Sep 28 2020

Heaven on Earth

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…”  Revelation 21:1

Recently I read N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  It was a challenging read in more ways than one.  Wright, one of the world’s top biblical scholars, calls into question many longstanding beliefs about life after death.  He argues that not enough attention has been given to the New Testament teaching that there will be a new earth one day and that believers will reside there.  Heaven and earth are joined together when believers experience their bodily resurrection.

Wright’s beliefs cause him to give the earth a greater role in eschatology (the doctrine of last things) than you typically find.  They also help make a strong case for environmental responsibility.  Pointing to Paul’s words in Romans 8 where it says the whole creation is waiting with “eager longing” not just for its own redemption, its liberation from corruption and decay, but for God’s children to be revealed, Wright says this includes “the unveiling of those redeemed humans through whose stewardship creation will at last be brought back into that wise order for which it was made.  And since Paul makes it quite clear that those who believe in Jesus Christ…are already God’s children, are already themselves saved, this stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future.  It must begin here and now.”  This, he says elsewhere, is in part implied when Christians pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Wright adds, “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.  It will last all the way into God’s new world.  In fact, it will be enhanced there.”

If we accept the fact that the earth plays a vital role in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, it reminds us that the world we live in is very important to God and should be important to us.  This affects how we live in and treat the world.  Wright says “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  It would seem that we may well play a role in God ushering in the “new earth.”  Wright goes on to say, “If it is true, as I have argued, that the whole world is now God’s holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced.  This is not an extra to the church’s mission.  It is central.”

I have long believed that environmental stewardship is a responsibility to be shared by all people of faith.  I found biblical basis for this primarily in the Book of Genesis.  It was not until reading N. T. Wright’s book that I saw God’s plan for the earth at the end of things as an additional source of motivation for caring for this planet.  One day we will reside on a “new earth.”  God will transform the earth so that we might abide here forever.  If Wright is correct, God’s plan for that transformation may well include us here and now.  Although it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this concept, I find it truly exciting.  What do you think?


Dec 2 2012

Eager Expectation

Today is the first day of Advent.  Advent is a word that means “coming.”  In the four weeks leading up to Christmas Christians will be asked to reflect on the coming of Jesus long ago and also on the fact that Scripture declares that he will one day come again.  We tend to place the most emphasis on the former but Advent calls us to remember both “comings.”  When I was a child I recall hearing preachers say that Jesus was coming back anytime now.  It was a message I heard often enough that I remember eventually coming to the conclusion that he sure was taking his time.  It’s not easy for children to wait.  I’m not sure it’s much easier for adults.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.”  Yes, waiting can be difficult, especially this time of the year.  Children will certainly be restless between now and Christmas.  For them it will be a long wait before the big day arrives and they get to open presents.  Advent is likewise difficult for us adults as we wait and wait and wait for Christ’s return.  This waiting can be as painful for us as it is for our kids waiting for Santa Claus to come.  But wait we must.

Interestingly enough, we do not wait alone.  The Bible indicates that all of Creation also awaits the coming of Christ.  In Romans 8 Paul talks about how “the creation waits in eager expectation” for the glory that will be revealed.  And there is good reason for Creation to wait in eager expectation.    In vs. 20-21 Paul writes, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In v. 22 Paul goes to add, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  This verse contains both bad news and good news.  The bad news is Creation suffers today.  It is in pain from the “bondage of decay” brought upon it by the sin of man.  In his commentary on the Book of Romans, Paul Achtemeier says, “If one wonders at the ‘mythology’ involved in earth’s suffering for human perversity, one can have its truth demonstrated in a quite literal way by seeing what humankind has done by way of the pollution of air and water and the thoughtless exploitation of the natural resources of the world in which we live.”  Considering how we have treated the earth and its resources, how could it not suffer?  How could it not eagerly long for restoration?

That leads to the good news.  Paul says creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth.”  Although pain is associated with childbirth the pain points to something better to come—the birth of a child.  Nature’s pain and eager expectation are important because they point to a better day and a better world to come.  Paul’s words in Romans 8 are all about hope, which happens to be the theme of the First Sunday of Advent.  For both humans and Creation the Bible points to a brighter and more glorious future.  Many churches today heard passages read from the Book of Isaiah.  This prophet, likewise, looked forward to a better day to come, a day when “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” (11:6)  One day there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” where all shall be as God intended.  That truly is something worth waiting for.

Yes, a better day is coming for both believers and Creation.  In the meantime, we are called by God to make the most of our time on this earth and one way we can do this is by being good stewards of God’s Creation.  There are lots of ways we can help nature suffer less in the here and now.  Considering how long nature has already waited, wouldn’t you agree that it’s past time we did something to help?


p.s. I came across a wonderful video a few days ago where “Blessed Earth’s” Matthew and Nancy Sleeth are interview by Tony Campolo and Shane Claibore.  I encourage you to take time to watch it.  Here’s the link: