Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Is Gods Eschatological Goal?

Any good discussion of the end of something must also include some discussion of its beginning. In the beginning of our story, God created our world and everything in it. In the first two chapters of Genesis, it is clear that God believes his creation to be “good” and that he has intentions for it to progress rather than remain static. As N.T. Wright points out, “Creation is a project, not a product.” In other words, God loved what he created and had a dream for where he wanted it to go. He didn’t create a static, unchanging thing, but rather a world that was “good” and, as Rob Bell says, “loaded with potential”. God then creates people “in his image” to care for and guide the creation that he loves toward the fulfillment of his dream. Unfortunately, people make a poor choice and the entire creation project veers off course.
At this point in the story (and in our discussion), there enters an important question. “Does God give up on his dream?” How we answer this question, in no small way, determines how we perceive the rest of the story, particularly the “ending”. People who answer “yes” to this question generally, perceive creation to be in an irredeemable downward spiral and God’s eventual goal to be its destruction and the whisking away of the faithful to disembodied bliss. This is somehow thought to be God’s great victory. However, if God doesn’t get what he originally dreamed for his creation, it would stand to reason that this end would mark his defeat rather than his victory. It is my belief, however, that rather than surrendering creation to Satan and then destroying it in a final act of vengeance, God enacts his plan to bring about what the New Testament writers refer to as the “restoration” or “renewal” of “all things”.
God recruits a man named Abram and his descendants to be his agents in the world. He commissions them to partner with him in his dream. Though Israel’s prophets (particularly Isaiah) repeatedly paint pictures of God’s dream for the world with their words, Israel still doesn’t seem to get it. They fall into the temptation of believing that their arrangement with God is exclusively to their benefit. Even so, God doesn’t throw up his hands in defeat. Instead, God (the Son) becomes a human being and shows them the Way. He lives out Gods intention for humans. He dies a sinner’s death (though he never sinned) and then defeats even death, somehow freeing us from both sin and mortality. The Way modeled by Jesus is opened up beyond the descendants of Abram to all who would live in this reality and for this purpose.
But, what exactly is this purpose? Where exactly is this story going? What is God’s eschatological goal? Jesus, as the “true human” reveals the eschatological future of human beings in his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 refers to Jesus’ resurrection as a “first fruits” for us. It points out that this will not simply involve the restoration of our physical bodies, but also a glorification in which they will somehow be changed so that death and decay are no longer a factor. Far from being a “disembodied” existence, these passages seem to indicate that while our existence will involve a different kind of physicality, it will none the less be physical. I have heard N.T. Wright point out several times that this “disembodied bliss” idea has more in common with the pagan concept of Nirvana than to orthodox Christianity. Michael Wittmer, in his book, Heaven is a Place on Earth, implies that the concept is closely tied to the ideas of Greek philosophy and even Gnosticism having to do with “matter” being evil and only the “spirit” being good.
Romans, chapter 8 takes an interesting turn in verses 18-27. Here, Paul seems to indicate that creation itself has the same promise as the children of God. He says that creation, will be freed from it’s bondage to death and decay in the same way as the children of God. Indeed, the New Testament repeatedly refers to a time when there will be a new (or renewed) Heaven and Earth, (an idea that seems to be completely ignored in the most popular forms of eschatology in North America today). Revelation 21 envisions God and the new Jerusalem coming down to Earth with God declaring that he is “making all things new” (a picture also painted by the prophet Isaiah). As Stan Grenz articulates in Theology for the Community of God, “…the prophets of both Testaments anticipate a new earth blanketed by a new heaven (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). Rather than resurrected believers being snatched away to live forever with God in some heavenly world beyond the cosmos, the seer of Revelation envisioned exactly the opposite. God will take up residence in the new creation (Rev. 21:3).The dwelling of the citizens of God’s eternal community, therefore, will be the renewed earth.” God’s goal is not simply the resurrection and glorification of creation and humanity. It also entails his realized dream of harmony (shalom) between a) God and human beings, b) human beings and other human beings, and c) human beings and creation. God does not simply wish to restore original creation. He wants the project to go where it was designed to go all along. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps, as both Wittmer and Wright have pointed out, the final verse of an old hymn sums it up best.

“This is my Father’s World
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world!
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied
And earth and heav’n be one.”
  • Bell, Rob…Velvet Elvis: Repainting The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005

  • Grenz, Stanley J…Theology For The Community of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000

  • Wittmer, Michael E…Heaven Is A Place On Earth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004

  • Wright, N.T….he Challenge of Jesus. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1999

  • Wright, N.T….Creation and New Creation In The New Testament. Vancouver: Regent Audio, 2003

1 comment:

Phil said...

This strikes me as much more hopeful about what God is doing and the Kingdom.