October 19, 2017

He will come to us

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RJS had an excellent post this week as part of her ongoing discussion of J. Richard Middleton’s book, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology.

In it, she examines six scriptures that support Middleton’s contention that “the redemption and restoration described in Scripture is a holistic redemption of all of creation,” and that “Christians are not rescued from earth but saved along with heaven and earth.”

Here are the six texts (NRSV, with emphasized words in italics):

Acts 3:19-21
19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah 21 who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.

Ephesians 1:9-10
9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Colossians 1:19-20
19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Romans 8:19-23
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

2Peter 3:10-13
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading 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 ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Citing Middleton, RJS comments: “In all of these passages the saving activity of God is restorative, repairing what is wrong. The object of God’s saving activity is “comprehensive and holistic – God intends to redeem or restore “all things” in heaven and earth, including our bodies.” (p. 163)

Finally, she mentions Revelation 21-22, obviously too long to quote here. But this climactic passage involves a vision of heaven descending to earth, not of saints ascending to heaven, and includes this announcement:

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Just as the Garden in Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the incarnate Jesus, and the Church filled with the Holy Spirit represent the locus of the presence of God’s glory on earth now, one day God’s glory will fill all the world and God will dwell among a renewed humanity on a new earth under a new heaven. The entire world will become a vast edenic garden, a King’s temple and palace, which corresponds with the imagery of Genesis 1-2.

Our future hope is not so much that we will go to be with God as that he will come to be with us, raised to life and made new in a new creation.

RJS tells us that Middleton’s book goes on in a subsequent chapter to discuss texts that seem to offer a different perspective on the future. We’ll look at those another time.

For now, as we prepare to face a new year, it is my contention, based on biblical texts like this, that our vocation in this world is to be in this world, fully engaged, planting seeds of faith, hope, and love that will be harvested one day in a new world. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between this world and the next.

A primary role for the Church in this age is to be a sign to all the world of the age to come, a revelation of God’s glory in the midst of this world’s corruption, just as the Temple was in Israel, as well as Jesus, the greater Temple. Ironically, we do that not by glorious means, but in the way Jesus and the apostles did — by means of the cross, where we lay down our lives that others might live.

Comments

  1. This is an example of theology done right, in my mind. It’s one of those “Both/And” situations, rather than an “Either/Or” one. We don’t have to pit a desire for heaven against a love of Creation! No “Immanentize the Eschaton” vs. “Rapture Bus Stop”. Nothing of what is valuable in both approaches is lost, and it presents an even more amazing picture of God’s love and His plan for mankind and the world.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > We don’t have to pit a desire for heaven against a love of Creation!

      +1

      > presents an even more amazing picture of God’s love and
      > His plan for mankind and the world

      The PR problem for this arc of understanding the text is that it involves a lot of thinking. It is a much less clearly defined arc than all-in-for-the-furnace or prepare-for-the-great-escape. What does “return” mean in this reading? What do you do with some of those odd [but very entertaining] prophecies and vision? The Church is given very little guidance as to what being “a sign to all the world of the age to come” means in a modern technologically sophisticated civilization of seven billion people. That requires a whole lot of thinking; lots of thinking necessarily results in lots of disagreement – something The Church does not have a history of dealing with ‘efficiently’. I believe this is the correct reading of the text; but the resistance to this reading comes in fast from every direction. It is odd to read a post with enthusiastic agreement, and yet feel sadness as the result.

      • Ronald Avra says:

        Good observation about lots of thinking resulting in considerable disagreement. Requires patient and thoughtful discussion to hang out with that crowd.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      No “Immanentize the Eschaton” vs. “Rapture Bus Stop”.

      Though “Rapture Bus Stop” (i.e. “It’s All Gonna Burn”) includes an ImmInIntize the Eschaton called “Let’s Jump Start Armageddon”.

      • Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much
        Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Ah, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”.

          Though even when that song was new, I noticed they never mentioned one way that (to me at least) was obvious: the Mid-Bondage Bugout.

  2. Andrew Zook says:

    This, “A primary role for the Church in this age is to be a sign to all the world of the age to come, a revelation of God’s glory in the midst of this world’s corruption…” — is So Important and in many ways today, discarded by the modern church. Put that vocation/principle up against too much of our thought and practice…which too often is a sign of ‘our’ corrupt world and not a sign of that which is to come.
    Hold Falwell Jr’s exhortation up to the light of this call – it fails – His words are a reflection of this world’s brokenness and not a reflection of the age to come…
    Hold up the any-means cultural war for political power to the light of this call – it fails…
    Hold our splintered, self-centered denominationalism up to the light of this call – it fails…
    Hold our impersonal, consumerist megas or mega-like ecclesiology up to the light of this call – it fails…
    And there are many more… May our leaders and laity be animated by this call to reflect the age to come!

  3. I like this idea, that it is God Himself who will restore all things, NOT our feeble efforts. In the USA, we Christians seem to think that by our political actions in government we can make things appear as if heaven had been brought down to earth, whether on the right OR on the left, and we then castigate each other for our failings. It is much the same as the orthodox Jews in Israel who reject the state of Israel as being the “gathering together” because it is the Messiah who will do that, and the modern state is the product of socialistic political action of man, NOT God.

    I desire to see it happen soon…preferably before I have to return to work in another week 😉 .

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > In the USA, we Christians seem to think that by our political actions in government
      > we can make things appear as if heaven had been brought down to earth

      Disagree; I cannot recall ever hearing anyone assert this belief. Fairly often I hear the clear assertion that we can, essentially, do nothing.

      > I desire to see it happen soon…preferably before I have to return to work in another week

      Amen! On this we heartily agree.

      • Disagree; I cannot recall ever hearing anyone assert this belief. Fairly often I hear the clear assertion that we can, essentially, do nothing.

        Adam, can you honestly say that you have never heard, nor seen in print, someone stating that “Jesus would do so and so and we should too” in respect to helping the poor or being more responsible with our money, or any other trope? If not, then I would say you have not been reading THIS site very often (excuse me while I chuckle on this one) because I have seen it often!

        Christians often use Jesus as an example for activism of one sort or another, and more often use their Christian faith as a reason for their own actions. It is just human nature to do so.

        • Well, it is so much easier to make God in our image than to let God conform us to his…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Adam, can you honestly say that you have never heard, nor seen in print,
          > someone stating that “Jesus would do so and so and we should too” i

          Sure I have. That is not what you said.

          Quote: “””we Christians seem to think that by our political actions in government we can make things appear as if heaven had been brought down to earth”””

          Hand waving away people as Utopians is nothing but rhetorical deflection, a way of not having to be bother having conversations one does not want to have. It is the same [demonstrably false] trope of saying all politicians are the “same”, or political parties are the “same”; which depends on either an insane or extremely ignorant definition of “same”.

          I have never heard a politican posit ‘creating heaven on earth’ as either an objective or a goal. That is miles from saying one is motivated to do X because of Jesus.

        • Christians….more often use their Christian faith as a reason for their own actions.

          …and their inaction.

          • Exactly. It’s all gonna burn. No one is good without God. There’s no point in working hard because only God can fix it. Just keep praying. Let go and let him.

            No.

          • Maybe, Stu. But I think the actual motivation is less theological and more freudian. Admitting that one can make the world a better place can make some feel judged – it implies that one may be guilty of not preserving God’s creation or working for the good of the city. I don’t see things this way myself – hopefully we are all learning and changing our behaviors. But I know many people (including my wife, for example) who can’t admit that change is needed without feeling judged.

    • I like this idea, that it is God Himself who will restore all things, NOT our feeble efforts.

      Disagree. That type of thinking encourages pew potatoes. It tells people that they shouldn’t work to improve things, to advance the kingdom. To just accept everything as is, in the hopes that one day God maybe will come and fix it all.

      Eff that. Go and do the work.

      • You see most people think
        great God will come from the sky
        Take away everything
        and make everybody feel high
        But if you knew what life is worth
        you would look for yours on Earth
        Now you see the light
        Stand up for your right

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2W3aG8uizA

      • flatrocker says:

        Divine intervention coupled with human response.
        When oh when will we stop the binary absolutes?

        Now go write “both/and” one hundred times on the blackboard.

        • Now go write “both/and” one hundred times on the blackboard.

          ….Or else?

          I get your point; I think we make binary alternatives where we shouldn’t, and this subject is an example. You’re right.

          But, though we abuse them, binaries are indispensable. Your very observation contains a binary, between the alternatives of stopping the overuse of binary absolutes, and not. What we need is wisdom in knowing where, and how frequently, and generously, to apply them.

          • I use the word “generously” not to suggest that we should use binaries with greater frequency rather than with less, but because when we deem it necessary to utilize binaries, we should do so with generosity of spirit, rather than in miserly self-protection.

  4. what a contrast there is between fundamentalism with it’s ‘God of Wrath’,
    and the idea that Christ has come to us with healing in His Hands . . .

    I think this contrast is responsible for the greatest differences in theology among Christian people. Certainly responsibility for the ways that Christian people openly relate to ‘the others’ in this world, yes.

  5. No matter who says what and the reasons they give. In all of it we become a like. The torch or flame of the love has always been here. From the garden of disappointment to the end of a church who more than likely being so far removed from His being here we’re are destined to get it wrong. The perfect love that has always been here was never ours. I have come to believe that I was never capable of it so it had to become a gift and still I mess it up. This love never gives up on me though. Not once. Truly the best news ever on my doorstep. The creator willfully acts through me at times. I have felt it and experienced it. Maybe he does more than I could know.

    It’s a nice thought and could very well happen at least in part. Kingdom’s so divine seem like they could never be divided. Heaven to earth or earth to heaven. It seems little to something so vast yet every detail accounted for. For not even a sparrow falls that my Father does know it done in art work in my room circling the walls.

    Come now those of us later and closer to leaving don’t you know it. How entwined you have been in a system that runs basically because of us. So many, so so many. How many of us have failed to get beyond our own kingdoms. I have and still I struggle and this book that was not hand written by Him who came here and was educated beyond us all and able. Was it because we can’t understand a love so deep by a creator who put light in my eyes. The marvelous creatures we devour and with science we could easily feed the world by not eating flesh anymore.

    Sad wore out and know that the love that created me will keep me. If not that’s okay because I got to taste something better then the whole world ever had to offer. Or is it what it had to offer???????????

    • Christiane says:

      ” . . . bishvili nivra’ ha`olam ”

      (from the Talmud)

      • yeah I caught that thanks I think. Compared to others here I am just plain and maybe even a fool, I can be a fool before I am right. Actually I would rather be not to say the others have a strong right to say what they say. I actually wish they would say it with force it puts across there point of view quite accurately.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    The beginning of this piece refers to “RJS”. I must somehow be out of the loop, because I cannot find her name on the website.

    I’m glad Middleton’s book is being reviewed by whoever she is. For a couple of months early in 2015 I focused my reading on the biblical promises of resurrection and new heaven and new earth. In the past I’d read and heard the teachings of N. T. Wright and wanted to expand on his understandings. I first read Middleton’s book. Then later several others, some of which I’ve not yet finished. They will probably wait until later in 2016.

    When I read I always look for the author’s stated purpose or guiding central thesis. In discussion with others, Middleton decided the time was ripe for fresh examination of eschatological theology “based on responsible exegesis of Scripture and also attuned to the theological claims and ethical implications of the Bible’s vision of salvation.”

    He wants his book to be a small contribution to the total discussion that is taking place. He states

    Its primary purpose is to clarify how New Testament eschatology, rather than being a speculative add-on to the Bible, actually coheres with, and is the logical outworking of, the consistently holistic theology of the entirety of Scripture.

    He also states that the book has two subsidiary purposes that flow from its primary orientation.

    First, I explore some of the ethical implications of a biblically grounded holistic eschatology for our present life in God’s world. And second, I investigate, at least in a preliminary way, what happened to the biblical vision of the redemption of the earth in the history of Christian eschatology.

    I look forward to this discussion.

    • If I’m not sadly confused, RJS posts on Scot McKnight’s blog sort of as the Science Gal, does a lot on the supposed Science vs Religion conflict. I believe she also has her own site but I’ve never checked it out, that particular conflict seeming artificial to me. There’s a link up above under the Blogrolls.

  7. The only way I have ever been able to understand this “restoration and redemption” is as a kind of natural advance in the frequency of vibration in the elements of our material make up. Like moving up an octave. Sometimes referred to in woo woo literature as the Great Transformation or some such. Supposedly depending on humanity as a whole reaching some threshold level of spiritual advancement. Supposedly moving things to a place where the lower spiritual levels of service to self can not enter or live or even see what’s going on. I dunno. Makes more sense to me than a lot of religious or scientific claptrap, but generally met with scathing scorn as craziness. All I know is that after Jesus attained what we call resurrection he was able to appear and disappear at will, apparently from somewhere else, and walls and locked doors were not a hindrance. If you want to call that somewhere else “heaven”, I don’t see that as much of an explanation.

    For me, out of all those scripture quotations above, the key phrase would be Peter’s “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” I don’t know that Peter had any better understanding of this than I do. It’s pretty vague. But “waiting” and “hastening” are not at all the same thing, they are antipodal. Waiting is passive and makes sense if there is nothing you can do about something anyway. Sometimes that is the most appropriate response to events or the lack thereof.

    Hastening is active. If this transformation is something that happens naturally anyway like the precession of the equinoxes, It wouldn’t matter if we managed to finally exterminate ourselves. But if it requires our cooperation, our assent, our intent, and our concerted energy, a great deal depends on us, and possibly there is a huge unseen audience watching and waiting to see just how we handle what increasingly seems like a crisis situation.

    So as Peter understood nearly 2000 years ago, this is not an either/or situation, it’s both/and. We wait and we push, each as appropriate to the situation in front of us, and hopefully distinguishing between the two. What seems clear to me is that those pushing by trying to ignite Armageddon and those pushing by trying to eliminate poverty and injustice are barking up opposite sides of the same wrong tree.

    Richard Rohr today says, “The purpose of prayer and religious seeking is to see the truth about reality, to see what is. And at the bottom of what is is always goodness. The foundation is always love.” Richard almost always has something pertinent to say about how to hasten the arrival of the “day of God”. It usually doesn’t have to do with how to change other people, it’s almost always about how to change the self to appropriate the mind of Christ.

    I’m guessing in the general so called Christian population, and maybe here as well, something like 10% would respond to Richard’s insights with more or less understanding and approval. Another 10% would likely react negatively and violently, considering him of the devil. And maybe the remaining 80% would be basically, meh, what’s for supper.

    I’m looking for folks who understand what it is to hasten this spiritual turning point by effort and intent directed toward dissolution of the ego’s control, and recognition of the Presence of God. But who also understand that sometimes this is best done by waiting in silence and acceptance of what is. This is not an easy search, but fortunately it can be conducted while alone, and one discovers that one is never really alone, whether with Jesus never leaving nor forsaking, or with those one finds walking the same direction on this planet. Come Lord Jesus.