It’s hard to ignore the current media frenzy around Greta Thunberg.
I find it frustrating, therefore, to come across those who are dismissing her views because – in the eyes of the law – she is still a child. There are those who believe that listening to Thunberg means that we have lost all respect for the wisdom of the older generation. However, I would argue that despite the increasing polarisation on social media, it is perfectly possible to value the opinions of both young and old, and that society needs to find a way to do this if it is to function well.
Climate change is an issue that affects all of us. While I believe that God is ultimately in charge of history, that doesn’t give me permission to ignore the damage being done to our planet. Furthermore, the people who will be most adversely affected by these issues are those who are already struggling with poverty and deprivation. It is estimated that rising sea levels will create over 18 million climate refugees in Bangladesh alone in the coming decades. As followers of Jesus, who came to “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), we cannot afford to remain indifferent to such crises.
It is natural to look to our leaders, both political and spiritual, to guide us at such times, and there are plenty of people of more mature years who are speaking out and/or taking action with regard to climate issues. But – and I write as a 50-something woman – it is dangerous to assume that any one group (or generation) has the monopoly on wisdom.
One of the things I love about the biblical narrative is that God often used the most unlikely individuals to fulfil his purposes. Some of these were well past the age where they should have been settling into a comfortable retirement, but others were barely past childhood. Mary is generally assumed to have been in her early teens when she gave birth to the Son of God, while Paul had to remind Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth (1 Timothy 4:12).
The older generation has much to offer the Church, and life experience can count for a lot. However, there is a significant caveat here: our wisdom and maturity depend on the extent to which we have sought to follow Jesus through our journey from childhood to middle-age (and beyond). Age does not automatically equate to wisdom, particularly if we have allowed ourselves to be side-tracked into prioritising other things over our spiritual growth.
It’s easy to become too comfortable: sometimes we need a prophetic voice to shake us out of our complacency. In the context of climate change, we can allow the busyness of day-to-day life – as well as a sense of impotence – to close our minds to the issues affecting our world, which is why I’m grateful for Greta Thunberg (and others) who are forcing us to face up to the crisis.
The Church needs to be a place where all are valued, and where we can listen to and learn from each other. Our opinions may change as we grow older, but we should never reach a position of thinking we have nothing more to discover. Humility is applauded as a virtue in scripture, and part of that is being willing to learn from others, whatever their age or standing. When I look at Greta Thunberg, I’m challenged to remember that I can make a difference…and surely, as Christians, that’s something we can all aspire to?
Fiona Lloyd is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers and is the author of The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum. She works part-time for a Christian charity.
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