Anticipating the New Heavens and New Earth pt. 2
We are continuing to look at the distinctly Christian hope for eternity. We possess a hope that is rooted fully in the love, power, and wisdom of God to fix, not just workaround, all that has gone wrong with His good creation, a creation that sin and Satan have corrupted. We began by approaching this subject from a couple of different angles. First, if our ultimate hope is “merely” to be with God in heaven, in some disembodied state, attending an eternal worship service, why do the Biblical authors speak of something beyond this? Furthermore, why do those who are pictured in God’s presence before the throne still long for something more? If being with God in heaven is what it is all about, shouldn’t that be enough for them? (See yesterday’s article for a review of this discussion). We suggested that to work through this properly, we must go back to the beginning. If we begin with the prevalent but mistaken narrative that this earth and the things in it are inherently and irredeemably corrupted, we will long to escape from this world. This view is several millennia old going back at least to Plato, and has been prevalent in the western world ever since. Many of us, myself included, have held likely held on to some form of this whether we realize it or not. But the opening pages of the Bible remind us that when God created the world, it was good. Indeed, it was "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Corruption doesn’t enter the picture until Genesis chapter 3. Getting this order straight in our minds about what happened at the beginning of the story will have great implications on we expect the story to end.
Go back and read Genesis 1-2. God’s creation was beautiful, harmonious, and abundant. God delighted in all that He had made, especially humankind, the pinnacle of His creation. Humanity was made to reflect God, being made in or as His image, and as image-bearers, humanity was called to participate in God’s work of ruling over the created world all to the honor and glory of God. Endowed with this divine vocation and equipped with divinely given assistance, man and woman were to work in perfect harmony to grow both the garden through cultivation and humanity’s presence in it through procreation. Allow your mind to be captivated by the rich bounty of the garden. Imagine the teeming trees, the fruitful fields, the pleasant plains, and the gentle waters. Imagine work that brings only fulfillment and never disappointment. Projects that never go awry. Imagine, not so much the nakedness of the first man and woman, but what it represents. Freedom, vulnerability, unashamedness, harmony. Be taken in by the description of the garden. And then if you can, and this is really where our imaginations begin to be pressed beyond their limits, imagine what it would be like for God to come down and walk with you, talk with you, teach you about life, work, relationships, the world, Himself! This is the picture of what creation was in the beginning. Don’t you long to go back there? Before selfishness and stagnation, suffering, and separation? Before the theological, relational, anthropological, ethical mortal, and ecological brokenness of Genesis 3? For the realist, some might say cynic, the world we live in seems too far gone. There is nothing we can do to get back there. And I’d say they’re right to a large extent. Indeed, it seems like that door has been closed, never for us to open again (Gen. 3:24). But what about God? Could He bring us back there? Would He bring us back there?
As Christians, we are quick to affirm that God broke into this world in the person of Jesus to fix the theological brokenness and bridge the gap between Him and us. Indeed, our identity as the people of God is based on the fact that He has dealt with the sin that separated us from Him (Eph. 1:3-10; 2:1-6). Praise be to God for this! But God is not content just to deal with our past sins; He continues the work of sanctification to reverse the ethical brokenness of His people (1 Thess. 5:23-24). In doing so, God has also begun the work of remedying our anthropological brokenness or the brokenness of man by reshaping us into His image once again. We are endowed once more with a divine vocation of doing good works for His glory (Eph. 2:10, 4:24; Col. 3:10). But we must press further still because God has also set about to repair the relational brokenness that humanity experiences (Eph. 2:14-18; Col. 3:11). All of this is what we might describe as the new humanity, a new race of humanity recreated in the image of Christ (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28). This reality has begun to come to fruition in the life of the church and will be brought to completion on the last day. Now it is at this point that the perspective of the Christian hope ends for many. Or at the very least, anything beyond these is viewed as extraneous and therefore not an essential part of our hope (remember the “but wait there’s more” illustration from the infomercial which began this series of articles?). And yet, the early Christians were not content to speak only of God’s theological and anthropological victories or even His relational and ethical ones. Rather, they longed for and spoke at length about His physical/mortal and ecological victories. The full realization of their hope came in the “something more.” This is why Revelation 6 can picture souls who have gone to be in the presence of God in the heavenly throne room who are still unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The Christian hope is nothing short of God’s total and complete victory of sin and Satan. If God is genuine in His promise of victory and powerful enough to attain it (dare we question or doubt this?), then we should expect that everything that has been broken will be fixed, everything that is wrong will be made right. This includes, yes, our relationship with God, yes our proclivity to sin, yes our status and role as divine image-bearers, yes our relationships and ability to relate to others, and yes, even our bodies and the world itself. We are waiting for, longing for, hoping for cosmic redemption, that is, a redemption that is holistic and restorative. The story does not end with our spirits floating away to an eternal heavenly abode, escaping the horrors of this world and the brokenness of our bodies. No, the story ends with a new reality, a new creation, with newly transformed bodies, a reality which the Biblical writers refer to as the New Heavens and New Earth. (Isa. 11; 65-66; Ezek. 40-48; 1 Cor. 15; Rom. 8:18-23; 2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21-22). As we will see, this is nothing less than a return to the garden scene we marveled at earlier. Indeed, nothing less, but perhaps much, much more. This will be the subject of our next article.
To be continued...