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A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 8: The Unified Story of Scripture

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Some of the content of this post was anticipated in the previous one, when we looked at the consequences of sin as described in Genesis 3 and then saw how Revelation 21-22 show that, when Jesus returns, all of these consequences will be dealt with (including the curse that is placed on creation). Today, we are going to continue to spend time in these same areas of Scripture.

Before we do that, though, I want to reflect on the nature of Scripture itself: what is this book we have that we call “the Bible”? 

Well, first, we should probably point out that the Bible is not a book so much as it is a library of books. As we have it, it is a library of 66 books written over hundreds and hundreds of years by dozens of people.[1] Nevertheless, in the background, behind all of these human authors is the reality that Scripture is God-breathed:  in a way that we will never fully understand, the Holy Spirit worked in conjunction with humans to produce the Bible.



So, when I say that the Bible is a library of books, I don’t mean to say that because of that, it is hopelessly disjointed or contradictory; no: the Bible is a library of books all telling the same grand Story. 

And we need to come to that Story on its own terms.[2]

When asked what the Bible is, many Christians would say something about it being an instruction manual for how to go to heaven when we die (ever heard the B.I.B.L.E. = “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth mnemonic device?). As we discussed in an earlier post, not only does the phrase “go to heaven” not appear anywhere in the Bible in relation to death, this also just doesn’t seem to be the grand Story that Genesis is introducing. Genesis doesn’t talk about going to heaven when we die, and there are only minimal instructions. Instead, it introduces a story about a good God who lovingly created a good world. He created humanity in His image and tasked them with overseeing and stewarding His creation. When humans disobeyed God and betrayed His trust, they were sent into exile, sin reigned in the world, and creation was tainted, but God did not give up on His people or His creation. Instead, God set a plan in place to redeem and restore humanity, and, indeed, all of creation.[3]

This is what you would expect from reading the first book of the Bible, and it’s what you get when you read the last book of the Bible. Even though Genesis and Revelation were written hundreds of years apart by different authors in different languages, when compared to one another they provide fitting bookends to the Scripture library.

(It would be of great benefit to read Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21-22 back-to-back before proceeding. Go ahead…I’ll wait.)

Creation and New Creation

Simply put, Genesis 1-3 describes the creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22 talks about the new creation of the new heavens and new earth.[4] 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 in 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 gold 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, and it is, in fact, the point of the Story of Scripture. God is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect the creation that was tainted by our sin. And when He does so, He will dwell with His people forever.


[1]When I say “as we have it,” I am not implying that there are missing books of the Bible or anything like that. Rather, this is a reflection of the fact the number 66 is a product of combining the New Testament to the Hebrew Bible, and counting the books of the Hebrew Bible differently (for example, originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were combined in one book, 1-2 Kings were one book, etc.).

[2]Beginning to read Scripture in this way, as a grand, overarching, and interconnected Story, was a game-changer for me. Rather than pulling verses (or even entire books!) out of context, they must be read in light of the Story that Scripture is telling. 

[3]See Wes McAdams, “7 Things I Noticed When I Read Genesis Today,” and “A Quick Summary of the Old Testament.” These posts come from a series in which Wes read entire books of the Bible in one sitting to better glean the broad themes and discern the Story that Scripture tells. I highly recommend the series and the book that came from it.

[4]Or, we could say, the “recreation of the renewed heavens and renewed earth.” This is not a theological point that I am simply asserting here; the whole series has pointed in this direction. And we see it here, in Revelation 21.5: Jesus does not say, “I am making all new things”; He says, “I am making all things new.” This is renewal language: the point of Revelation 21-22 is that God is performing an epic makeover. Certainly, absolutely, things are different, but there are clear and repeated points of continuity to what was before.

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 2: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Last week, I began the process of scoring and ranking C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia.

I am scoring each book using a rubric with four different categories: story, characters, worldcraft, and theology. For each category, I will provide a subscore of 1-10, yielding a cumulative maximum score of 40 points.

In the first post, I ranked The Magician’s Nephew, and explained that I would be following the chronological order of the books (even though I don’t consider that to be the best order in which to read the books), which means that this week, I will be ranking The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (or LWW).

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This is from a series of brilliant Narnia cover designs by Jeffrey Nguyen

Story

This is the book that started it all, introducing us to the world of Narnia and the Pevensie children. Despite this, the book doesn’t get bogged down in introductory material—Lucy is already in Narnia before the end of the first chapter, and the character of the White Witch and the menace she represents has already been revealed in chapter two.

It then takes a few chapters to get the rest of the Pevensie children into Narnia (including Edmund’s misadventure where he meets the Witch and becomes her ally), where they soon meet Mr. Beaver, who tells them:

They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed. (74)

This simple statement represents a key plot device in LWW: the building anticipation of the arrival of Aslan, who will not actually appear for several more chapters.[1] In the meantime, several signs begin to indicate that the Witch’s icy hold on Narnia is weakening.

Once Aslan does arrive, things move quickly: in a retelling of the biblical story, Aslan willingly gives himself to the Witch in order to redeem the treacherous Edmund. His mane is cut off in shameful fashion, and then he is killed by the Witch, who assumes that she has been victorious. But…Aslan returns to life. I will reflect on this further in the theology section below, but for me, this is a phenomenal retelling of the gospel story. I didn’t read the Narnia books as a child, so I am not sure what my reaction would have been there, but as a college student, this series of events brought me to tears and, then, to praise.

Following his resurrection, Aslan the Pevensie children, and the Narnians loyal to him quickly overwhelm the Witch and her forces. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are enthroned as kings and queens of Narnia, and “live happily ever after” for many years before returning home to England.

Story: 9/10

Characters

The main characters of LWW are the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, and despite the fact that they frequently have to share the stage with one another, each is well developed. Peter is the big brother, a natural leader who is courageous and looks out for his siblings, but can be stubborn at times. Susan is practical, motherly, and gentle, but tends to boss around her siblings. Edmund comes across as churlish and selfish, while ultimately manifesting great potential for growth and change. Lucy, the youngest of all, is most faithful in her devotion to Aslan and possesses great bravery herself, but is also somewhat naive.

The Professor (Digory Kirke from The Magician’s Nephew) plays a minor but important role in LWW, as it is his house where the Pevensies are staying when they encounter the wardrobe that serves as a portal to Narnia, and his encouragement that opens the older Pevensie children to the possibility of other worlds.

Upon entering Narnia, Lucy encounters Mr. Tumnus the Faun, with whom she establishes a quick and deep bond. Tumnus features in the story mainly to introduce us to the White Witch and the power she has exerted over Narnia. The fear and sense of dread that this produces increases when the children return and find Mr. Tumnus missing and his home destroyed.

Mr. and Mrs. Beaver serve to guide the four children in Narnia, to keep them safe from the White Witch, and, ultimately, lead them to Aslan. It is they who provide some of the most famous dialogue about Aslan:

“Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (86)

The White Witch, Jadis, Queen of Charn in The Magician’s Nephew, is the villainess of Narnia. When we meet her in LWW, she has held Narnia in a 100-year reign of terror, characterized by a never-ending winter. Compared to her appearance in MN, the White Witch is significantly more frightening in LWW: she is cruel, manipulative, and powerful, and no longer is she on her own—now in control of Narnia, she has amassed her own wicked army to support her. When, in exchange for Edmund’s freedom, she captures and kills Aslan, it seems that all hope is lost.

As mentioned previously, much of the plot of LWW revolves around the anticipation of the appearance of Aslan, which is forecasted fairly early on by Mr. Beaver, but does not come to fruition until many chapters later. His portrayal here is even better than in MN. He is mysterious, powerful, forgiving, severe, and wise. He is not safe, but he is good. Lewis repeatedly insisted that LWW was not an allegory, but Aslan is clearly a Christ-figure,[2] and, from my perspective, the Aslanic depiction of Jesus in LWW is as good as any interpretation I have seen outside of the gospels themselves.

Characters: 9.5/10

Worldcraft

In MN, we are given a picture of Narnia at its inception, but that picture is fleshed out more fully in LWW. When Lucy first enters Narnia, it is covered in snow, frozen in the curse of the Witch’s 100-year winter. This unending winter is the dominant feature of Narnia in LWW, and is a powerful metaphor for the Witch herself: while Aslan, full of creative vitality, sings worlds into existence and causes the onset of spring with His presence, the Witch is capable of none of this creative potential. All she can do is spread a cold lifelessness: we see this in the world of Charn in MN, the never-ending winter in LWW, and her preferred punishment of turning her enemies into frozen, lifeless statues. Her castle is cold, austere, and lifeless, and is a reflection of herself.

Edmund, the traitor who falls under the Witch’s influence, feels the cold keenly. He freezes while riding around with the Witch, and when he slinks away from the Beavers’ residence to report to her, it is an interminable, freezing journey.

For the other children, the cold is less of an ordeal. They seek refuge in the warm company of friends: Lucy with Mr. Tumnus, and then all the children (other than Edmund) enjoy their time in the Beavers’ home atop the dam. When they realize that Edmund has betrayed them, they begin their journey to meet Aslan at the Stone Table, but their journey is more pleasant than Edmund’s, as winter thaws all around them and spring emerges.

We are briefly introduced to the castle at Cair Pairavel and other aspects of the Narnian realm in the “happily ever after” portion of the narrative, but this is more of a footnote to the Narnia that comprises the majority of the tale.

Worldcraft: 8.5/10

Theology

LWW is an enjoyable book, but it is in this category that it truly shines. Of course, it is set up to do so, since its theological focus is on the crucifixion and resurrection,[3] but there are so many good theological elements throughout.

I already mentioned above the famous quotation about Aslan being good but not safe, which is a powerful reminder to Christians about the God that we serve. We live in a moment in history where safety and protection are valued so highly that I think it is important to remember that Scripture consistently reflects a God who is not “safe” and who calls us to follow Him regardless of what risks may come. This is part of the cost of discipleship.

A related idea occurs near the end of the book, and is also stated by Mr. Beaver (Mr. Beaver proves to be an excellent theologian):

But amid all these rejoicings Aslan himself quietly slipped away. And when the Kings and Queens noticed that he wasn’t there they said nothing about it. For Mr. Beaver had warned them, “He’ll be coming and going,” he had said. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down—and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” (200)

God often shows up in unexpected and unpredictable ways. At times we seek to domesticate Him and clearly delineate what He will and will not do, and the ways He will and will not act, but His ways are higher than our ways. And that is a very good thing: a domesticated God would not be worth serving.

The character of Edmund and his interaction with the Witch and with Aslan offers profound theological insight. Initially, Edmund sides with the evil Witch and disaster is the result. He craves the Witch’s Turkish Delight and enjoys eating it while he has it, but as soon as it is gone, he is unsatisfied. He is left feeling sticky and sick, but still wanting more. What a true picture of sin! Ultimately, Edmund is enslaved to the Witch, which is another very real picture of what sin does to us: it enslaves.

When Edmund comes to know Aslan for himself, it changes everything (including the way he views himself), and we have a powerful picture of God’s grace:

As soon as they had breakfasted they all went out, and there they saw Aslan and Edmund walking together in the dewy grass, apart from the rest of the court. There is no need to tell you (and no one ever heard) what Aslan was saying, but it was a conversation which Edmund never forgot. As the others drew nearer Aslan turned to meet them, bringing Edmund with him.

“Here is your brother,” he said, “and—there is no need to talk to him about what is past.” (152-153)

“You have a traitor there, Aslan” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said. (p. 155)

Once we are in Christ, it no longer matters what accusations the Evil One hurls against us.

In his depiction of Aslan’s “crucifixion,” Lewis employs a Christus Victor[4] understanding of the atonement, where Jesus brings about God’s victory of Satan and the forces of evil. The cross is, in a sense, a sort of trap, where it appears that Jesus has been defeated, only to reveal His ultimate victory when He is raised from the dead. Aslan explains it like this:

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (178-79)

Other echoes of the gospel story are powerfully re-cast, from Susan and Lucy staying near to Aslan in a Gethsemane-like scene, to the shame Aslan endures as his mane is shaved, or the Stone Table being split open.

After Aslan’s resurrection, he reanimates a host of Narnians who had been turned to stone by the Witch, and then they join in the battle between the Witch’s army and the forces led by Peter. When Aslan enters the fray and confronts the Witch, he immediately overwhelms her. It’s not even close. This gives us another powerful reminder of a core belief of Christianity. God, through Jesus, overwhelmingly conquers Satan, sin, and death. Christianity is not a dualistic religion, where equally-weighted forces of good and evil are locked in a never-ending struggle. Satan is powerful, but God is all-powerful. It is not a close thing. This reality is foreshadowed earlier by a conversation between the Pevensie children and Mr. Beaver:

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.

“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver. “Why, don’t you know? He’s the king. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.”

“She won’t turn him into stone too?” said Edmund.

“What a simple thing to say!” answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh. “Turn him to stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she had do and more than I expect of her.” (85)

Theology: 10/10

A 37/40 is really high praise from me; if I were rating this book on somewhere like Amazon where I had to give 1 to 5 stars and could only choose whole numbers, it would unquestionably merit a 5-star rating. And, with a 10/10 in the Theology category, LWW earned one of only two Perfect 10’s that I awarded to any of the books.


[1]The way that Aslan is introduced and then anticipated in LWW is one of several reasons why it should be read first, rather than The Magician’s Nephew (MN). It makes no sense to introduce Aslan to readers in this way if they have already read MN, and the introduction he receives in MN is inadequate if you don’t already know who he is.

[2]In Lewis’s own words: “If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’”

[3]Paul Ford, Companion to Narnia: Revised Edition (San Franciso: HarperCollins, 2005): 6.

[4]For an excellent read on atonement theories (including Christus Victor) in LWW, see Matt Mikalotos, “Why Did Aslan Have to Die? Theories of Atonement in Narnia.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 7: Sin’s Consequences and Remedy

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

Last week, we looked at some New Testament texts that point to the idea of cosmic redemption—when Jesus returns, it’s not just faithful men and women who are going to be “saved”; in some sense, the redemptive work of Jesus reaches beyond humanity to the rest of creation as well. We looked at several passages that are frequently overlooked, but together, they present a fairly consistent message: God’s salvation is restorative and holistic. It is restorative in that it fixes what went wrong with creation, and it is holistic in that God intends to restore “all things” in heaven and on earth, including our bodies and creation itself.[1]

In this post, we are going to look at a similar idea, but we’re going to go about it in a different way: we’re going to examine how Genesis 3 describes the far-reaching consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, and then look at what God is going to do to address those consequences. 

Here is the basic premise, the underlying questions that we want to consider:

  • Do we believe that God, through Jesus, is going to overcome and defeat sin?
  • If so, shouldn’t that mean that whatever God does to overcome and defeat sin should address all of the different types of consequences that sin produces?



Sin’s Far-Reaching Consequences

Genesis 3 is going to be central for our thinking in this post, but really, we shouldn’t just drop down into Genesis 3, because the story actually begins in Genesis 1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and we have an account of what was created on each day. On the sixth day, God creates humanity. And everything God creates He calls good.

Humanity is special: God creates humans, male and female, in His own image, and gives them a task. Humans are supposed to rule over and take care of creation. This was the plan: God has created this wonderful place where humans can live, and where God can also dwell in relationship with them.

But things go badly very quickly.

Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent (elsewhere in the Bible identified as Satan[2]) comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband and Adam violates the command of God as well.

Usually, when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.

Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly presented as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it in other words, sin breaks everything, and as a result, we live in a broken world.

Genesis 3 indicates that sin has theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences:[3]

  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked and are ashamed (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-24: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).

We will look at each of these categories individually in order to see how the Bible portrays sin as an incredibly serious problem. Sin is all-destroying.

The Theological Consequences of Sin

This category probably won’t require as much commentary as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.

Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God when they hear Him walking in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit, so we too are unfit to stand in the presence of a holy God. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.

In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we chase after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage! It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.

Sin destroys our relationship with God.

The Personal Consequences of Sin

Genesis 3 also describes personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). This aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.

What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed.[4] Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s image-bearers.

Basically, the process looks something like this:

  1. Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
  2. Sin distorts and destroys that relationship.
  3. Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
  4. We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.

Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, etc. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It is because deep down, we all feel like there is something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.

And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, these things might make you feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.

Sin destroys the way we look at ourselves.

The Sociological Consequences of Sin

Returning to our text in Genesis 3, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:

11 “[God] said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””

People were created to live in community with one another. Specifically, Eve was created to be the perfect counterpart for Adam (Genesis 2.18-25). But when God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, something very significant (and unfortunate) happens: the unity that had previously existed between Adam and Eve is disrupted as Adam immediately blames his wife for the sin that they had committed together.

This brings a conflict and disharmony between them that would be passed down and magnified over time (v.16), and we can see it unfold in the pages of Genesis—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the continually evil humanity of Genesis 6, the depraved society of Sodom and Gomorrah, the broken relationships between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and more. But the problems don’t stop there—this same conflict and disharmony continues to darken and distort our world today.

Our world is deeply flawed by sin, and this manifests itself everyday sociologically, as we treat one another in a wide array of horrible, messed up ways:

  • On an international level, nations wage war and kill because of conflict over ideology or resources.
  • Systemic evils such as poverty, abortion, racism, sex trafficking, government corruption, lotteries, and more stem from our exploitation of our neighbors in order that we might obtain our own selfish desires.
  • Horrific acts of incomprehensible violence fill our news cycles. Mass shootings at elementary schools, the use of passenger airliners as terrorist missiles, and bombings at marathon finish lines shock and dismay us and cause us to weep.
  • Our interpersonal relationships are a mess. Dishonesty, reckless ambition, and violence abound. The (supposedly) lifelong bonds of marriage are broken on a whim.

And the sum result: our society as a whole stagnates and decays, as people live lives marked by self-interest and fear of one another. The community for which we were created is broken.

Sin destroys our relationships with one another.

The Ecological Consequences of Sin

As mentioned above, we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden (at least, in the Christian circles in which I reside).[5]

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.

But, following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:

17 “And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been damaged as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies that have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, carelessness and consumptive greed leads to the extinction of plant and animal species, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.

Furthermore, there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22 (a text that we considered last week), Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

20 “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 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. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and, yes, global pandemics—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.[6]

It’s worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present along with his temptation toward evil, and the Garden of Eden needed to be tended and kept), but it does seem clear that that chaos was intensified following Adam and Eve’s sin by the curse that was placed on creation.[7] Adam and Eve are ultimately expelled from Eden, and outside of the Garden, creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.

Sin destroys our relationship with creation.

The Physical Consequences of Sin

As I mentioned earlier, when we talk about sin in the Garden and the Fall of Man, we tend to focus on the theological and physical consequences. We began by examining the theological fallout from Adam and Eve’s fateful actions, and we will conclude by looking at the physical ramifications.

God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they “would surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17; 3.3), and although they didn’t drop dead as soon as the fruit passed their lips, physical death did ultimately result as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and deprived of access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3.22-23).

This development should provide some clarity to our thinking on death. Often, we talk about death being a “natural part of life,” but although death is a universal experience to humans, theologically, it is not “natural.” God created us as mortals with access to immortality in the Garden. Because of sin, that access was taken away and the reality of death came to be fundamental to human existence. No wonder that Paul can talk of death as an “enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15.26: death is not a part of the existence that God desired for us! It is a result of sin and it belongs to the realm of Satan.

Outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) are subjected to the futility of mortality. We have mutations in our DNA that lead to horrible diseases, we get sick because our immune systems don’t perfectly protect us, we grow old and weak, and ultimately, we die.

Sin leads to physical death.

The Remedy to Sin’s Consequences

As you can see, sin is like a pervasive cancer, a sickness spreading throughout the world that causes damage and devastation in all sorts of ways. The consequences of sin certainly include separation from God and physical death, but they are much more widespread and far-reaching than just that.

Going back to something I said at the beginning:

  • Do we believe that God, through Jesus, is going to overcome and defeat sin?
  • If so, shouldn’t that mean that whatever God does to overcome and defeat sin should address all of the different types of consequences that sin produces?

And thus, the main point of this post: if sin is this widespread, then the remedy for sin must also be this widespread.

Otherwise, sin is not overcome. God does not defeat it. God does not win.

Now, I don’t think we always do a good job talking about all these different consequences of sin, and we  also struggle to talk about how God, through Christ, fully and systematically defeats sin. But the Bible actually gives us a picture of how, in the end, all of these consequences of sin are undone:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And 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. 4 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.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Revelation 21.1-5)

Revelation 21.1-5 (and really, all of Revelation 21-22) is a major passage that reinforces the NHNE perspective that we have been examining in this series. We are not going to examine it in detail in the post, and we will continue to touch on it in coming weeks, but you will notice in the few verses above that there are several ideas present that we have discussed previously:

  • The language of “a new heaven and a new earth”; our eternal location is not described as “heaven”
  • The holy city, new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven
  • It is described as “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (remember, “I go to prepare a place for you”)
  • God will dwell/tabernacle with His people, as He has done throughout the biblical story
  • The One on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He doesn’t say, “Behold, I am making all new things.” See the difference?

But what does this passage and the wider context of Revelation 21-22 have to say about the defeat of sin? If we look closely, we can see that this portrayal of the New Heaven and New Earth clearly announces a solution to the widespread effects of sin.

The Remedy to the Theological Consequences

3 And 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.

(Revelation 21.3)

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

(Revelation 21. 22-27)

The relationship between God and humanity has been restored. God dwells eternally with His people.

The Remedy to the Personal Consequences

4 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.”

(Revelation 21.4)

No longer will we feel shame and revulsion about ourselves. The crying and the pain will have passed away.

The Remedy to the Sociological Consequences

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

(Revelation 22.1-2)

The removal of our crying and pain (21.4) obviously has implications for our sociological strife as well, but 22.1-2 goes even further: the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations. No longer will nation war against nation, or brother against brother.

The Remedy to the Ecological Consequences

3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

(Revelation 22.3)

After a discussion of the new creation, with the river of the water of life and the tree of life with its fruit and healing leaves (22.1-2), we are told that there will no longer be anything accursed. The curse that set creation in bondage is no more. Creation has been redeemed, and has obtained “the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8).

The Remedy to the Physical Consequences

5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

(Revelation 22.5)

Death has been removed from existence. God’s people will live and reign with Him eternally.

Conclusion: Does God Defeat Sin…Or Not?

The biblical narrative describes a pervasive sin problem that affects every aspect of existence, but it also provides a conclusion to the story where every consequence of sin has been overcome, including the curse placed upon creation.

Renewed eschatology adequately addresses all of the different consequences of sin that Scripture describes, but on the other hand, I simply do not see how the traditional understanding, where God’s good creation is destroyed and thrown away, does. If sin damages creation itself, then the remedy for sin must fix creation; it cannot simply destroy it.

A creation that is destroyed is simply not what the biblical story anticipates. It is a result that allows the power of sin to remain unvanquished.

But, thankfully, Scripture assures us of a different outcome: God does win, sin is defeated, and all of its consequences are put to rights. Our relationship with God is restored, our shame is taken away, we are enabled to live in harmony with one another, creation is renewed, and we dwell with our Creator for eternity.

Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.


[1]Or, to put it in terms we hear frequently, salvation is not just about saving human “souls.”

[2]See Revelation 12.9. Some argue that when Satan is identified as the “ancient serpent” in Revelation 12.9, this is a reference to Leviathan, the chaos monster of various Ancient Near Eastern texts (including the Book of Job), rather than the serpent of Genesis 3, who (according to this view) is just another of God’s animal creations.

I struggle with this argument. While not denying the importance of the chaos monster in ANE thought, I am not convinced that this archetype would be more prevalent in the minds of John’s first-century audience than the serpent of Genesis 3. Furthermore, the serpent of Genesis 3 is clearly an element of chaos! He brings disruption and distortion into God’s good creation. With that in mind, it seems possible to me that this is a case of both/and rather than either/or: Satan is a chaotic, malevolent force that seeks to disrupt the order that God built into His creation. We see this in Genesis 3.

[3]These thoughts on the widespread devastation of sin are based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.

[4]It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.

[5]It is probably more accurate to say that different segments of Christianity emphasize these various types of consequences to different degrees. For example, more progressive Christians spend a great deal of energy addressing issues like racism and the environment (sociological and ecological consequences), while more conservative Christians tend to focus less on such issues. On the other hand, conservative Christians are more likely to focus on sinful behaviors (theological consequences) than their progressive counterparts.

From where I sit, we would all do well to acknowledge the widespread devastation of sin, and seek to address it in all of its forms. 

Speaking as a theologically conservative Christian, I think the general neglect of the ecological consequences of sin is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. The sad reality is that, all too often, discussion of creation care is dismissed as a political idea (specifically a politically liberal idea), despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clear biblical principle! We must do better.

[6]If my thinking on this is correct, then it also stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”.

God is sovereign and can bring judgment in any way He chooses, but it is incredibly presumptuous for humans to proclaim what God is doing when such has not been revealed. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, and while God can use these events to accomplish His purposes, it is theological malpractice to rush in when such an event occurs to declare why God supposedly brought it about.

[7] For more on this, see “Creation, Chaos, and Suffering”, in which I interact with the views of Terence E. Fretheim in Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters.

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia

COVID-19 has brought all sorts of challenges, but one benefit that it has brought to me is that I have gotten a lot of reading done during my time of sheltering-in-place (I believe I have completed 18 books in the 60+ days that we have been isolated at home). One particular highlight is that I have been able to re-read the seven volumes of C.S. Lewis’s classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia.

I did not grow up reading Narnia, and it wasn’t until the influence of some friends in college that I read it for the first time. I really liked the series, but it had been over a decade since I had read it and I decided it was time to do so again. Not only has it been an enjoyable experience, but it also has struck me as very appropriate reading for the anxiety-filled time of global pandemic: not only does the fantastic world of Narnia offer some imaginative escape at a time when actual travel is not possible, but the centrality of the character of Aslan serves as a theological reminder that Jesus Christ is the focus of my life and the source of my hope at a time when it is easy to be distracted and dispirited.

As I re-read the series I also started debating with myself (and with friends) which of the Narnia books was best. It has always been a characteristic of my personality that I enjoy keeping records, rating, and ranking things, and so I decided it would be a fun exercise to do so with Narnia. Ranking books is an inherently subjective task, but to make my ranking a little bit less haphazard and arbitrary, I decided to develop a rubric in order to give my rankings some level of consistency.

Using this rubric, in this series, I will provide the definitive ranking of the Narnia books.[1]

The Rubric

After some reflection (and discussion with the aforementioned friends), I settled on four different categories in which I would grade each book: story, characters, worldcraft, and theology. For each category, I will provide a subscore of 1-10, yielding a cumulative maximum score of 40 points.

I do not claim that my rubric is perfect by any means, and it is not one that I would apply to just any book or set of books, but I think it works well for The Chronicles of Narnia:

  • Story: Simply put, how good is the story? Does the pacing of the plot make me want to keep reading, or do I have to plow through tedious pages? Is there a good mix of humor and heaviness, entertainment and poignancy?
  • Characters: Are the characters compelling, or are they shallow and lacking in depth? Do they grow and change throughout the narratives, or do they remain fixed and simplistic?
  • Worldcraft: Inherently, this is a series about another world, so how is the world of Narnia and its surrounding lands portrayed and developed? Are new locations described with passion and interest, or are they just treated as obstacles to plot development?
  • Theology: Building upon the last point, this is a series about another world that teaches us lessons about living in this one. It is a children’s series written by a brilliant theologian: what lessons does Lewis teach us about God, or about the life of following Jesus?

The Magician’s Nephew

This is from a series of brilliant Narnia cover designs by Jeffrey Nguyen

Having introduced the rubric, I’ll conclude this post by applying it to the first book in the series, The Magician’s Nephew:[2]

Story

Honestly, the story of The Magician’s Nephew is kind of rough. It is a classic prequel in the negative sense: you care about the story because you are already invested in the world in which it exists; if you actually read the prequel first, you wouldn’t understand what was so great about the series and may not even be inclined to continue.[3]

It seems like great pains are taken to explain things that really don’t need to be explained (like how a lamppost ended up in Narnia, or why the wardrobe is a doorway to it), while other unexplained items more central to the plot are introduced (like the origin of Uncle Andrew’s rings).

The plot is not particularly interesting or compelling. The pacing is slow, it feels like it takes forever for Digory and Polly to get to the other worlds, and once they do, what they find is not particularly exciting. The appearance of Jadis in England leads to a battle that is anticlimactic. Really, nothing very exciting happens until the founding of Narnia.

Story: 5/10

Characters

The main characters of The Magician’s Nephew are Digory Kirke (the old professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; hereafter referred to as LWW) and Polly Plummer. Digory is a fairly-well developed character: he is concerned about his sick mother and despises his wicked uncle. He craves adventure, and does not think highly of Polly when she doesn’t:

“It’s because you’re a girl. Girls never want to know anything but gossip and rot about people getting engaged.” (57)

Ultimately, that desire for adventure gets him in trouble, as he foolishly unleashes Jadis upon England and, ultimately, Narnia. But he owns up to his mistake and shows courage as he seeks to make amends.

Polly is less developed, and serves largely as a sidekick and somewhat of a foil to Digory. She shows prudence and also loyalty, sticking with Digory throughout his misadventures.

Though less of a focus, Uncle Andrew is a well-written character in his own right: at first, he appears impressive in his magical knowledge and frightening in his villainy, but as the book unfolds, we see that he is more of a selfish and doddering old man who dabbles in magic without understanding it, and less of a villain than he is a cowardly jerk. He is placed in sharp contrast to Jadis, Queen of Charn and the White Witch of LWW. She is the true villainess of The Magician’s Nephew, but honestly, she is less impressive and less developed here than in LWW.

Aslan, the Great Lion, is mysterious and exciting, and the most impressive actions and best lines of the book are largely reserved for him: we are struck by his power, wisdom, severity, and forgiveness.

Characters: 7/10

Worldcraft

The Magician’s Nephew transports us to two different worlds. Charn is the ancient and crumbling world of Queen Jadis, which she herself has destroyed. The description of the dying world prepares us for the twilight of Narnia in The Last Battle, and also, I think, the sort of cold, lifeless reality that Jadis will unleash upon Narnia in LWW.

We also are taken to Narnia at its creation and founding. Since the world is brand new, there is not much to explore in some ways, but the creation account, along with the origin of the talking animals and the life-infused ground that grows trees from anything dropped upon it (like lamppost bars or gold coins), is compelling.

Worldcraft: 7/10

Theology

I enjoy reading the Narnia books, but in many ways, I am here for the theology, and The Magician’s Nephew does not disappoint on this score. I thought the most significant instance of this was the creation account, where Aslan sings the world into existence. John 1 and Colossians 1 teach that Jesus is the agent of creation, and Aslan’s singing reminds us of Yahweh speaking everything into existence (Genesis 1), and the Word who was with God in the beginning (John 1).[4]

But there were other profound tidbits that Lewis sprinkled throughout the book. On God’s response to our suffering:

“They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.” (168)

On the importance of asking God for things:

“‘Wouldn’t [Aslan] know without being asked?’ said Polly.

‘I’ve no doubt he would,’ said the horse. ‘But I’ve a sort of idea that he likes to be asked.’” (178)

On the contentment that comes when we truly see Jesus:

“But he was in no danger of feeling conceited for he didn’t think about it at all now that he was face to face with Aslan. This time he found he could look straight into the Lion’s eyes. He had forgotten his troubles and felt absolutely content.” (197)

And Lewis also hints at his vision of hell and eternal punishment, which he develops further in The Last Battle and, especially, The Great Divorce:

“I cannot tell that to this old sinner, and I cannot comfort him either; he has made himself unable to hear my voice. If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!” (Aslan, 202-203)

“All get what they want. They do not always like it.” (Aslan, 208)

Theology: 8.5/10

A score of 27.5/40 basically comes out to 3.5 stars on a 5-star scale, which is not bad. That probably says something about The Chronicles of Narnia (or, at least, my opinion of them): to me, this is easily the worst of the seven books. I have not yet applied my rubric to the other six, but I expect those scores to be higher.

In the next post, we will examine the book that started it all: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


[1]Definitive, according to me.

[2]Some of you are probably screaming, “The Magician’s Nephew is not the first book in the series!” And I would totally agree with you. The first Narnia book Lewis wrote and published was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while The Magician’s Nephew was actually sixth. But The Magician’s Nephew is a prequel, and chronologically occurs first in the series.

I prefer reading The Chronicles of Narnia in the order in which they were published, but I am following the chronological order in this series because (1) this is, sadly, almost universally the way the books are published now, and (2) I think The Magician’s Nephew is the weakest book in the series, and this enables me to get it out of the way.

[3]This is very similar to The Phantom Menace in the Star Wars series. There are a lot of people out there who put up with The Phantom Menance because they were already Star Wars fans, but I cannot imagine that there are too many people out there who became Star Wars fans because of The Phantom Menace (in fact, most Star Wars fans I know try to forget that The Phantom Menace exists).

By the way, this is a really strong reason in my opinion why you shouldn’t read The Chronicles of Narnia in chronological order (at least, the first time you read them): because you might dislike The Magician’s Nephew and become discouraged from reading the other, superior books.

[4]I know there are debates about whether the Narnia books in general and LWW, in particular, should be read as allegories of the Christian story. I am not really interested in engaging those discussions, beyond saying this: it is clear that Aslan is a Christ-figure, and, thus, my comments in this series on the theology of The Chronicles of Narnia will look at what Aslan teaches us about Jesus.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 6: The Redemption of All Things

This post is part of an ongoing series. You can find links to all the posts here.

We have spent the last few posts examining passages that supposedly contradict the renewed earth perspective, and have seen that these texts don’t actually oppose that perspective. Indeed, they fit better with the NHNE view than with the traditional idea that this earth will be destroyed and that when Jesus comes, we will leave this earth and return to heaven with Him.

Today marks a shift in this series, as we begin to make positive arguments for the renewed earth perspective. In this post, in particular, we are going to be looking at several texts that teach cosmic redemption: God intends to redeem and restore all of creation, not just humans. 

The content and line of argumentation employed in this post rely significantly on J. Richard Middleton’s A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology.[1] We are going to look at several New Testament passages[2] that all describe God’s salvation in some sense, and with each passage, we are going to ask two questions:

  • How is salvation described in this passage?
  • What is the object or recipient of God’s salvation in this passage? Who or what gets saved?



Acts 3.19-21

Here, in context, Peter is preaching the Gospel outside the temple. He has told his audience (“Men of Israel”) that the God of their fathers has raised Jesus from the dead following HIs crucifixion, and that this was foretold by the mouths of the prophets.

19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

There is not a lot of detail in this passage and it is somewhat cryptic, but looking at our two questions, we can see the answers.

How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

Depending on your translation, Acts 3.21 says something like “universal restoration” or “restoring all the things.”[3] According to Peter, salvation is restorative in that it fixes what sin has broken, and it is also holistic in that it affects everything.[4]

Peter also says that God has talked about this through the mouth of the prophets. Later in this series, we will track the notion of cosmic redemption throughout Scripture, but it is worth keeping in mind that Peter says universal restoration is something that has been prophesied.

This is a brief text and perhaps a murky one, but I think it becomes clearer when it is placed beside some other statements in the New Testament.

Ephesians 1.3-10

Here, Paul discusses God’s plan of salvation and the spiritual blessings we have in Christ:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

This passage talks about our adoption into God’s family and the redemption and forgiveness we have made possible through Jesus Christ. And then, look specifically at verses 9-10: how is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

“Here salvation (God’s plan for the fullness of time) is understood as gathering up or unifying in Christ that which has been fragmented (or perhaps alienated) through sin.”[5]

So again, we see salvation described in restorative terms, and it is also holistic, because what will be saved? Paul is as explicit as he can be: “all things…things in heaven and on earth.” If you think back to the first post in this series, we talked about heaven and earth as the biblical pairing that we see over and over again in Scripture (cf. Genesis 1.1).

Salvation will be as widespread as creation.

Colossians 1.15-20

This has been one of my favorite texts in the New Testament for several years. It is a magisterial text that elevates Jesus Christ as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. But it wasn’t until I considered it more closely that I saw how it also teaches cosmic redemption.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Look at verse 19-20 specifically: how is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

Salvation is described in terms of reconciliation, making peace between those who are at enmity with one another by removing the cause of the enmity between them: sin. So, again, we see salvation as restorative. 

As Christians, we tend to think of this in very individualistic terms: Jesus died for me. While that is certainly true, it’s not what this text emphasizes: the reconciliation made possible by Jesus is applied to “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”

This clearly refers to more than just humans:

  • Colossians 1.16: “all things…in heaven and on earth” were created through Jesus. 
  • Colossians 1.17: “all things” hold together in Him. 
  • Colossians 1.20: “All things, whether on earth or in heaven” will be reconciled in Him.

The same language is used in all three instances: what Jesus created, He also sustains and will redeem. Salvation is holistic. It is as wide as creation; it is cosmic in scope.

Romans 8.18-23

I like this passage a lot; I think it is really neat, and also weird. After talking about how those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God and fellow heirs with Christ, Paul launches into a series of thoughts about future glory:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 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. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

The background of this passage lies in the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the fact that a curse is placed on Creation itself because of human sin (v. 20; cf. Genesis 3.17-19). Because of human sin, creation has been “subjected to futility” and is under “bondage to decay”. Both the “whole creation” and “we ourselves” long for redemption.

How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

Salvation is described here as liberation—being set free from bondage—and also as redemption.  Again, this is restorative language. Furthermore, creation itself[6] is longing to be liberated, and we ourselves long for the redemption of our own bodies.[7] Salvation is about more than just us; it is holistic.

2 Peter 3.10-13

We will not spend much time on this passage because we covered it at length in a previous post. In context, Peter is giving a warning to those who scoff and think that judgment won’t come, and he tells them that indeed it will. Here, near the end of 2 Peter 3, he talks about how we should live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for the coming day of God (and of course, this is when “salvation” comes):

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

How is salvation described in this passage? Who or what gets saved?

We have studied this already: there is a process where “the earth and the works in it” will be disclosed or laid bare, and we talked about the idea of refining or purification by fire. Again, salvation is restorative.

Then, Peter says, a new heavens and a new earth will come about—not brand new, but a new version of what was before—salvation is holistic.

Putting It All Together

Here is a summary of what we have seen in the passages we have discussed:[8]

So, tying all this together, what can we conclude? In the words of Middleton:

“First, salvation is conceived not as God doing something completely new, but rather as redoing something, fixing or repairing what went wrong; this point is expressed in the language of restoration, reconciliation, renewal, and redemption found in these tests. Second, this restorative work is applied as holistically and comprehensively as possible, to all things in heaven and on earth, where the phrase “heaven and earth” is how Scripture typically designates the entire created order (with the earth understood as the distinctively human realm [Ps. 115:16]). The point is that the final salvific state envisioned in these five texts clearly contradicts an understanding of an immaterial, supramundane “heaven” as the ultimate dwelling place of the redeemed.”[9]

Scripture describes redemption in cosmic terms. It is restorative and holistic.


[1]J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014): 155-63.

[2]I am not attempting in this post (or even in this entire series) to examine every passage in Scripture that supports the notion of a renewed creation. In this post, we are looking at a certain kind of text that supports this idea of cosmic redemption. In future posts, we will trace this theme through Scripture in different ways, but there are some passages that we will not get to.

For example, in Matthew 5.5 Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Although this passage was not central to my own development on this topic, it is a verse that is frequently referenced in support of NHNE. For an excellent discussion of this passage, see Jacob Rutledge, “The Christian and Creation, Chapter 4: Jesus and the Restoration of All Things.”

[3]BDAG, 112, glosses this word, apokatastasis/αποκαταστασις as “restoration”, and suggests a meaning of “restoring everything to perfection or, as of stars in their orbits, to their starting points.”

As Middleton, 157 n.5, points out, this term does not refer to the ultimate salvation of all people. Cosmic redemption is not universalism. While Scripture teaches that God loves and will ultimately redeem His creation, it also teaches that God honors the choices of humans who reject His love and offer of redemption. Middleton, 207-09, covers this in more detail.

[4]The word here is the common Greek word, panta/παντα, which means “all”. Here, it appears in the neuter gender, which is what provides the translation “things.” So, “all things” is the more literal translation; “universal” is more interpretive, but seems sound.

[5]Middleton, 158.

[6]The Greek word for “creation” in this passage is ktisis/κτισις and refers simply to something that is created. Those seeking a different interpretation than what I offer above will occasionally try to argue that in this text, ktisis is referring to humans rather than other forms of creation (animals, plants, rocks, etc.). This interpretation cannot be correct.

BDAG, 573, acknowledges the dispute over the meaning of the word in this passage, but does state that it is usually “taken to mean the waiting of the whole creation below the human level (animate and inanimate).”

Jimmy Allen, Survey of Romans (Searcy, AR: 1973): 79, presses further, helpfully laying out why ktisis cannot refer to humans in this passage. First, it cannot refer to those who are in Christ, because a clear distinction is made between believers and ktisis in Romans 8.23 (“not only the creation, but we ourselves…”). Second, it cannot refer to those who are outside of Christ, because “unbelievers do not look forward to the revealing of God’s sons in glory nor will they obtain the glorious liberty of God’s children.”

[7]This is a reference to the resurrection and the glorious transformation of our bodies, which we will discuss at length in a later post.

[8] This chart is adapted from Middleton, 163.

[9] Ibid.

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