Archives For New Creation

AppleI spent this weekend closely observing some of the effects of the fall of humanity. During our family vacation at my parents’ house, 6 out of 14 of us took ill (the youngest cousin started it all a couple days earlier). It wasn’t quite Vomigeddon, which involved my extended family in a tight cabin as all but 4 out of a group of 30+ got violently ill simultaneously. But this weekend was still awful—holding listless children, seeing my tough-as-nails mother and father brought down, and comforting my daughters as their once-eaten meals could no longer be tolerated by their upset stomachs.

As I sat holding my two year old, I started reflecting on the evils on the fall. Humanity chose sin over God, and every aspect of our world has suffered from the curse ever since. Thorns and thistles, animosity and illness, injury and death. As I held my bright and fun loving daughter, now miserable and mostly lifeless, I kept thinking: this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

God made a good world. No suffering, no pain, no sin, no brokenness. He promises to remake our world into a glorious new creation: death will be no more, he will wipe every tear away, he will dwell directly with us, replacing even the light of the sun and moon. God’s intention for this world is wholeness, peace, shalom. And yet every day of our existence between the Garden of Eden and the new heavens and new earth is touched by brokenness.

Yet even in the midst of this brokenness there is grace. As I held my girl, feeling her feverish body breathing in and out, I was comforted to think that her little body was fighting back. In a perfect world, there is no need for an immune system. Yet God has equipped us to live amidst the curse. We suffer, yes—sometimes more deeply than we could imagine. But my daughters breathed in and out, they suffered quietly, and God used their little bodies to fight against the illness and to bring them back to health.

Our experience of this world is altered by the curse, but this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Sin is a stain we see all around us, but it’s not the fabric itself. And God has not left this world to disintegrate. He is still fighting the sin, working against our self-destruction, transforming hearts and putting us to work in his fight against sin and its destruction. He entered this fight decisively when he died to give us life. He sent his Spirit to empower us for this ongoing battle. In big and small ways, God is taking this broken world and restoring wholeness.

God does not promise us health in this life. The most tragic stories end in debilitation and death. There are no words for those times when the fall takes those we love so dearly (and the fall takes everyone in the end). The hope we cling to in these moments is in Jesus’ resurrection, and the resurrection he promises to those who love him.

But as I held my daughters yesterday and saw the effects of their immune systems overcoming their illness, I was thankful for the grace of God. Thank God he has not left us in our mess. Thank God that “he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” Ultimately, God tells us that this world is crying out, desperately longing to partake in the redemption—the renewed wholeness—that he will ultimately bring as he removes the curse and recreates the world:

“…he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now…” (Romans 8:19–22)

Last week my firstborn son and I went kayaking for his twelfth birthday. For five hours, we enjoyed the beautiful Arkansas countryside. It is good for the human soul to bask in God’s creation. As we navigated through the rushing white waters and glided through calm pools, we noticed the Caddo River bedecked with stacks of turtles and the occasional crane. I couldn’t help but to feel continuity with

creation. But moments later a large pile of empty Pepsi cans, crumbled Lays Barbeque potato chip packages and other random bits of rubbish interrupted my musings. My awe at God’s creation erupted into anger at man’s pollution of it.

When I was twelve years old, I camped with a group of Christian men. As we were packing up to leave, someone asked whether we should pick up the litter. One of the leaders responded: “Nah, it’s all gonna burn anyhow.” His words were seared into my memory. What did he mean by “it was all going to burn”? I heard similar expressions throughout the next few years. I came to understand that this idea was based on their interpretation of passages in the Bible. God is going to burn the world to the ground. He is going to annihilate the earth and then replace it with a new version: Creation 2.0.

But this is not what Paul says in Romans 8.

“19The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (NIV)

In this passage the Apostle connects the current state of creation to Genesis 3 where God cursed the earth in response to Adam’s sin. You see, the history of sin is more than a human tragedy: it is a cosmic calamity. Therefore, according to Romans 8, God’s rescue mission is not merely for his children but also for his creation. Or, as my friend Eddie Adams puts it,  “salvation consists not so much in the rescue of human beings from a sinking ship, but in the recovery of the wayward vessel itself.” For this reason, the world waits—not to be destroyed but to be delivered. At the second coming, when the children of God appear, the earth will be renewed rather than replaced. And the world cannot wait. For at that time, in the words of Nietzsche,

“Nature, which never leaps, makes one leap, and that a leap of joy: for then it knows that at last and for the first time it has attained its goal.”

To be fair, I should say that Paul’s view of creation in Romans does cut against the grain of a common Jewish and Christian ideology that did expect a cataclysmic destruction of the earth. But in Romans, Paul does not subscribe to such a radical antithesis between the old world and the new. Instead, creation is to be redeemed, not redeemed from.”[1]

Despite the importance that Christians tend to place on Romans, I find it curious that many have tossed this view of creation onto the cutting room floor. Instead of saying, “it’s all gonna burn anyhow,” perhaps we should reconsider Romans 8, pick up our Pepsi cans and be stewards of our inheritance. But please do not misunderstand my point: this post is meant to be more than an anti-litter rant or Go-Green rally. It is an appeal for us to change the way we think about creation altogether, to know that, like us, nature is not hopeless. Over against the picture of an incinerator—the world in ash, I prefer that of labor and delivery—a new world that proceeds from the womb of the old.[2]



[1] James Dunn.

[2] Ibid.

 

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesOn Sin

Why do a series of blog posts on sin? So I can talk about the end of the story! Think about it. We spend every moment of our lives in a cursed world. The effects of sin are everywhere, from the pain that haunts us to the pollution in the air to the brokenness in our relationships. Every tear we shed, every unsatisfied longing we feel, every regret we entertain—sin surrounds us, threatens us, takes every opportunity to ruin that which God created to be good.

The world is not now as it is supposed to be. In the first pages of the Bible, we see a picture of our world. The world of Genesis 1-2 looks familiar, yet there’s something distorted about it—distorted in a good way! It’s a “good” version of our world. It’s difficult to read without a sense of loss and a longing for a place we’ve never visited but recognize as our true home.

“The Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan Van Eyck (1432)

The good news is that at the greatest possible cost to Himself, God has defeated sin through Jesus Christ! We experience substantial healing now, and receive the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to conquer sin in our lives and enables us to please God (see Rom. 8). Through the redemption that Jesus offers, we are called into the battle against sin and evil that God has been fighting from the very beginning. This battle is deadly serious, and even with God’s enabling power we will only just overcome in the end.

But there will come a day when we will step into eternity. The time is coming when our experience with the sin-stained world will come to an end and we will find the home we have always longed for in God’s new creation. John was given a vision of the end of the story, and what he saw resonates deeply in the heart of every Christian. He saw a picture of God’s new heavens and new earth. This new creation evokes the good creation of Genesis 1-2, yet things appear to be even more glorious in the end. When John sees the new creation, he records some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture:

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-5)

Think of every tear you’ve ever cried, and picture God Himself wiping those tears away, promising that you will never shed another tear. Think of all the ways that death has affected your life—from stories on the news, to family members passing away, to the fear of death that has hung over you like a dark cloud—and hear God’s declaration that death shall be no more. Think about all the pain you’ve experienced, whether personally or vicariously through those you care about. There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more crying. The former things will pass away. Everything will be made new.

Here is our glorious future. And the part that should sustain us more than any other is that “the dwelling place of God is with man.” He will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and God Himself will be with us as our God.

The story of sin has an amazing ending. In the beginning, God. Sin has affected much in the middle, but even then God’s plan of redemption has brought healing and victory in unbelievable ways. And then in the future, God. The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. But that day is coming.

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