The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation

Introduction: The Bible as Literature

I recently preached a sermon in which I was discussing literary techniques that we see in Scripture. Sometimes people read the Bible in a flat, wooden sort of way, almost like they were reading a police report or something similar, where all you have is a list of facts and no sort of interpretation.

I think that is unfortunate, because the Bible is really a library of books all telling the same grand Story, and within that library, there are various types or genres of literature, and different genres of literature need to be read in certain ways if we are to understand and apply them faithfully. Much could be written both about different types of literature that we see in the Bible—wisdom literature, history, ancient biography, prophecy, poetry, apocalypse, epistles, etc.—and also different types of literary devices that biblical authors used to tell their stories in more powerful ways.*

Examining either of those in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but one literary technique that I do want to focus on here is what I call echoing, or the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.

Creation and New Creation

One powerful example of echoing can be seen in a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. I shared this particular example in the sermon that I mentioned above, and considering the feedback I got from people who had never noticed these strong connections before, I thought it would be worth sharing here.

Simply put, in the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth  Genesis 1-3:

  • In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
  • In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
  • In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
  • In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
  • Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
  • Genesis 2.12 tells us that God and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
  • God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
  • Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
  • As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
  • Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.

There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.

In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point: the creation that God created good but that was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!


*When I discuss Scripture as literature or as story, I am not suggesting that these characteristics somehow diminish its truth. I believe the Bible relates the truest Story of all, but it is still told as story, and employs a variety of literary techniques in the telling of it.

Choosing to be Healthy

Over the last few years, I have become increasingly convicted that I need to channel more effort toward being healthier in my life. I began working out regularly a couple of years ago, and now, in addition to that, I also, count calories using my FitBit app. Since the beginning of the year, I have lost about ten pounds (while gaining significant strength), and I am hoping to continue to lose some of my remaining unhelpful weight.

A lot of people give me a hard time when they find out that I am doing this (“Why are you counting calories?”, “You don’t need to lose weight!”), which is completely fine, but after some reflection, I thought it might be helpful—both for my own processing and for others as well—to share reasons for why I am working so hard (and truly, it has been hard work for me) to be healthier.

I Care About Creation

The first reason is basically theological. Through various books and studies, I have increasingly come to place value on creation. Scripture teaches that God created all that is and called it good, and the overarching Story of Scripture is the tale of what God is doing to rescue and redeem what He has created (including, significantly, humanity).

The conviction that creation care matters has impacted me in multiple ways—increased care about recycling, taking the same water bottle to work everyday instead of drinking bottled water or using styrofoam cups, driving a hybrid car, etc. More recently, though, I have also realized that valuing creation also means valuing the physical body that God has given me: (1) it is valuable because God says it is, and (2) because it is a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.[1]

Religious people have long made arguments that practices like smoking, excessive drinking, and drug use should be avoided because they damage the body—the same principle easily applies in reverse for diet and exercise.

I Care About My Marriage

Caroline is a wonderful person. She is spiritually devout, supportive, intelligent, funny, caring, and beautiful. She is a wonderful mother to our kids, and she loves me unconditionally. I am blessed to have her in my life.

Because I love my wife, and because I care deeply about our relationship, I want to be in good physical shape. This enables me to have more physical energy to contribute around the house, and, frankly, it helps me to be more physically attractive to my wife.

I Care About My Kids

I have a 5-year old daughter (Kinsley) and an 8-month old son (Seth). I do not know what tomorrow brings, and I am not under the illusion that I can somehow control the future, but I know that my odds of sticking around long enough to see my children grow up are influenced by the way that I choose to live now.

In other words, if I want to be there for my kids tomorrow, then I need to try to be healthy today. Furthermore, Kinsley has a wide array of special needs, and she needs her Daddy to be physically strong enough to give her the care and support she requires.

I Care About How I Feel

A lot of times when we talk about ourselves, we might refer to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual components as if these were compartmentalized aspects of who we are as people that don’t really influence one another.

One thing that I have come to really appreciate only recently is how interconnected we are as people: God did not create us as disjointed entities, but as embodied persons. Our physical health (or lack thereof) can influence our emotional state; our mental health (or lack thereof) can have spiritual repercussions.

Put simply, I feel better about things when I am in good shape. I have more confidence, I am happier, and I think I am kinder to others as well.

I Care About My Hobbies

I started playing ultimate frisbee over 15 years ago, and I never could have predicted how much it would influence my life (or for how long). I still continue to play it regularly, and more than that, I actively train in order to play it better.

A lot of people cannot understand why a 33-year old husband, father, and minister would continue to devote so much time and energy to a hobby, but for me, it is a necessity: I carry a lot of stress in my life, and having an enjoyable physical outlet where I can expend energy and frustrations is an absolutely essential form of self-care. I enjoy playing more when I am actually good, and at my age, my ability to play well is directly linked to the shape I am in.

Conclusion

In my journey to being healthier, there is still room for improvement. I am not a particularly healthy eater (just because I consume fewer calories than I burn doesn’t mean the calories I take in are good calories!), and I know that I don’t get as much sleep as I should (I blame my 8-month old), but I have seen positive results from my efforts thus far, and that, combined with the reasons above, help motivate me to continue this course.


[1] In 1 Corinthians 6.12-20, Paul uses the fact that are bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit as an argument for why Christians should abstain from sexual immorality. I do not think that it does violence to the text to extend this principle to general care for our bodies since they are locations for the Spirit’s presence.

“Do Thy Work”

In my last post, I lamented the fact that so many Christians seem to be so unconcerned about seeking unity with other believers, despite this being something that Jesus Himself specifically prayed for.

This is something that frustrates me greatly, but to be honest, there are a lot of issues that frustrate me greatly which I face regularly as a minister:

  • Why does a particular parent seem less concerned about their child’s faith than am?
  • If Christians really believe what they claim to believe, why aren’t they more committed to Christ and His church?
  • How can people who have supposedly been following Jesus for decades be so immature and unChristian in the ways they deal with other people?
  • How can Christians get more stirred up about their political views than their faith? Related: why do so many American Christians seem to feel more loyalty toward America than Christ?
  • Why do we pick and choose which sinful behaviors we will address and condemn?

The list could go on and on; really, I just picked random problems as they occurred to me. When I focus on all of these problems and the way that they frustrate me, it can be exasperating: at times, I am tempted to throw up my hands and throw in the towel.

But then, I remember one of my favorite quotations from George MacDonald, the Scottish author, minister, and theologian:

“Heed not thy feeling; do thy work.”

In other words, the frustration I feel in response to these problems actually has no bearing on my own responsibility to do what I know that I have been called to do. I am to tend the garden in which God has planted me, take up my cross daily and follow Jesus, and seek to live out the behavior in my own life that I hope to see in the lives of others.

Jesus expresses a similar idea in John 21.18-22. He is speaking to Peter, and says:

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, “Follow Me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray You?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”

Jesus tells Peter that it really wasn’t his place to worry about what happened to the other disciple (probably John); Peter’s job was to follow Jesus.

Whether in ministry, or in life in general, there are many things that may bother me greatly. I may pray about those things, study and plan ways to address the problems, strive to teach others to live in better and more godly ways, etc. But ultimately, it is not my job to fix the world’s problems or feel depressed when I’m unable to do so; my job is to follow Jesus.

As He said to Peter, Jesus says to me: “What is that to you? You must follow Me.”

Answering Jesus’ Prayer: Unity Among Christians

When you write a blog that is primarily about ministry, biblical studies, and theology, you know from the beginning that you are really writing for a niche audience, as a lot of people are simply not interested in these topics. Today’s post perhaps may seem to be of even narrower focus, because I am going to address my own religious fellowship, but I would like to think that there are some worthy principles here whether you are a part of Churches of Christ or not.

In John 13-17, we have what is typically called the “Farewell Discourse” of Jesus. Knowing that He will soon be betrayed, arrested, and crucified, Jesus lays out some central teachings that He wants His disciples to hold onto after He is gone.

In one section in John 17, Jesus emphasizes the importance of unity among His followers, and prays to that effect:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

(John 17.20-23)

It is worth pointing out that in this section, Jesus suggests that unity among His followers is a key ingredient in the world believing that Jesus is who He says He is. The reality is that there is considerable disunity in the world today among those who claim to be followers of Jesus, and that, in fact, this is one reason that many nonbelievers do not believe.

As I have written about many times in this space, I work and worship within the context of Churches of Christ, which have historical roots in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement of the early 1800s. I will not digress too far into history right now, but I will note that the Restoration Movement came about as a means to achieve unity amongst believers in Jesus, and that it sought to do so by emphasizing the beliefs and practices of the early church as revealed in the pages of the New Testament. I think this is a laudable effort, and it resonates strongly with me.

What saddens me deeply, though, is how little I see the desire for unity in my religious fellowship today. I dislike using labels, but for the sake of ease, from the most conservative branch of our fellowship, I see little desire for unity at all. I see a great amount of concern for doctrinal accuracy (which is important and praiseworthy), but virtually no concern at all for working for unity with those who disagree. The basic attitude seems to be, “We can have unity if you change everything you believe and agree with me.” This is a problem.

On the other hand, from the most progressive branch of our fellowship, I see a great desire for unity with believers of other religious fellowships* (sometimes with very little regard for the beliefs and practices of those groups), but at the same time, from those same people, I see little desire for unity with their own brothers and sisters who are more conservative. Instead, what I frequently witness (in online discussion groups and blogs, primarily) is a thinly veiled disdain and condescension toward people whom they consider to be too stupid or too ignorant to really understand what Christianity is all about. The basic attitude seems to be, “We can have unity if you become more enlightened like me and shed your backward and childish beliefs.” This, too, is a problem.

As I have written before, I find myself somewhere in the middle: frustrated and uncomfortable with both extremes, and increasingly, feeling isolated from both. At times, it feels like a very lonely place to be.

But here is the deal: if Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, it must be pretty important, right? At many times and in many ways, we want God to answer our prayers; it seems remarkable to me that, here, we have the opportunity to answer His. Could it be any more clear that this is something we should give greater attention to?

I am not claiming that this is an easy process, but it at least has to start with my own desire to carry out Jesus’ prayer, and in my own life, to seek unity with other believers with whom I disagree, whether they are theologically to my right or to my left.


*I keep using the word “fellowship” to tacitly acknowledge the debate that continues to rage within Churches of Christ about whether or not “we” are a denomination, or simply the church that belongs to Christ. I do not intend to wade into that debate here; I will just acknowledge that “we” do a lot of things that look and sound very denominational, but that at the same time, most of “us” do not desire to be a man-made denomination, and are simply wanting to be the church we read about in the Bible.

Thoughts on The Shack

A decade ago or so, The Shack was a best-selling book. Millions of people read it, and many, many of those who did had strong opinions about it. For some, it was a wonder-working book, which offered healing for times of grief. For others, it was nothing short of heresy, portraying theologically dangerous ideas about the nature of God and salvation.

Fast forward ten years, and not much has changed: The Shack is now a blockbuster film, but the response to it has been largely the same: amazing or blasphemous. I have had people ask what I think about the story, and I have witnessed some of the discussion, and while I won’t try to convince you to love or hate The Shack, I would like to offer a third perspective.

My Story

I read The Shack for the first time in 2009, and when I did, I wasn’t impressed. There were some good elements to the story, and I found a few quotations that I liked, but I thought the book had major theological problems which were a big hang-up for me. If you’re interested, you can read a review I wrote back in 2009.

In the fall of 2014, I took a grad school class called Providence and Suffering, and The Shack was one of the texts that we were required to read for the class. Honestly, I was disappointed, because I had read the book before and largely dismissed it, and wasn’t thrilled to be reading it again. But I did read it again, and was surprised at what I found: the theological problems were still there, but they didn’t capture my focus in the same way. Instead, I read a powerful story of sin and suffering, and a God who loves us in spite of those things even when it feels like He doesn’t.

What changed between 2009 and 2014? It wasn’t that a new edition of the book came out that ironed out the theological difficulties; the text was the same. What changed was me.

When I read the book the first time, I was a 25 year-old minister who pretty much had it all figured out. In a lot of ways, I hadn’t experienced a whole lot in life, and I certainly hadn’t experienced any significant suffering. I “knew what the Bible taught,” was bothered by some of the finer theological points of the book, and basically, wrote it off.

When I read the book the second time, I was a 31-year old minister who had learned a lot in the intervening 5 1/2 years, and most of all, had learned that I absolutely did not have it all figured out. My wife and I had suffered through the heartbreak of miscarriage, and had been absolutely devastated by our beloved daughter’s diagnosis of a severe genetic condition that would greatly affect her life. I had learned much, much more about the Bible than I knew previously, and while my theological convictions remained (and, in fact, were deeper in many ways), I read the book in a completely different light. This time, I saw The Shack as an insightful and touching parable about suffering, and how God loves us in the midst of it.

Two Practical Considerations

Really, you can feel however you want to about The Shack, but here are some thoughts to consider:

The Shack is a parable; it is not a systematic theology. Parables are meant to make a point, but they are not meant to be pressed in their details. Even parables of Jesus can convey theologically inaccurate ideas if they are pressed in ways that they are not intended. If you go to The Shack looking for rigorous exposition of biblical theology, you are looking in the wrong place. That doesn’t mean The Shack is theologically perfect (it’s certainly not), but that’s also not its purpose.

Maybe The Shack is not for you. People are different, and that means that different things “speak” to different people differently (I wanted to see how many times I could use the word “different” in a sentence). If you are hung up on the theology, that’s fine; don’t read the book or watch the movie. But for some people, I think The Shack can be a powerful reminder that God cares for them deeply, even (especially?) in their suffering. I don’t think The Shack was for me the first time I read it; it was the second time.

So, those are my thoughts. Ultimately, I think there are a lot of more pressing issues for Christians to get riled up about than the orthodoxy of what is, in my opinion, a therapeutic parable. For my part, having read the book twice, I don’t feel a great need to see the movie (and honestly, am not eager about the emotional burden that I know will accompany my watching it), but I’ll probably catch it on Netflix in a couple years.

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