The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Eschatology (Page 1 of 4)

Ranking The Chronicles of Narnia, Part 7: The Last Battle

For a few months now, I have been ranking the different volumes of C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia. So far, I have covered The Magician’s NephewThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince CaspianThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair.

To evaluate each book, I am 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.

I have been 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 final Narnia book, The Last Battle (LB). I plan to write one additional post to conclude the series.

The Last Battle

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

Story

LB is the story of a coup d’état against Tirian, the last king of Narnia. Shift, a clever but wicked ape, comes across a lion skin floating in the water, and has his well-intentioned-but-dim-witted donkey companion Puzzle wear it and pretend to be Aslan, the Great Lion. “Aslan” is kept hidden away in a stable, Shift serves as his mouthpiece, and, in league with the Calormene warlord Rishda Tarkaan and the Talking Cat Ginger, deceives many of the Narnians into serving the Calormenes and cutting down Talking Trees for lumber.

Tirian and his friend Jewel, a unicorn, learn of the death of the Talking Trees and rush to intervene, ending up captured in the process. Shift and his compadres are now proclaiming the false message that Aslan and the Calormene god Tash are really one and the same (they begin referring to this syncretistic deity as “Tashlan”), and Tirian, seeing through the plot, calls out to Aslan for help. In response, Eustace and Jill (from VDT and SC) arrive in Narnia and, in quick succession, free the king and Jewel, and also find the hapless Aslan-impersonator Puzzle in the stable and allow him to join their company.

Things get worse for Tirian and his allies, as he learns that the Narnian army has been destroyed by invading Calormene troops and Cair Paravel has been taken. Worse still, they see the Calormene god Tash traveling north toward the stable, summoned unintentionally by Shift and Rishda. Driven by desperation, Tirian takes his small band of loyal followers to the stable to confront Shift and his associates and expose their deception. This sets up the climactic battle that gives LB its title: Narnians vs. Calormenes, the rightful king vs. the usurpers, Aslan vs. Tash.

To me, the primary weakness of LB’s storyline is that it just seems unthinkable that Shift’s simplistic plot could deceive so many Narnians and achieve such great success without Tirian having any clue what was going on until it was too late to do something about it. Lewis clearly needed a plot device to bring Narnia to its end, and although this particular one was somewhat unsatisfying, if you look beyond that, what remains is that LB is a poignant story of tragedy, beauty, and finally seeing the true nature of reality.

Story: 8/10

Characters

It seemed to me that there was a greater number of characters with significant roles in LB, and rather than try  to describe them all in detail, I will provide brief sketches of the different characters especially in the context of the groups in which they appear.

Tirian is the last king of Narnia, descendent of Caspian and Rilian. He is loyal to Aslan and loves his country, and although he is somewhat rash and hotheaded in his actions, he is also an excellent leader who shows courage, tactical skill, and concern for his allies. Of course, it should probably be mentioned that virtually the entirety of his subjects were fooled into supporting a coup d’état without his even being aware that it was happening, but there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that this is due to a character fault on Tirian’s part (which, as pointed out above, is a weakness in the plot). Tirian’s best friend is Jewel the unicorn, a brave and loyal ally and fearsome warrior, who, like Tirian, is faithful to Aslan and willing to fight to the death for Narnia. Farsight the eagle is another member of Tirian’s small band of followers, and provides vital intelligence in the book as a scout as well as useful air support during the climactic battle.

Shift the Ape, Rishda Tarkaan, and Ginger the Talking Cat form a sort of unholy trinity that collaborates to oppress the Narnian population, make possible the Calormene conquest of Narnia, and, as a result, usher in the end of the world. Shift appears first, a clever and ancient ape who, motivated by his greed and lust for power, maneuvers his simple-minded “friend” Puzzle the donkey into impersonating Aslan and then, with the authority gained as “Aslan’s” spokesman, manipulates the talking animals of Narnia into serving himself and the battalion of disguided Calormene troops who have snuck into Narnia. As the farce continues, Shift begins to drink and increasingly becomes less in charge, as he himself is manipulated by Rishda Tarkaan, the captain of the Calormene contingent, and Ginger, the cunning cat. Really, though, it is hard to distinguish between the three characters: all seem to be motivated by greed and self-interest, and have no devotion to speak of, either toward Aslan or Tash. In fact, it is their religious pragmatism that leads to the construction of “Tashlan”, a blasphemous abomination that ultimately brings negative consequences for all three.

It seems worthwhile to also mention the Dwarfs, who play an important role in the story and also illustrate a theme that has been woven throughout the Narnia books: they represent extreme self-interest. When the climactic battle between Tirian and his forces and the Calormene invaders ensues, the Dwarfs don’t take sides (with the notable exception of Poggin, who joins Tirian), and instead attack both parties, saying that “the Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs”. Tirian is disappointed by their lack of support, but again, this is a thread that has been woven throughout the chronicles: in LWWDwarfs aided the White Witch in exchange for power, and in PCNikabrik was willing to ally himself with anyone who would bring about the end the Dwarfs desired. The Dwarfs are not devoted to Aslan, but to their own self-interests.

“Friends of Narnia” is the description given to the humans who entered Narnia as children and rendered great aid to it in times past: Professor Digory Kirke, Polly Plummer, Peter Pevensie, Edmund Pevensie, Eustace Scrubb, and Jill Pole (sadly, Susan Pevensie is no longer a “friend of Narnia” and thus, is not present[1]). These friends appear to Tirian in a vision when he calls out to Aslan for assistance, and then later, Jill and Eustace appear to free Tirian and Jewel and join them in the last battle for Narnia. Ultimately, Tirian gets to meet all of the Friends after he enters the Stable.

As in the other Narnia books, Aslan’s role in LB is limited in page count but of immense significance for the story.  When Aslan does appear late in the narrative, it is to bring about the death of the old Narnia, the birth of the new, and the judgment of all creatures.

The characterization in LB is solid. Because of the sheer number of characters, we do not get to know them in as much depth as some of the characters from the other stories, but viewing them as groups with various responses to Aslan as I have tried to do above is, I think, a helpful way to reflect on their roles in the narrative.

Characters: 8.5/10

Worldcraft

In one respect, LB does not significantly expand the map of Narnia at all. The majority of the story takes place in the Northwest of Narnia, and while this is a new area, we are told so little about it that it is somewhat disappointing.

But the strength of LB is its depiction of the end of Narnia as it currently exists, and the transition to the fuller and realer Narnia. Repeatedly the characters are urged to go “further up and further in!” and as they do so, they find an exponentially increasing level of depth and beauty:

“Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all, but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.

“I see,” she said. “This is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below, just as it was more real and more beautiful than the Narnia outside the Stable door! I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia…”

“Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you go in and in, each cirlce is larger than the last.” (765)[2]

Really, the last five chapters of LB are an account of this great process of uncreation and recreation, and in terms of worldcraft, this is the high point of the book.

Worldcraft: 9/10

Theology

Fundamentally, LB is a book about eschatology; Lewis once summarized it as being about “the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world and the Last Judgement,”[3] and we will use those categories to reflect on the theology of LB.

Antichrist(s)

A great amount of ink has been spilt over the centuries seeking to interpret the Book of Revelation, and one particular interpretive method has been to suggest that a literal battle between the forces of good and evil  will precede the return of Jesus and the judgment of the world, and heading up the forces of evil will be the Antichrist. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t actually teach this in Revelation at all, and the use of the word antichrist (always in 1-2 John) is probably better understood in a lowercase sense: those who deny the Father and the Son or who refuse to confess that Jesus came in the flesh are antichrists. 

I am not certain what Lewis believed about the Antichrist and futuristic cosmic battles, but I still think that LB captures an element of biblical truth when he portrays Shift’s plot to have Puzzle impersonate Aslan and deceive his followers. In the apocalyptic Matthew 24, Jesus warns of “false Christs” who will perform great signs and wonders and claim to be the Christ, and in Revelation 13, John warns of a beast that looked like Jesus (“he had two horns like a lamb”), but spoke like a dragon (Satan). Here is the message, clear to both LB and biblical witness: there is great danger when forces of evil speak for Jesus and His followers cannot tell the difference.

Late in LB, Jill reflects to herself:

“And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies’ plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger.” (723)

This is devilish because, indeed, it is how the Devil operates: a mixture of truth with falsehood to make the lie more believable and more dangerous. Earlier in the story, when Tirian and Jewel learn of the horrible things that Shift is commanding in the name of Aslan, they are torn: surely this is not what they would expect from Aslan, but haven’t they always heard that He is “not a tame lion” (677, 679, 682)? Does that not mean that he is unpredictable and may do things they don’t understand? Shift seizes upon this same language to force compliance from the Narnians who feel that “Aslan’s” demands are harsh and who wish that they could see him for themselves rather than always having to take Shift’s word for it:

“But why can’t we see Aslan properly and talk to him?” it said. “When he used to appear in Narnia in the old days everyone could talk to him face to face.”

“Don’t you believe it,” said the Ape. “And even if it was true, times have changed. Aslan says he’s been far too soft with you before, do you see? Well, he isn’t going to be soft any more. He’s going to lick you into shape this time. He’ll teach you to think he’s a tame lion!” (684)

To say that Aslan is “not tame” is to say that he is powerful, he is sovereign, and, ultimately, that he is free—free to act in keeping with his own will and character. It does not mean, as Shift suggests and as Tirian and Jewel fear, that he is wildly unpredictable and free to act in ways that are inconsistent with his character. But when truth is mixed in, the lie is made far stronger.

The End of the World(?)

As LB reaches its climax, Tirian and his followers lament what they see as the ending of Narnia and also dread what awaits them through the door of the Stable. What they discover, however, is that the ending of the old Narnia was necessary, and that it has ushered in Aslan’s judgment and, ultimately, their own entrance into the new Narnia, which is in some ways like the Narnia they previously knew, but is richer and fuller in every way:

“And yet they’re not like,” said Lucy. “They’re different. They have more colours on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more…more…oh, I don’t know…”

More like the real thing,” said the Lord Digory softly. (759)

“But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as in our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as the real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.” (759)

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Come further up, come further in!” (760)

To be clear, this is not some sort of eastern philosophy that suggests that the present world in which we live and operate is all an illusion; rather, it is that this present world is temporary, but is made to point us to that which is eternal. In describing that world, John describes it as “a new heaven and a new earth,” a world where God is “making all things new” (Revelation 21.1-5a). When all things are made new, it may signify the end of this world as it presently is, but it is truly just the beginning of the life that God intends for the faithful:

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.  (767)

The Last Judgement: Was C.S. Lewis a Universalist?

Based on his characterization of the end of the world and the last judgement in LB, C.S. Lewis is sometimes accused of being a universalist, someone who holds that all people will ultimately be saved.

Specifically, this point is argued because of the character of Emeth, the loyal Calormene servant of Tash who finds himself in the real Narnia. Emeth recounts his meeting with Aslan, whose very name had always been hateful to him:

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, “Son, thou art welcome.” But I said, “Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.” He answered, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.” Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, “Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?”

The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites—I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and no which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Does thou understand, Child?” I said, “Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.” But I also (for the truth constrained me), “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.” “Beloved,” said the Glorious One, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.” (756-57)

In other words, the service that the good and virtuous Emeth had rendered for (he thought) Tash, was actually service to Aslan and, as a result, he was rewarded as if it had been Aslan that he had been seeking all his life.

This perspective is not actually universalist, however; it is inclusivist. Inclusivists believe that salvation is found only in Jesus (or in Aslan!), but:

“Those who die before they learn of Jesus or who are faithful to “God” as they understand him will be saved by Jesus in the end…[t]he Muslim who dies a Muslim will not be surprised to find Jesus at the gates of Heaven; the Qur’an teaches that Jesus will be there. They will be surprised to learn that he is, in fact, the Son of God and not merely a prophet. But Jesus will welcome them in based on their faithfulness to what they thought they knew.”[4]

Indeed, there is ample evidence in LB that Lewis believes that not all will be saved. Shift is devoured by Tash, and Rishda is carried away by him. Ginger is terrified in his presence, and loses the ability to speak, which is very similar to the Talking Beasts who approach Aslan in the judgment, and look at him with fear and hatred for just a moment. Then, something happens to them:

“You could see that they suddenly ceased to be Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them.” (751)

This is hardly a picture of salvation.

There are also the Dwarfs, who find themselves inside the Stable in the same glorious location as Tirian and the Friends of Narnia but who are totally blind to their surroundings and just see a dark and smelly stable. They certainly don’t appear to be saved and, indeed, Aslan says that he can do nothing for them:

“You see,” said Aslan. “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (748)

Lewis shares a similar idea in his classic, The Great Divorce:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.”[5]

The Dwarfs are emblematic of those to whom Aslan sadly says, “Thy will be done.”

Lewis’s inclusivism may be unacceptable to some Christians, but he clearly is not a universalist. At least from the perspective of LB, there are some who will be saved who may not actually know Christ, but there are many who, tragically, will not be saved at all.

Theology: 9/10

With a score of 34.5/40, LB holds the median position for me of the seven Narnia books. It is a notch below the top-tier books (LWWHHB, and VDT) but solidly above PC and SC, and way above MNOn Amazon, it would garner a 4 or 5-star rating.


Check out the full series of posts:


[1]  We probably have to mention here that Lewis receives a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Susan in LB, which is, supposedly, sexist. Jill says of Susan: “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” That Susan is described as embracing womanhood in this way and that Lewis writes her out of the “friends of Narnia” as a result is considered to be damning evidence.

It is beyond the purview of what I am doing in this series to address that criticism in detail, but I would suggest that, similar to the allegations of racism in HHBthis is off-base. In addition to the fact that Lewis repeatedly portrays female characters positively (Lucy is arguably the most admirable of all the human characters, Aravis is awesome, Polly and Jill are both likable, etc.), the clear emphasis of the criticism against Susan in the surrounding context is not on her sex but on her grown-upness. This has always been a problem for Susan, and in the world of Narnia, being “old” or “grown-up” is presented as a barrier to having faith in Aslan, as we discussed in the post on PCIn other words, Susan’s problem is not that she is now a woman; it is that she has decided that being a woman means chasing after shallow and frivolous things and distancing herself from the childlike faith that Aslan requires.

[2]  I did not have my regular edition of The Last Battle as I wrote this post, and so the page numbers come from the Barnes & Noble edition. I apologize for the inconsistency with the other posts in the series.

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

[4] Monte Cox, Significant Others: Understanding Our Non-Christian Neighbors (Abilene, TX: Leafwood, 2017): 24. Cox, himself an exclusivist, provides a helpful discussion on “Exclusivists, Inclusivists, and Pluralists” on pages 22-28.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperCollins, 2001): 75.

Lament For A Son: The Demonic Awfulness Of Death

This is part of a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering.


I have been writing some reflections on Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A SonOne of many elements of the book that I appreciated was Wolterstorff’s emphasis on the “demonic awfulness” of death (p. 54).

All too often, I think that Christians can lapse into a very naturalistic worldview where we say things like, “death is just a natural part of life.” We say this to help bring perspective to our circumstances, and in the sense that, yes, all humans die, this statement is true.

But it is decidedly untrue in the sense that death is not a part of God’s plan; it is not a feature of life as God envisioned it and is, thus, wholly unnatural. Death became a reality as a result of sin (this is, in fact, precisely what God warned Adam and Eve about). Paul describes death as the “last enemy to be defeated” and in John’s Revelation, Jesus is depicted in magnificent glory as the Living One who was dead but is now alive, and who holds the keys to Death and Hades: through His resurrection, Jesus has cracked open the tomb of Death and declared His mastery over this ancient enemy, and the Day will come when it will be no more.



From a Christian perspective, we can realize that Death does not have the last say because of the victory of Jesus and that the sting of death is minimized in the face of this reality, but Death is still an enemy. It is not something to be civilized or sanitized with platitudes about it being a “natural part of life”.

Referring to sentiments similar to this, Wolterstorff says:

“I find this pious attitude deaf to the message of the Christian gospel. Death is here understood as a normal instrument of God’s dealings with us. “You have lived out the years I’ve planned for you, I’ll just shake the mountain a bit. All of you there, I’ll send some starlings into the engine of your plane. And as for you there, a stroke while running will do nicely.”

The Bible speaks instead of God’s overcoming death. Paul calls it the last great enemy to be overcome. God is appalled by death. My pain over my son’s death is shared by his pain over my son’s death. And, yes, I share in his pain over his son’s death.” (67)

But, although death is awful, Jesus tells His disciples, startlingly, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” From the perspective of a society that champions youth, achievement, and happiness, and where people put on a smile and declare that things are “fine” while they are dying inside, this seems like a bizarre statement from Jesus. Why would He say such a thing?

“Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one hungry and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.

Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted.

The Stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming.” (84-86)

Death is awful. It is an enemy, and it should drive us to mourn. But as Christians, we mourn with the knowledge that the days of death are numbered, and the Day will come when mourning will be no more.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 12: Why Does This Even Matter?

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

Throughout this series, we have been examining the idea of renewed eschatology from a variety of perspectives, and in this final post, we are going to consider different reasons why all of this matters.[1] This is the discussion that many people want from the very beginning. When they hear the arguments for a renewed creation, they may be intrigued or skeptical, but often, regardless they somewhat dismissively state, “Why does this even matter? I know that I want to be with God for eternity; I don’t care where that is!” 

I understand that sentiment—I shared it myself for several years—but I wanted to wait until the end to address it, because I really do not think the implications of renewed creation make sense until you really understand the position. So, stated more precisely: if Scripture teaches that God is going to redeem and restore His good creation and the hope for believers is to live eternally in glorious, resurrected bodies with God in a New Heaven and New Earth, why does that matter? How does that affect my life?

I will warn you in advance: in this post we will respond to that question in multiple ways, and at the end, some readers are not going to get it. At the end of this whole series and all of the digital ink that has been spilt in its production, it still won’t seem like a big deal. And I will not judge you for that response, because it’s exactly where I was for years. Even as I gradually became more convinced of the NHNE perspective, I just didn’t think it mattered that much. For me, it was a long process.

Others will get it immediately. Some of you already do; I have heard responses as I have taught and blogged through this from people who have found this illuminating, and for whom this has helped to connect dots throughout Scripture and enhance their hope and anticipation of eternity. 

From my own perspective, although it has taken a while for me to get to this point, I can say that understanding my future (and really, the future of the universe) differently has greatly changed my present as well. It changes the way I live day to day, and the way I anticipate the future.

In this post, as we look at the implications of a redeemed creation, we’re going to look at four different implications of this, and we’re going to look at all of them through the lens of Story.



The Story Itself—What does the Bible say?

As many of my readers know, I work and worship within the fellowship of churches of Christ. One of the

things I love about our heritage is that we value Scripture highly and think it is really important to know what the Bible says and teach it and live accordingly. From this perspective, what we have been talking about in this series matters, because either it is what the Bible teaches, or it’s not. 

At this point, we have spent a lot of time going over what the Bible teaches, and from my perspective, it is clear that the “traditional” view is off—the idea of God destroying the world and us flying away to an ethereal heaven for eternity is simply not what the Story is about.

Now, I am not claiming that you have to believe what I do about the New Heavens and New Earth to be saved (and, ultimately, to experience the New Heavens and New Earth someday!), but we don’t have to think that a certain belief is necessary for salvation in order to think that it is important. 

So, in the first place, what we have been talking about matters because it is a central teaching of Scripture. It’s what the Story is all about.

The Author of the Story—What is God like?

We have talked about this already, but just as a way of reminder, the way we interpret the Story will also influence the way we view and understand the Author of the Story—what is God like?

If we believe that the Story is about God destroying creation because it is broken, then it’s no wonder that so many people question if God really loves them, or doubt that they will ever be able to be “good enough” to be saved. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the Fixer of the Broken. He loves His creation and wants to redeem it! It’s not about you being good enough to be saved, it’s about God being loving enough to save you even though you’re not good enough!

If we believe that the Story is about us going up to be with God on His level, then it’s no wonder that so many people tie their salvation to getting everything exactly right—we obsessively try to meet God on His level by perfectly interpreting and intuiting every single thing. This becomes the basis for our assurance and confidence. But that’s not what the Story is about! God is the One Who Comes Down. He reveals to us who He is and what He is like, so that we can faithfully live in covenant relationship with Him. God is not asking for our perfection but for our commitment.

The way we understand the Story influences the way we understand the Author of the Story.

Living Out the Story—Agents of New Creation

Our actions are influenced by the story that we believe ourselves to be a part of. Let me try to illustrate that principle with two imperfect and wildly different examples:

  • Let’s say that you are a young woman who goes to college and earns a degree, but your real desire in life is to be a stay at home mom—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. So, at the end of college you get married and start a career for a couple of years, but then you decide that you are ready to start your family. You get married, and have a child. A couple of years later, you get a very lucrative job offer to go back to work—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a stay at home mom, it’s not even a question: you stay at home! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!
  • Let’s say that you are a young man growing up in Germany in the 1930s. You are a member of the Nazi party, and you firmly believe that you are part of a master race—that is your story. This is who you are; it is the narrative around which you have constructed your identity. A few years later, you find yourself in a position where you are ordered to execute a Jewish person simply because of his race—what do you do? Well, if your story is that you are a Nazi who firmly believes you are a member of a master race, it’s not even a question. You execute the person you consider to be inferior! Your actions are influenced by the story that you believe you are a part of!

In regards to what we have been talking about—renewed eschatology—how does this Story influence our actions?

As we have seen, the Story of the Bible is that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and called it good. But God’s space (heaven) and humanity’s space (earth) were driven apart by sin. God’s good creation was tainted. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that through Jesus, God is reconciling all things (including creation) to Himself. This happens through the death of Jesus on the cross, and His subsequent victory over death through His resurrection. 

At His resurrection, Jesus becomes the firstfruits of a new kind of creation, and likewise, when we are placed into Christ at baptism, we too are raised to walk a new kind of life, as agents of new creation:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

(2 Corinthians 5.17-20)

So Jesus, through His resurrection, brings about New Creation and reconciliation, and we become agents of that New Creation and ambassadors of His reconciliation. This means that we currently live in the shadow of the impending return of Jesus, and the redemption of all things that will accompany that return. Knowing that we are a part of a future reality, we live as if that reality were already present now. 

This is reflected in passages in Philippians and Colossians that speak of us having citizenship in heaven or setting our minds on things above. In a sense, as Christians, we bring heaven to earth—anticipating what will happen when Jesus returns, the dwelling place of God is with man, and all things will be made new—by living now as we will live then. This is what the Sermon on the Mount is about too. Jesus tells His disciples how to live in ways that seemingly make no sense in our world as it is. But that’s the point: as Christians, we are agents of New Creation, living according to God’s Kingdom, which continues to grow and expand and will one day cover all that is.

The first stage of this new creation process happened at the resurrection of Jesus, and the second stage will occur at His return. We live in-between, but we live as agents of New Creation, living according to our heavenly citizenship, and according to the principles of God’s Kingdom. As we do that, we seek to counteract the effects of sin in our world:

  • In a world of theological brokenness, we tell people about Jesus and how to have a relationship with God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as ministers, missionaries, and Bible class teachers. People who devote their lives to studying the Bible, biblical languages, and history, and share that knowledge with other people. People who help us to process current events and trends from a heavenly perspective in an effort to live as God would have us to.
  • In a world of social brokenness, we act as peacemakers, seeking to reconcile people who are at odds with one another and to rectify the injustices caused by our mistreatment of one another. That means it is important that we have people who serve as social workers, lawyers, judges, teachers, civil rights activists, and elected officials. People who work to limit the abuse that happens to the weak at the hands of the powerful, to take care of those who have been cast aside, and to provide resources that people need to survive.
  • In a world of personal brokenness, we help people see that they are valuable, created in the image of God. That means it is important that we have people who serve as counselors, therapists, coaches, trainers, and educators. People who help others deal with the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that we all feel and helping them to become productive members of society.
  • In a world of ecological brokenness, we live out our intended function as stewards who tend and tame God’s creation. That means it is important that we have people who serve as conservationists, environmental scientists, and farmers. People who encourage us to take care of God’s good creation and prod us to reconsider and change some of our behaviors that have been damaging to it. People who study the way our world works and help us to predict when tornadoes will hit and how to prevent the introduction of invasive species that damage natural habitats. People who cultivate the earth so that its bounty can provide nourishment for humanity.
  • In a world of physical brokenness, we seek to alleviate the physical suffering of people while pointing forward to the day when mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. That means it is important that we have people who serve as doctors, pharmacists, researchers, physical therapists, and hospice nurses. People who seek to treat and alleviate the effects of disease, who help people deal with their decaying bodies, and who bring dignity to people as they take final steps toward the sad reality of death.

Living as an agent of new creation is much bigger than having a Bible study with someone (as important as that is!). It is living right now as part of a future reality. In a dark and broken world, we create pockets of God’s kingdom everywhere we go by living according to the principles of that kingdom now, wherever we are.

We bring light into a dark world and sprinkle principles of the kingdom into everything we do, and since the biblical picture of eternity has points of continuity with our current existence, it suggests that what we do now matters moving forward![2]

Anticipating the Story’s “Ending”—Looking Forward to Eternity

Let me share a fairly common experience that perhaps you can identify with. Maybe you have heard discussions of heaven in the past and about how great it will be (better than we can imagine!), but then when an effort is made to describe what it will be like, it basically sounds like a never-ending worship service.

Does that fill you with excitement?

Don’t get me wrong—worship is extremely important. I love to sing praises to God, and I believe we will worship in eternity. But is a never-ending worship service something we really look forward to?

I work with teenagers a lot; let me tell you, it does not sound super exciting to them. It certainly seems like a better alternative than hell, but still, not amazing. I can’t help but think…if this is our view of all that we will be doing for eternity, is it any wonder that we have a lot of people who get more excited about summer vacations to Florida than an eternity with God?

But the ending of the Story that we have been talking about is much more than this. Certainly, there is worship: we will be in the presence of our Creator! We’ll be so overwhelmed with the desire to worship that we won’t be able to help it. But there will be much more than that!

  • From the beginning, humanity was created in God’s image to function as God’s representatives on earth. Scripture teaches that in the eschaton, we will live in a new creation, and there are plenty of verses that reference our reigning with God. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
  • From the beginning, humanity was also given a job to do, caring for and cultivating God’s creation. This work was not a part of the curse, but a fundamental part of our identity as humans. When we are placed in an environment that is pictured as a marvelous city and a beautiful garden, it strikes me that there will still be work to be done—but work that is free of pain and sorrow, where nothing is wasted. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but doesn’t it sound exciting?
  • And touching on something that I mentioned earlier, given the continuity between our current existence and eternity, what you do for the Lord right now is not in vain. As one author writes:

“You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”[3]

How does that work? I don’t really know, but doesn’t it sound exciting? Somehow, just as the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, will gather up the molecules of our wasted-into-dust bodies and recreate them into glorious, incorruptible resurrection bodies, so He will also take the work we have done, building for His kingdom, and incorporate that into His new creation. 

This is an “ending” to the Story that I can get excited about and eagerly anticipate.

Renewed Eschatology is not some esoteric theory best left to the debates of ivory tower theologians; it is a powerful and practical teaching of Scripture. It helps us to better understand the Story itself, the Author of the Story, and the way we live in response to the Story, and in conjunction with those other aspects, it heightens our eager anticipation of the day when Jesus will return and bring the Story to a never-ending conclusion.


This concludes our series. For some readers, this has been a collection of new and challenging ideas that have been exciting, alarming, or a mixture of both. For others, these posts have strengthened and affirmed views that you already held or at least were leaning toward. 

If this series has led you toward appreciating or even accepting the renewed creation perspective, that is great, but ultimately, that wasn’t my goal for this series. Echoing back to the introductory post, it was my hope that we would be able to study Scripture with an open mind, challenge ourselves, and, at the end, respect one another regardless of whether or not we agree. If we have been able to meet these goals, then I believe our Father is well pleased. 

May we yearn for the day when Jesus returns and rights all wrongs. 


[1] Although this is the last post in the series, I do not mean to imply that I have exhausted all of the arguments for and elements of the NHNE perspective; I certainly have not. In particular, this series would ideally include a discussion of Old Testament prophecy. When I originally taught through this material, I did have such a lesson, but it was so context specific to some other studies we had engaged at that congregation that I didn’t think it worked well removed from that context and placed into a blog series. 

Additionally, the study could be further fleshed out and enhanced with discussions of what it means to be created in the Image of God, the biblical teaching of our eschatological reign with God, the continuing motif of God’s promise of land to His people, the biblical motif of Jubilee, and more. 

[2] This is the point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15.58 at the conclusion of his discourse on resurrection. Because of resurrection and the continuity it represents between the present and the future, what we do now matters: our labor is not in vain!

[3] N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, (New York: HarperOne, 2008): 208.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 11: Voices From the Past

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

We have spent a lot of time now looking at the idea of renewed eschatology from a variety of different perspectives, and for some readers, a lot of different pieces are starting to click into place and make a lot of sense.

But something that may be bothering you (it certainly bothered me as I was studying through this): “If this is the correct view, why am I just now hearing about this? I mean, Christianity has been around for 2000 years, and we’re just now understanding what the Bible actually teaches about eternity?!”

The question, “why am I just now hearing about this?”, is a difficult one, but the short answer is that the view of eternity where this world will be destroyed and then we will go off to heaven and have some sort of eternal spiritual existence with God has been the dominant view within conservative, evangelical Christianity for all of our lives.

But here is the important idea I want to emphasize: just because this idea is relatively new to you, or because it was new to me when I first heard it does not at all mean that it is a new idea.

I am very suspicious of brand new ideas in Christianity. When someone suggests an interpretation of a particular verse that I can’t find anywhere else, that makes me very suspicious. I am supposed to believe that in the whole history of Christianity, this guy is the first person to come along and actually figure out what this means? But that’s not the case here, and what I want to emphasize in this post is that the renewed earth perspective is not new at all. It is actually a very old understanding of what the Bible teaches about eternity.

Now, I am not going to trace this perspective in detail for 2,000 years, because for the majority of people, that would be mind-numbingly boring. However, I do want to give you some examples from different time periods to emphasize that this is not a new idea.



Early Church

Irenaus is one of what we call the “Church Fathers”, Christians who lived and wrote in the first few centuries. Irenaus wrote a famous work called Against Heresies in the late 100s, in which he opposed false teachings that had arisen. One very popular heresy was called gnosticism and it held, among other things, that material creation is evil. Irenaus rejected this notion, and argued that the Bible teaches that creation is good. He also says:

  • The righteous will “rise again to behold God in this creation which is renovated…”[1]
  • Speaking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 26.27-30 (I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom), he says “[Jesus] cannot by any means be understood as drinking of the fruit of the vine when settled down with his disciples above in a super-celestial place; nor, again, are they who drink it devoid of flesh, for to drink of that which flows from the vine pertains to flesh, and not spirit.”[2]
  • For neither is the substance nor the essence of the creation annihilated.”[3]

Irenaus viewed resurrection as a bodily experience that was directly tied to the restoration of all creation. Clearly, the renewed earth perspective is an ancient view.[4]

Reformation

You are likely familiar with the Protestant Reformation that began in the 1500s. Two of the major figures of the Reformation were Martin Luther and John Calvin. These two men differed in significant ways, but they  make similar, interesting statements in their commentary on 2 Peter 3 (a text we looked at earlier):

“…some may disquiet themselves as to whether the saints shall exist in heaven or on the earth. The text seems to imply that man shall dwell upon the earth, yet so that all heaven and earth shall be a paradise where God dwells…”[5]

“Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as it may be easily gathered from…other passages.”[6]

If you have been following along with this series, these ideas will seem very familiar.

Now, Luther and Calvin agreeing with the NHNE perspective doesn’t automatically make it correct. Indeed, these men hold a variety of views that I disagree with on various topics. My point here is not that we should believe in renewed eschatology because Luther and Calvin did; rather, I am simply illustrating that this is by no means a new perspective.

Restoration Movement

In Churches of Christ, we are spiritual descendants of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. If you know me well or have read The Doc File for long, you know that I am extremely interested in the history of our movement. Imagine my surprise and fascination when I discovered that the renewed earth perspective that we have been talking about was held by influential early leaders in our movement!

Alexander Campbell was likely the single most influential thinker in the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Campbell was famous in the 19th century, and disseminated his perspectives as an orator, editor, debater, educator, and author. Among the many topics he touched on in his vast array of writings was eschatology and the renewal of creation:

“The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelation ends with the regenerations or new creation of the heavens and the earth. This [is] the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian earth was purified by water; but the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogeneous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God re-creates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven.”[7]

“The impression prevails in many minds, that the earth is to be annihilated. Such is not our belief. There is a vast difference between annihilation, and change, or general alteration. This earth will, unquestionably be burned, yet, through the process of variation and reconstruction of its elements, God will fashion the earth and heavens anew, and fill them with tenants to glorify His name forever.”[8]

Walter Scott was another key early Restoration leader.[9] Unlike Campbell, Scott’s focus was particularly on evangelism, and his use of simple, memorable methods led to thousands upon thousands of baptisms in the Western Reserve. Scott was also a theologian who mused on the nature of eternity. From Embracing Creation:

“Just as the present world was “formed out of the ruins of the first and original one, so the third and future world shall, by the power of God, be constructed from the ashes of the present one.” The “present habitable globe,” like the primitive one, will be destroyed, but “from the ashes will rise another heaven and another earth…the abode of [the] righteous.” This is “the new heavens and new earth…created as the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This “new earth” is the inheritance promised Abraham (Rom. 4.13) and it is the “hope of all Christians.”[10]

In case the above language is confusing, Scott is reflecting on ideas from 2 Peter 3. He is referencing the “destruction” of the world through the flood, and then the future “destruction” by fire. This accounts for his three worlds.

David Lipscomb was an influential leader in Southern Churches of Christ following the Civil War (so, a different generation of leadership than Campbell and Scott). Lipscomb was primarily an educator, and also served as the longtime editor of the Gospel Advocate. In his words:

“God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness.”[11]

James A. Harding was a contemporary and close associate of Lipscomb, but while Lipscomb functioned primarily as a teacher and editor, Harding was a traveling preacher. His thoughts on renewed creation closely resembled Lipscomb’s:

“But—thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ grace came with a mighty hand to meet this great, dark, cursing, onrushing tide of woe and death, to roll it back, to free men from death and the earth from every curse of sin, and to give to it a glory and beauty never dreamed of by Adam and Eve in the midst of their Edenic home. This earth, with its surrounding heaven, is to be made over, and on the fair face of the new earth God himself will dwell with all the sons and daughters of men who have been redeemed through grace…through Adam we lost the garden of Eden; through Christ we gain the paradise of God.”[12]

“…the earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth.”[13]

Jimmy Allen was one of my favorite teachers at Harding University; he was legendary there for his class on the Book of Romans. He was a longtime teacher at Harding, but was most famous for being a revival-style evangelist in the tradition of Billy Graham. Back in the 1960s, he would preach to overflowing arenas and baptized thousands.

Here are some thoughts from Allen in his commentary on Romans (and also, from 2 Peter):

“The point about groaning creation is that when man fell, the earth was cursed, when man is glorified, the earth will also be glorified…This means, if I am correct, that at the end of time our present system will not be annihilated…

What are the “new heavens” and “new earth” (II Pet. 3:13)? There are at least two Greek words that are translated as new. One is “neos” and the other is “kainos.” A few times they are used interchangeably…However, there is a difference in the two words. “‘Kainos’ denotes new, of that which is unaccustomed or unused, not new in time, recent, but new as to form or quality, of different nature from what is contrasted as old… ‘Neos’ signifies new in respect of time, that which is recent” (Vine, III, pp. 109-110).

The word translated as “new” in connection with the earth at II Pet. 3:13 is not “neos,” signifying an object that is “brand-new” like the Ford pickup truck that has been in my carport the last couple of weeks. Rather, it is “kainos,” meaning new as to its form, quality, or nature. We will have new bodies in the next life in that they will be changed from what they are now. Similarly, we will have a new earth in eternity in that it will be this one changed by fire into what is glorious and incorruptible.”[14]

These influential leaders from Restoration Movement history are certainly not infallible, but for me, as someone who has great respect for Campbell, Lipscomb, Harding, and others, it was a relief to see that they held these views. In a sense, it was almost like it “gave me permission” to believe this myself: “we” had historically believed this!

Again, all of these quotations—from the Early Church, the Reformation, and from Stone-Campbell Movement history—do not prove anything about the accuracy of the New Heavens/New Earth perspective. That stands or falls based on what Scripture teaches, and we have spent several posts examining that case. But these quotations do demonstrate that this is not a new perspective, and for those in churches of Christ, this is a perspective that has historical roots in our own heritage.


[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book V, Chapter 32, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103532.htm

[2] Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book V, Chapter 33, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103533.htm

[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book V, Chapter 36, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103533.htm

[4]Other Church Fathers refer to elements of renewed eschatology as well. Papias (Eusebius, Fragments of Papias VI) was a historical premillennialist, and understood that there would be a personal reign of Christ on earth after the resurrection. The author of the Epistle of Barnabas (late first century, early second century document) believed that Christians in eternity would reign over birds, fish, and beasts, clearly suggesting a material existence.

[5] Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990): 285.

[6] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (New York: Cosimo, 2007): 421.

[7] Alexander Campbell, Christian System (Pittsburg, PA: Forrester & Campbell, 1839): 257.

[8] Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch (H.S. Bosworth, 1887): 310.

[9] Scott, along with Alexander Campbell, Thomas Campbell (Alexander’s father), and Barton W. Stone (the “Stone” in “Stone-Campbell Movement”) are often referred to as “the big four”. Scott is less remembered than the other three, but was of tremendous importance in the solidification and spread of the Movement and its ideals.

[10] This quotation comes from John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, (Abilene, TX: Leafwood: 2016): 203. The quotations referenced herein are from Walter Scott,“Of a Succession of Worlds, and of the Great Physical Destinies of Our Globe, as Spoken of in the Scriptures,” The Evangelist 6 (January 1838): 3-5, (February 1838): 34-35, and (April 1838): 77.

[11] David Lipscomb, Salvation from Sin (Nshville: McQuiddy, 1913): 35-36.

[12] James A Harding, “Three Lessons from the Book of Romans,” in Biographies and Sermons, ed. F.D. Srygley (Nashville: McQuiddy, 1898), 249.

[13] James A. Harding, “What Are We Here For?” The Way 5 [3 December 1903], 1041).

[14] Jimmy Allen, Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All (Searcy, AR, 2005): 178-80.

A New Heaven & A New Earth Part 10: The Nature of God

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

Over the last several posts, we have spent a good deal of time looking directly at specific biblical texts. First, we looked at texts that have traditionally been used to teach that creation will be destroyed or that we will go away to heaven with Jesus when He returns (and I have argued that those texts have been poorly interpreted). Then we looked at texts that point to cosmic redemption, that the salvation that God brings about through Jesus will be both wholistic and restorative. We followed that up by looking closely at portions of Genesis and Revelation and seeing what they tell us about the broken reality of our world and the Story that Scripture is telling. Most recently, we examined passages related to the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection. All of that to say, this study has been significantly based upon looking closely at biblical texts.

This post will be different from all of those in the sense that today I am not going to look at specific texts, but I am still going to be making biblical arguments. But, rather than pointing to a variety of specific texts, I want to draw on our general knowledge of Scripture and use this information to help us get a picture of the nature of God.

Here are the basic questions we want to consider in this post:

  1. According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? Obviously, these are massive questions and we are not going to try to answer them exhaustively (it would not even be possible to do so). Rather, we will seek to answer them in ways that relate specifically to this study.
  2. Related to the first question, which perspective better fits God’s character as revealed in Scripture: the idea that God will destroy His tainted creation and we will “go up” to live with Him eternally, or that God will fix His tainted creation and “come down” so we can live with Him eternally?

In other words, the Bible gives us pictures of what God is like. Which of the views that we have been discussing fit better with the biblical pictures of God?



The Fixer of the Broken

In the Genesis account, God looks at what He has created and repeatedly calls it “good”. He says this of humans as well. Over and over again, the refrain is repeated. Clearly, God values what He has created. Tragically, though, God’s good creation becomes tainted by human sin. We have spoken about that at length.

So, what is God like? Is He someone who throws things away when they become tainted, or does He work to fix them?

In the story of the people of Israel, do we see a God who throws His people away when they sin against Him, or who lovingly, painfully walks alongside them for hundreds of years despite their rebellion? Even in the Exile, do we see God abandoning His people and the covenant promises He made to them, or do we see God with His people, even in Exile, working for their good and remaining faithful to the promises He has made, ultimately restoring them to their homeland and sending His Son to them, through Whom all peoples of the earth would be blessed?

Through His sinless life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, that Son makes possible for us to be reconciled to God, despite the fact that we are sinful, tainted creatures. This is at the center of our faith, isn’t it? The idea that God doesn’t just throw us away when we are tainted by sin but rather that He has done everything possible to fix us and redeem us for His own?

I believe that; don’t you? 

And yet…

If God is going to annihilate His creation—creation that He called “good”—because it was tainted by sin, why should we be confident that He won’t do the same thing to us? After all, we are part of creation, and He called us “good” too.[1]

In other words, which view—annihilation of creation or redemption of creation—is more consistent with how we generally view God? 

Constantly in our language—in almost every sermon we hear—we speak of a God who wants to fix what is broken within us and make us right and whole. Which of these eschatological views fits better with that picture of God?

The One Who Comes Down

There’s another picture of God that I want to consider which is prevalent in Scripture from the beginning to the end.

When God creates everything in the first chapters of Genesis, He also forms the Garden of Eden, and this is where Adam and Eve dwell. God has interactions with Adam and Eve, and where do those take place? Do Adam and Eve go away somewhere to be with God? No, God comes down and walks in the Garden in the cool of the day. He interacts with Adam and Eve where they are.

Later, God calls a man named Abraham to leave his country and family and go to a distant land, where God will bless him greatly. At one point, God tells Abraham about the child of promise that will be born to Abraham and Sarah, and also to inform him of the judgment that will come upon Sodom and Gomorrah. How does this communication occur? Is Abraham whisked off to heaven for a conversation with his Creator? No, God comes down and conveys the information to Abraham.[2]

Fast forward many generations and Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt. Their slavery is bitter and hard and they cry out for rescue, and God hears their cry. How does He respond? He comes down and appears to Moses in a burning bush, and through Moses, rescues the people.

Once the people are rescued, God establishes a covenant with them and gives them Torah—teaching, instruction, law—to guide their living. How is this given to them? God comes down to Mt. Sinai to meet with Moses and deliver the Law to Him. 

What about Jesus? In the fullest revelation of who God is, did God transport someone up into heaven so we could get a report of what He is like? No, God comes down. In the incarnation, the Word became flesh and Jesus walked among us. 

After Jesus departs, does God leave us on our own? Does He then transport someone up into heaven to give us further instructions? No, the Spirit of God comes down and indwells His people. 

And what do we see in the end? Again, God comes down. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Jesus comes down and we meet Him in the air to return with Him. In Revelation 21, the Holy City comes down so that the dwelling of God can be with humanity.

So, according to what we see in Scripture, what is God like? Is the Scriptural pattern that we go up to Him, or that God comes down to us?[3] Both literally and theologically, over and over again we see the latter. God comes down to us. He rescues us from our mess. He comes to give us guidance. He comes to reveal what He is like. He comes to live with us eternally.

Which view—annihilation of creation where this world is destroyed and we “go up” to be with God somewhere else, or redemption of creation where God “comes down” to a redeemed world to be with us—is more consistent with the picture of God from Scripture as One who Comes Down?

We can now return to our original questions and seek to answer them:

  1. According to the Bible, what is God’s character? What is He like? There are a lot of answers to those questions, but two we see from Scripture is that God is the Fixer of the Broken and the One Who Comes Down to us. 
  2. These pictures of God make no sense if creation is going to be destroyed and we are going to go off to be with God somewhere else. On the other hand, they fit seamlessly into a vision of the end times where God redeems His creation and comes down to live among us forever, and as we have already seen in multiple texts throughout this series, this is exactly the picture that Scripture paints.

[1]You might object: “The Bible clearly teaches that God is going to redeem His people!” I certainly agree with that, but as this study has shown, there are multiple passages in Scripture that indicate the same reality about creation as a whole. Thus, we would expect Scripture to be consistent in its portrayal of God as desiring to fix what is broken, and it is.

[2]I am referring to Genesis 18. This passage talks about “three men” talking to Abraham, but the text begins by clearly stating that it is the LORD who appears to him. The consensus of biblical scholarship considers this to be a theophany, or appearance of God. 

[3]I am not denying that there are examples that may not seem to fit the pattern, such as Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne room, or Paul’s vision of the third heaven. But if these are visions (and they seem to be), then they actually represent God coming down to impart information to His people through visionary experiences. 

There is also the example of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, but this is obviously exceptional in human experience and does not negate the general pattern established here. In an earlier post, I discussed the intermediate state and the possibility that those in Christ go to heaven upon death, but this is not clearly established in Scripture, and, regardless, this precedes the resurrection, and is not the final state of the faithful dead.

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