the harvest, we should not forget ‘Little Zewdie’, nor the children without number experiencing similar suffering right now: “All we know is hunger,’ says ‘Akina’, aged 12, from Uganda. “When we sleep our stomachs are growling because we have not eaten for days.”


The World Food Programme (WFP) reported last year (https://www.wfp.org/stories/act-now-climate-crisis-or-millions-more-will-be-pushed-hunger-and-famine) that, "From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, extreme weather linked to climate change is causing misery and hunger for millions of people – 811 million are currently going hungry around the world, a figure that will balloon exponentially if the 196 countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015 do not fulfil their obligations."


In some places in Southern Madagascar, absolutely nothing is growing and people have been reduced to eating locusts and cactus leaves, the latter usually used only for cattle-feed, according to the UN. Now, “even the cactus are dying from the drought (https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103712)


So how should we view that promise to Noah in Genesis 9, that, "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, etc., will never cease", etc.? As I wrote previously, “No, of course the promise isn’t absolutely unconditional! No godly farmer, ancient or modern, would think he could stay in bed till lunch time and spend every afternoon fishing – and still expect God to provide a bountiful harvest!” It ‘goes without saying’ that there can be no harvest unless we sow and reap, for example. This assumed condition reminds us that we’re required to play our part in the fulfilment of the God’s promise and - this is crucial – it’s a consequence of the commission to humanity through Adam, to “work the earth and take care of it.” (Genesis 2, 15) So no work, no harvest! But there’s also the requirement to “take care” of the earth and this is also just common sense – no farmer would dream of thinking he could allow his fields to be used as a rubbish tip and still expect to reap a good harvest! So no care, no harvest either, particularly if we treat the world’s atmosphere as a global sewer into which we dump our carbon emissions!


So please do celebrate harvest, thanking God for his continuing faithfulness in accordance with his ancient promise – but also (1) grieve for the damage we have inflicted on God’s good creation; (2) repent of the many ways in which we are bringing ruin on the world’s poor and vulnerable; (3) encourage your church to do likewise, using the resources available from Eco Church, for example; and (4), most important of all, link up with and support one of those agencies (e.g., Cafod, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Christian Climate Action) that are in the forefront of calls for those in power to take urgent and vigorous action to avert the threatened climate catastrophe.



David W. Golding CBE PhD DSc DCL (d.w.golding@talk21.com)


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