The older I get, the more I excited and serious I am about certain aspects of Christianity, namely Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. As I read more and understand more what these celebrations point to, the more upset I get when I feel like they are being undervalued by Christians, or being used by the secular market to make a buck.
But forgetting all that, I’ve been struck in the last few weeks (as I’ve read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope) with the importance for having the cross and resurrection, and consequently new creation, as our lens through which we see everything else. The way I have come to see the grand vision, of God’s saving creation through Jesus’ death and resurrection and the forthcoming new heavens and new earth), is Shalom, the idea that God made a good world and will remake it in time. Wright’s book re-invigorated me in this thinking; he reminds that in fact our Christianity is rooted not primarily in a belief that you’ll go to a paradise in the skies after you die (which we have called heaven), but rather in the belief that the Resurrection is the first fruits of the restored, renewed creation and that we too will be bodily raised as well. What we call heaven is the resting point, the intermediary for the deceased who await the final resurrection and completion of new creation, that day when Christ will be “their all in all.” New Creation is what we’re waiting for.
Wright spends most of the book trying to drive home this point. One of the things he says that got me oddly excited, is that as he talks about what it means to receive our reward (that which Paul talks about many times), he suggests that in the new creation that we will have work to do! Renaming the animals, etc, but also that all the gifts and talents we have now will be amplified, more fully experienced in new creation, (We see but darkly, as in a glass) and the joys that we sacrificed for our vocations can be taken up again.
I know that some people vision “heaven” as a place where they get to do all that, but I get the feeling that they’re thinking of some place in the sky where they get to play basketball on the clouds, and sit and chat with angels. For me, what excites me about what Wright suggests is that it’s not about some “pie in the sky when you die” philosophy, but that in new creation, we get to live life the way God originally intended us to live it! God wanted us to be able to play music, paint, draw, dance, sing…because it is all a reflection of our good Creator. Yet, we are called to work towards this new creation now. That is the fundamental difference, I think, depending on what lens you see through. If heaven is the end of all things, and the earth is to be discarded and destroyed anyway, then there is no practical, real-life examples of building for the kingdom, other than “saving souls.” But if God is calling us to be co-creators and co-workers, then all our work is to make the eventual, total reality, as much as possible present in this life today. That means we need to find ways to help our fellow human beings live to the fulles that God intended them to, by relieving poverty, oppression, etc, all those typical social justice problems.
But as I’ve argued at other times, new creation comes also by our very acts of co-creation with God. As we make music, art, poetry, story, to the glory of our creator, then a little bit more of God’s kingdom inches its way forward. For me, that calls me to action, and really opens up the possibility to combine my gifts and passions and interests in a way that serves God’s kingdom.
But for the record, I’m playing starting pitcher in the new creation. Just sayin’.