Every morning I walk Jennifer to our neighborhood Metro stop. After I kiss her goodbye and watch her board the train, I walk back home through a small park situated in the center of several high-rise apartment buildings. I value this time each morning because it helps bring me perspective. I often use this time to pray or reflect on life in general. When we pray or do our devotions it’s easy to feel called to something greater. We long to be the people of God, living our lives with the assurance that something better awaits us in the end. That is indeed our God-given hope. But while praying in the midst of trees, with flocks of birds chirping and squirrels going about their business of gathering nuts, I am reminded that I am not the only one that has a hope for the future. As Paul writes in Romans 8:18-23, Creation itself groans for Redemption.
Today’s Christians typically have a very Escapist outlook on this life. When we sing songs with lyrics like “I’m not home yet” and “this is not where I belong” it’s very easy to feel this way. I’m just as guilty as anyone else in this. When I read the news and the see the horrible things going on in the world, I’d much rather be with God in Heaven. Unfortunately, that is a very unbiblical outlook to have and has little to do with Hope. It is also contrary to being Human.
If you are visiting my blog, it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve read the Creation story once or twice, or at least know the gist of it. God created the Universe in six days, rested on the seventh, and all was good—that is, until Adam and Eve sinned and brought death into the world. What you probably don’t know is the cultural context for that story. To sum it up, the Creation story is about God establishing his dwelling place. The Universe is his Temple and all living things were meant to take part in his glory. The two accounts of Humanity’s creation reflect God’s intended vocations for us. First is to be the Image of God—his representation in the Temple of the Universe. (In a pagan temple this is the function of the idol/sacred object) Second, is to keep and tend to the Creation—to be the Priests of God’s Temple. As we know, Adam and Eve messed all that up, however, God’s intentions for his Creation remained.
Fast forward though the Ages of Man and the picture wasn’t quite so “good” anymore. Sin and Death ran rampant across the world and human beings gave up their vocation as God’s Image Bearers in favor of worshiping parts of Creation as “gods.” To set Humanity back onto the right path, God chose Abraham and initiated the Covenant, letting the plan of salvation unfold until it culminated in Israel’s redemption from physical and spiritual slavery in Egypt. After his great victory God made his intentions for the House of Israel quite clear,
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
(Exodus 19:4-6, ESV)
God called Israel to be his city on a hill—the light that shines God’s glory onto the darkness that has spread throughout Creation. Israel was to teach Humanity about their lost vocation and what it meant to be God’s Image Bearers, destroying the power of Idolatry and freeing them from the cycle of Sin and Death. Instead, just like Adam and Eve, Israel messed up their vocation before it even began (see Exodus 32 for the Golden Calf fiasco). Following Sinai, the rest of the Old Testament is filled with Israel’s continual struggle with idolatry and its consequences, culminating in their Exile and the destruction of the Temple at the hands of the Babylonians. Even in the face of such horrible punishment, God promised to free Israel from captivity, yet again, and make a New Covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34) and that he would dwell in a new, more glorious, temple and be in the midst of his people forevermore.
This is the vision for the future that Jesus’ ministry inspired in all who heard him preach on the Kingdom of God. And it is this vocation of hope that the first Christians, both Jew and Gentile, believed they had finally inherited through the Messiah’s death and resurrection. The Apostle Peter invokes the very passage mentioned above when he writes,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9-10)
On that glorious first Easter Sunday, Jesus broke the chains of Sin and Death, inaugurating the Kingdom of God within Creation. He is the Firstborn of the New Creation and the living, breathing, insurance policy that the same thing that happened to him will happen to all of Nature and all who are baptized into his name.
Being “saved” isn’t about being “born again” and having an excuse to live self-righteously in this world while waiting to be taken to the next. We’ve all seen this type of Christian horribly demonized and ridiculed on television and in the movies. When we live like that, people see us as uncaring and callous to the world around us. In their eyes, we hate this life and just want to keep people from having a good time. We say we are called to live a life not of this world, but the truth is, Christians are called to live for this world. God did not create us for Heaven, he created us for Earth, and according to the Bible—regardless of interpretation—the Redeemed and Renewed Earth is Humanity’s final intended destination (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).
No matter how many charts and graphs people make, no one—and I mean NO ONE—knows how or when the End is going to play out. What if, instead of a divine wave of fiery destruction, God intended for his Kingdom of Priests to continue the work of New Creation that began on Easter Morning? Perhaps the reason the Messiah has yet to return is because his people have been shirking their duties for almost 2000 years.
When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we proclaim that Jesus is Lord, now and forever. Jesus’ Kingdom isn’t in the future, it’s now! And it’s our duty to serve and do the good work of our king. Saying things like this gets me pumped up because I can picture what it really means. Jesus is my king, and as he sits on his throne in the heavenly realm, I am to go out into the world on his behalf to set things right. I am a priestly knight-errant at the command of my liege. Anyone who regularly plays fantasy video games, like I do, knows exactly what I’m talking about—a Paladin (for those who don’t know, a paladin is a Priest-Knight—a fantasy version of a Knight Templar). We are called to be the Messiah’s paladins—holy knights freeing the world from bondage as agents of Recreation, continuing the work of the Master until his glorious return. Jesus’ various master and servant parables illustrate this vocation perfectly. What is also clear, is that the Master will not be happy if he returns to find his servants not doing their duty (Matthew 25:26-30).
So, are we to take God’s coin and hide until he returns because we are scared? Are we to continue to live “not of this world,” hiding in our self-righteous corners, waiting for some day in the future when God takes us away from this world of sinful evils?
That’s a hard no.
We are called to increase the Lord’s investment in us. That means going out into the not-so-good-anymore Creation and doing what we can to help it along to that glorious future we have hope in.
I believe in the God who created the whole Universe and all of the people in it. Whether they know he created them or not makes little to no difference. If we are to make that declaration of faith, we should live like we believe it. That means caring for this world and the people in it. It’s not easy. More often than not, it’s downright impossible. But my king was known to work miracles from time to time and so should I, even if that means loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me.
For far too long Evangelism has only meant “winning souls for heaven” and it has cost us much of our true identity. So much so that many of us recoil at being labeled an “Evangelical Christian.” To the Prophets, the Good News of spiritual salvation coincided with the overwhelming beauty of nature and social justice—all aspects of New Creation. Let’s take back that age old meaning and be true Evangelical Christians once again. Instead of preaching “this world is evil, let’s go home,” let’s preach the true Gospel—the Good News of Hope, Beauty, and Justice for all of God’s Creation.