Today we come to the final post on the “end of the world” section of Christopher Wright’s The God I Don’t Understand. We looked at the themes of the new creation in terms of the garden city, the glory of civilizations, the healing of nations, and the harmony of creation. Today we will look at three more themes under the rubric of “Redeemed Humanity.”
Wright goes on to observe that, “When God raised Jesus from the dead, he was also saying Yes to creation, affirming the goodness of physical bodily life that he himself had created.” (207) Jesus’ resurrection was vindication of all he had taught. He became the “firstfruits” of the new creation. Jesus had a physical body. He could eat food and his disciples could touch him. Yet Jesus could also walk through … and I mean through … doors. When we are resurrected we will be like him. (Philippians 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2)
Now this raises all sorts of interesting questions. Will we look like we did at the end our lives? What about infants who never matured? What about those of us with deformities? It appears that our new appearance will be in some way so continuous with our present selves that we will be recognizable. But there will be radical discontinuities which I doubt we can imagine … our bodies will no longer be subject to death and decay. We simply have no answers, just the promise of resurrected bodies in a world that is both continuous and radically discontinuous with what we knew before.
Presence of God
Wright writes, “We will also be living with intimate, unthreatening, and unthreatened presence of God.” (211) See Revelation 21:3. This idea of God dwelling with humanity is central the Old Testament vision of the new creation as well. There will be no need of a temple or a Holy Place because the whole creation will become God’s dwelling place. Precisely what this means is a mystery but we are assured that relationship as it was meant to be will be redeemed.
The Blessing of Work
The popular folk imagery of eternity is our transformation into angelic beings living among the clouds, strumming harps in endless repose. The Bible does speak of the new creation in terms of “rest” but rest does not mean cessation of all activity:
Revelation 21 and 22 hints at this idea, but Isaiah 65:21-23 gives a more explicit picture of building houses, planting vineyards, and enjoying the fruits of our labor in peace.
I really appreciated this last emphasis on the nature of work. The ancient Near East creation narratives tended to cast human beings as slaves of the gods who do the work the gods disdained. By contrast, the Biblical narrative views human beings as co-regents and co-creators with God, bringing an already good creation to its fulfillment. The idea of “humans at work” is central to the Old Testament law and it is at the heart to the jubilee where each family is guaranteed access to their own land and labor as they provide for themselves and others. The redemption of human labor is explicitly and implicitly part of the new creation passages of the Old and New Testaments.
What we would today call economic activity … transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful states to more useful states … is integral to the creation stewardship commission in Genesis 1 and it is present all the way through to the new creation vision of Revelation. Our labor and economic activity is not merely instrumental (i.e., a means to put food on the table so we can do “real” ministry or the workplace as merely a staging ground for evangelism). Nor is it intrinsically evil … worthy of our deepest suspicion and a primarily restrictive posture. (While there is much talk these days about “creation stewardship” and “earth-keeping,” a great deal of it casts human interaction with nature almost purely as forest rangers or radical preservationists with a deep antagonism toward economic activity.) Human labor and economic activity is an expression of our image bearing quality that is being redeemed.
Well, there you have it. This wraps up my review of the last three chapters about the end of the world in Christopher Wright’s book. As I noted at the beginning, it is one the most lucid and helpful summaries I have read. What do you think now that you have read in these four posts?