“I’m bored,” the young man says, setting his golden harp down on the soft, white mound next to him.
His companion sits up quickly, sending small puffs of cloud scattering in every direction, several catching on the shimmering halo that had slipped slightly to one side at her sudden movement. “Stop saying that. You’re going to get us in trouble.”
“But I am bored. There’s nothing to do.” Reaching down he fiddles absently with one of the harp strings, sending soft notes through the golden light and causing the small cloud puffs to float rhythmically around his head. “All we ever do is play these stupid harps and sing.”
“Shhhh. Someone will hear you!” she says, glancing around in a futile effort to see if anyone was close enough to hear. Futile, of course, because in this place, someone always hears.
“What are they gonna do? Kick me out?” Jerking his head, he slaps at the swirling could puffs, looking every bit like an angry camper trying to disperse a swarm of hungry mosquitos. “I almost wish they would.”
She just stares at him, too stunned to reply. After a long silence, she whispers, “You want out?”
He responds with a deep sigh, “I don’t know. Four thousand years is a long time to sit on a cloud playing a harp. A little change might be nice.” Staring down at his white robes, he adds, “I know the other side is for bad people. But maybe they’re at least having some fun.”
I’m sorry to say that the way most people describe Heaven sounds rather boring to me. Ask what they’re looking forward to about Heaven, and many people will say something about finding lost loved ones—sometimes even lost pets—the end of pain and sorrow, finally being able to dunk a basketball, run a marathon, or possibly even fly through the clouds. And these are all great things, I suppose. But I’m guessing that after a few thousand years, they’d all grow a bit stale. I love my friends and family, but after a millennium or two, I can pretty much guarantee that I’d be hiding in a closet every time I heard one of them coming around the corner. It’s possible that I just have an unusually short attention span and get bored easily. But 4,000 years of the same old thing sounds boring.
The problem is that our idea of eternity is badly confused. Ask us about Heaven, and we start describing some ethereal city in the clouds. When people do that, I always ask, “Where are the trees?” After waiting a few seconds for that to sink in, I’ll add, “God made trees, so apparently he likes them. Where are the trees in Heaven?” Then, while they’re scrambling about for an adequate answer, I’ll follow up with, “And don’t forget dung beetles. God made those too, so we should figure out where the dung beetles will be in Heaven.” Finally, pausing for effect, I’ll add, “And the fleas.” That always gets their attention. Trees are okay. Everybody likes trees. But dung beetles sound rather disgusting. And who wants to believe that there will be fleas in Heaven? That can’t be right. Heaven is holy and spiritual. Surely there won’t be fleas in Heaven. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, the logic of this argument cannot be applied to cats since they were the result of an evil scientist’s failed experiment and were not actually created by God. It’s true, Google it.)
Since we see Heaven as a wholly spiritual place, we have a hard time conceiving of it having any room for such earthy things as insects. But “earthy” is exactly how the Bible describes our eternal destiny. The focus of the Bible is not on our eternal destiny up among the stars somewhere, but a new city coming down on a new earth completing the plan that God has had in mind since the beginning (Rev. 21).
Our picture of “Heaven” is wrong because we’re looking in the wrong place. Rather than gazing up in the clouds trying to picture what heaven will be like, look down at your feet. Take your shoes off and dig your toes into the damp soil. Reach down and tip the little pill bug over on its back. Watch its squiggly legs kick in the air. Then, turn it over again and let it scurry away. Nearby, see the earthworm wriggling deeper into the freshly turned earth. Look closer and examine the tiny grains of dirt, each a different shape and color, yet combining to form the lush hue of fertile soil. It even smells brown. Turn over the small rocks and explore the exquisite glories that hide in even the most innocuous crevices of creation. I can’t tell you what the new earth will be like. The Bible gives us very little detail. But I can say that this one’s pretty amazing. And, whatever God has in mind for our future, it will not be any less than this.
Who came up with the idea that we’d be disembodied spirits living in some spiritual universe forever? The Bible never says anything about that. Indeed, the Bible describes our future lies as resurrection to a true physical body, appropriately fitted for our new life (1 Cor. 15).
And our picture of eternity is out of whack because we’re selfish. Once again we find that we tend to twist the story so that it’s primarily about us—no more pain, sadness, loss, or loneliness. We can be happy forever. It sounds great. Why wouldn’t it? It’s all about us. For deeply selfish people, this sounds like the ultimate paradise.
But once again we have to remind ourselves that this story isn’t about us. Sure, eternity will be great. God loves us and wouldn’t have anything less than the best for his people. But that doesn’t mean that this is all about us. The new earth is still about God (Rev. 21:22). And that’s good news. As long as eternity is about us, it will be a boring place to be. We’re just not that cool, and eventually we’ll get bored with ourselves and our own happiness. But God? He’s another story entirely. We could spend an entire eternity pursuing him in his infinite mystery: constantly learning new things, being challenged in new ways, rediscovering over and over again how far beyond us he truly is.
Setting his harp down on the velvety soft grass, he looks over at his companion. “That’s enough for now,” he says. “I’m going to go tend the garden for a while. The corn is almost ready.”
“Thank you,” she replies, “that was lovely.” She moves slowly away meditating on the song, already looking forward to sharing it with everyone at the feast later, so they can all sing it together. But right now, she’s going to the lake for a swim.
A dung beetle watches her pass.
Not all sentences are created equal. Most sit quietly, not doing much to get your attention. Others reach out and slap you upside the head. This was one of those.
I’m on one knee. The ring, a family heirloom, gripped in my right hand. Face upturned, I’ve just asked the Question. All I need now is the Answer.
And then it comes. One of those sentences.
Without a hint of a smile, she looks down at me and says, “Are you kidding?”
Fortunately, I’d placed my left hand on the ground for stability, otherwise I may well have tipped over and fallen into the river. We’d been dating for five years! So, it’s not like this was a surprise. Here I am on one knee, at a romantic location, with a diamond ring in my hand, and she wants to know if I’m kidding? I’m usually pretty good with words, but at that moment…speechless.
Some sentences just have that effect on you.
At the very beginning of the Bible, we run into this kind of sentence. Unfortunately, many of us have heard it so many times that it no longer surprises us. It has lost its shock value. But still, it’s one of the most amazing statements in the entire Bible.
“In the beginning, God created.”
Wait, he did what?
Stop and think about that for a second. God created. First, there was just God. And then he decided to make stuff.
And, why was this so amazing? Because God didn’t need to create. God doesn’t need anything. He is the one who gives everything—life, breath, land, and even time itself (Acts 17:22-34). He’s so far beyond us that he holds the entire universe in one hand, like I might cup a puddle of water in my palm, its existence dependent on me keeping it from dribbling through my fingers into nothingness (Isaiah 40:12). What could he possibly need from creation?
But, if God doesn’t need anything, why create? God was perfect before creation and would have been perfect without creation. So, why bother?
I have a few rules that I use when I teach about God. One of them is that if someone asks me a question beginning with “Why did God…?” I am very likely to answer with “I don’t know.” That only seems fair. Unless God explicitly tells us why he’s done something, we should be very careful about guessing. We’re more likely to describe why we think God should have done something, than say anything about why he actually did it.
Nonetheless, even if we can’t say for sure why God created, we know one of the main things that he does through creation: he glorifies himself. Everything that God made “declares the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). As the twenty-four elders in the Book of Revelation proclaim, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Creation brings glory to God.
At its most basic “glory” refers to how amazingly awesome someone or something is. Think, for example, of an Olympic runner taking a victory lap just after winning her event. Everyone has just witnessed how amazingly awesome she is—her speed, strength, and skill. She displayed her glory in her race, and she continues to display her glory as she runs around the track. Or, consider the glory of a flower. Although not as immediately awe-inspiring as a perfect Olympic performance, the flower has its own glory. Consider the delicacy of its petals, the contour of its stem, the subtle shading of its colors. Amazing. Glory.
Something has glory, then, in the very fact that it is amazing in some way. But, we can also talk about giving glory. That’s what the crowd does as it cheers for the athlete running her victory lap. The crowd does not make her glorious—she’s already displayed her glory in the race. But it recognizes and celebrates her glory by cheering as she takes her victory lap. And, my daughters do the same thing when they rush into the house and drag me into the backyard to witness the glory of the flower, rejoicing in its beauty and unique splendor.
That’s how God’s glory works. Consider God in all his incredible wonder—his love, strength, power, creativity, holiness, wisdom, justice, and so much more. Everything God does displays his glory.
In the end, I can’t explain why, though I intend to ask someday. For now it’s enough to know that by creating God displayed his own awesome glory so that all of creation could respond in worship.
[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]
These are some of the questions that Brian LePort wrestled with in a paper that he presented last month at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25.”
Here’s how he sets up the discussion:
When the canonical choir sings eschatological songs we often give much attention to the passages with a higher pitch. Many books have been written on the otherworldly images of the Apocalypse. The cataclysmic vision of 2 Peter 3.10-13 results in “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as we hear of the earth being purged by flames. And what can we say when Jesus himself tells us “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35; Mk. 13.31; Lk. 21.33). There doesn’t seem to be much hope for this creation. It would appear that her end is devastation.
Yet in the Book of Genesis we are told that God thought his creation to be “good” (1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25) and when he added humans it became “very good” (1.31). This should cause us to pause. In spite all the passages that seem to indicate that creation is expendable we must ask if there are any passages that harmonize more directly with the creation account.
Before we claim to have heard the whole song we must give heed to the tenor of Pauline eschatology. Whereas the aforementioned passages, and others like them, seem to indicate a discontinuation between this world and the one to come, the contribution of the Apostle Paul is that he emphasizes some sort of continuation. In this paper it is my desire to draw attention specifically to the voice of Rom. 8.1-25 as we formulate a Christian eschatology. I will be asking for those who are in attendance to give a hearing to this passage because I believe that it contributes balance to the canonical witness regarding the future of this current created order. It is here in these verses that we will see an analogy between the transition which will occur during our resurrection and the “rebirthing” of all creation.
He goes on from there to argue that to understand Romans, you have to hear the “echoes” of Genesis that reverberate throughout the book. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to read Romans 8 in that context as the crescendo and climax of God’s plans for creation, which he began way back in Genesis 1.
So, he concludes.
In Rom. 8.1-25 we find that the relationship between God, humanity, and the created order will be made right in the age to come. Humans will reign and rule with the risen Lord Jesus Christ over the renovated earth being and doing for creation what Adam and Eve (and every generation since) has failed to be and do. Humans will point creation toward her Creator rather than worshiping the creation.This will be when the adopted children of God are resurrected with new bodies, overcoming death, setting creation free from the curse that came because of Adam and Eve in Eden. Creation will be set free from her suffering.
In LePort’s argument, then, Paul presents the future of this creation as one of redemption and restoration. Although there are elements of discontinuity between what we see now and the new creation to come, he sees important elements of continuity as well – continuity grounded in God’s creative purposes begun in Genesis and echoed throughout Romans.
(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)
- The New York Times reports on a recent gathering of scientists who met to discuss what and where the Garden of Eden might have been – kind of – in “A Romp Into Theories of the Cradle of Life.”
Darwin speculated that life began in a warm pond on the primordial Earth. Lately other scientists have suggested that the magic joining of molecules that could go on replicating might have happened in an undersea hot spring, on another planet or inside an asteroid. Some astronomers wonder if it could be happening right now underneath the ice of Europa or in the methane seas of Titan.
- Scot McKnight has begun a series on Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.
Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.
- Fred Sanders offers a fascinating look into pop culture with “Born This Way (so Raise Your Glasses, All You Fireworks).“
Three hit songs in the last few months have pushed the same message: You are awesome. You’re awesome just the way you are, even –no, especially– if you don’t fit in.
- Brian LePort offers his thoughts on what “rapture” means in 1 Thess. 4:17.
My take on the passage is that it refers to our meeting Christ in the air to welcome him to his earthly rule. If this is a “rapture”, fine, as long as it is not confused with the popular idea.
- Rod has started what looks like a fascinating series on Firefly & Theology. (If you’re not familiar with Firefly, it was an outstanding scifi series on Fox that sadly only made it through one season, though it was later made into a movie.)
- The Gospel Coalition has launched a new resource on Preaching Christ in the Old Testament that looks very interesting.
- And, here’s an explanation of how to win at rock-paper-scissors every time.
I couldn’t resist. I really couldn’t. I thought about saving it for tomorrow’s Flotsam and Jetsam, but it was too much fun.
HT 22 Words
- Richard Dawkins arues that employers should be allowed to discriminate based on “private” religious beliefs.
Religious beliefs should never be privileged over other beliefs, simply by virtue of being religious. Either a particular belief is relevant to eligibility for employment or it is not.
So I’m beginning to wonder if it’s “a wrap” on this whole “missional” movement splash, especially in terms of church planting? I can definitely see the wind being taken out of the sails for some. I’ve been particularly curious about crickets I hear when bringing up a few issues among missional Christians:
- Peter Enns discusses whether Adam and Eve were celibate in the garden.
More importantly for us, the interpretive principle by which one ancient interpreter handled this specific issue is a very common one in contemporary Christian interpretation: using other parts of the Bible to inform our interpretation of Genesis. The question, then, is: how our application of this principle differs from this one example below, if at all?
- Michael Jensen asks, Is There Value in Suffering.
From the point of view of biblical faith, there is no inherent value in suffering. Like much that is evil in our world, human suffering is a perversion and a disruption of what should be. It has entered the world because of the dislocation of the relationship between human beings and their creator – the good God who purposed his creation for his own delight and that of his creatures. Suffering is an aberration – it has no value for its own sake. It is not good in and of itself. In the Psalms of the Old Testament, we read some impassioned pleas to God about the absurdity of suffering.
- And, here’s a quiz to see if you can name the 10 most popular websites in less than two minutes.
- James McGrath offers a very nice review of Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III
- Mark Goodacre points out a BBC 4 series on the King James Bible that looks like it could be interesting.
- Matt Flannagan begins a series called “Fallacy Friday” with a post on What Is an Argument?
- According to one recent study, even thinking that you’ve had alcohol can impair memory and judgment. I wonder if that means that thinking you haven’t had alcohol even when you have would lead to improved memory and judgment?
- And, here’s a list of 17 Things You Didn’t Know about Seinfeld.
- BioLogos is posting a two-part article from James Bradley on Why Dembski’s Design Inference Doesn’t Work.
This article challenges that belief by questioning some of Dembski’s assumptions, pointing out some limitations of his analysis, and arguing that a design inference is necessarily a faith-based rather than a scientific inference.
- Cynthia Nielsen discusses Foucault’s critique of the modern subject.
I conclude that most if not all of Foucault’s condemnatory remarks concerning the subject are not intended as a death sentence for the subject per se; rather, his objective is to lay to rest a particular socio-historical construction of the subject and subjectivity. That is, Foucault’s critique is directed expressly at themodern construction of an ahistorical, autonomous subject as sovereign originator of meaning, one untainted by his own particular historical and socio-political context.
- Kent Eilers has a nice post on Plagiarism & the Seven Deadly Sins.
Pride – Plagiarism is driven by the refusal of limitation. A student comes up against their own intellectual limits, the time allotted in a busy semester, etc., and, unwilling to accept limitation, compensates by deception.
- James McGrath points out that Brian Abasciano’s doctoral dissertation from the University of Aberdeen “Paul’s Use of the OT in Romans 9.1-9” is available online. And, I should have commented on this a while ago, but Jonathan Robinson has also made is MTh thesis available online, “Sex, Slogans and Σώµατα: Discovering Paul’s Theological Ethic in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.”
- Nick Norelli offers a detailed review of James McGrath’s The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context. And, both Joel Watts and Brian Fulthorp have nice reviews of Tim Gombis’ The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.
- Travis McMaken comments on 5 Must-Read Recent Books on Barth.
- And, Mashable offers some suggestions for the best places to get free Kindle books.
Every year, Answers in Genesis sponsors a trip to the Grand Canyon and invites people from around the country to attend. I’ve been invited for this next summer and I need to decide if I’m going to go.
The point of the trip, of course, is to present data from the Grand Canyon that ostensibly supports a “young earth” understanding of creation. But, you don’t have to be a young earth creationist to attend. As I understand from people who have gone on previous trips, at least half of the group tends to be either undecided or openly in the “old earth” camp. So, it’s a good chance to interact with people from a variety of perspectives, even though the purpose of the trip is to provide arguments in favor of one particular perspective.
The bonus is that the trips are heavily subsidized. So, at the very least you end up with a pretty cheap river-rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. And, you get to hang out with professors from schools around the country at the same time.
So, what do you think? Would you go on a trip like this? Why or why not? Should I go? I haven’t really commented much about creation issues on this blog, but I’m not a “young earth” guy. A trip down the Grand Canyon would be pretty amazing. I’m just trying to decide if this is the way I want to do it.
Despite the outpouring of support for the previous title “Flotsam and jetsam” (yes, in my world four comments qualifies as an “outpouring”), I’m going to stick with a simpler title for a while and see how it works.
- Here’s a video clip of N.T. Wright on whether biblical theology requires us to see Adam as an historical person.
- This year’s list of the Top 100 Largest and Fastest Growing Churches has (again) raised questions about its validity and what its implicitly suggesting about the church.
- HuffPo has an interesting post on the history of the “flat earth dogma”, arguing that it was an invention of several 19th century thinkers who used it to portray Christianity as anti-science.
- Daily Writing Tips offers a list of 12 Greek Words any good writer should know. (I’ll confess that I can’t hear #11 without thinking The Three Amigos.)
- C. Michael Patton steps up in defense of Rick Warren, using Warren’s tweets (of all things) to support the quality of his ministry.
- Bill Mounce posts some reflections on his experience with the NIV translation committee and what it means to make a good translation.
- And, here’s an article contending that using Apple products makes you a better Christian. HT