I closed my last post with the question, “How then does our work in this time of the Kingdom “already but not yet” have an eschatological impact?”
The first way that our work has eschatological impact is through our daily work. Through our work we are formed and transformed. We come into the world with certain innate abilities and proclivities but we are also formed by the relationships and experiences of our lives. When we are resurrected and enter the New Creation, we enter as beings formed by the Old Creation. That which is righteous and whole within us is carried forward. That which is sinful and broken in us is burned away in the refiner’s fire or transformed into that which is holy. Darrell Cosden and Miroslav Volf have both suggested that when we die, somehow God holds the “pattern” of who we are in his memory and rematerializes us transformed in the New Creation. Scripture doesn’t explicate how this work is done but rather calls upon us to trust God that he will make it so.
What does seem apparent is that our present selves carry forward into the New Creation. Work is basic to our ontology as God’s image bearers. Our work shapes us. Therefore, though the physical results of our work may be transient, our work has eschatological value. This is true even for work that may not be the best match for our gifts and abilities. Even work done as a slave can have eschatological meaning. (Colossians 3:22-24, Ephesians 6:5-8, 1 Peter 2:18-21)
A second way our work has an eschatological impact is that it images in the here and now the nature of work in the New Creation. When we work with the heart and mind of God, we give holistic witness to the nature of humanity in the age that is to come. We are called to be proleptic (i.e. living as though the future is in the present) communities of Jesus disciples and only a Gnostic-like dualism would permit us to interpret that to mean that our daily work, both what we chose to do and how we do it, has no bearing on proleptic living.
Finally, there is a way in which our corporate economic behavior as humanity carries over into the New Creation. Once again, that which is righteous and whole carries forward and that which is sinful and broken is burned away in the refiner’s fire or transformed into that which is holy. While material artifacts may or may not carry forward in some way, concepts like the wheel, with its many contributions to economic advancement, surely will. What Lee Hardy describes as “the fabric of our world,” our accumulated knowledge and patterns of interaction, somehow carry forward. I suspect that if indeed God is holding these things in his memory for re-materialization in the New Creation that the wisdom and contributions of lost cultures (including those of the oppressed) will be incorporated into this fabric as well.
What this fabric metaphor highlights is something else that must be noted about the imago Dei. While individuals are the imago Dei there is an equally important sense in which humanity taken collectively is the imago Dei. Our work has eschatological meaning for us as individuals but our individual work is also incorporated into an organic and interconnected reality of the corporate imago Dei. The symbolization of the New Creation as a city, the New Jerusalem, suggests to me that something of our corporate cultural structures are to be redeemed and incorporated into God’s eternal New Creation.
I began this series of four posts with:
“What are we to make of the world we live in? What is our relationship to the created order? Many Christians in recent years have reevaluated the significance of the material world in light of the biblical narrative. Recovery of eschatological and teleological frameworks has become central to this renewed interest.”
I’ve focused on the material nature of human existence but non-human materiality is pronounced by God as good and therefore has value. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22) Non-human nature is also part of God’s redemptive plan. And since our stewardship includes bringing all of creation to fruition, care and provision for the natural world is incorporated in to the fabric our world. Indeed, the vision of the New Jerusalem is a city but it is a garden city.
Some Christians are regaining a better integration of ecology into their understanding of the mission of God. Regrettably, many still view human work as peripheral and instrumental. In fact, someone recently used the phrase Great Commission utilitarianism to describe the prevailing view of work within the Church. Work has no intrinsic or eschatological significance except insofar as it promotes evangelism. Some types of work are esteemed because they are deemed to contribute to personal care for people but people who work in the marketplace are viewed at best with ambivalence and frequently with hostility. It is time to lose our dualistic conceptions and reintegrate work into our missional understandings. When people see and experience their daily activity as something that is directly connected to the eternal things of God, watch out!