THE NEED FOR HOPE
“Hope” is the final of man’s great needs. In each of us is the innate desire that things would be better tomorrow than they are today. It’s no wonder that “hope” became the buzzword in the last presidential election. And it is no wonder that environmentalism and “going green” have become the latest “religion” in the public square.
What is hope? Following Calvin, if faith is trust in God’s promises, then hope is the expectation that they will one day be fulfilled. And so we wait in hopeful expectation that the entropy established at the fall of man might one day be reversed, and the “thorns and thistles” of Eden’s curse will give way to the flowers of God’s restored creation.
Creation was the last thing described as affected by Eden’s curse, and it may be fitting that it is indeed the last thing to be reconciled through God’s redemptive plan. In Eph 2:10 and Col 1:20 Paul mentions reconciliation on a much larger, universal scale, making explicit mention of “the heavens and the earth.” Paul does not elaborate on these verses, though it seems a fair statement to suggest that Christ’s redemptive work is completed when the current, broken state of affairs here on earth are reconciled in the eschatological sense. One author writes, “…these texts indicate that the discord and fragmentation characteristic of the fallen universe ultimately will give way to harmony and unity as Christ sovereignly rules over the created order.” (Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 181)
A restored creation is precisely what is in view within the terms of the New Covenant. Though not here presently, scripture tells of a future wherein nature itself will respond to God’s will: “A wolf will reside with a lamb… A baby will play over the hole of a snake… They will no longer injure or destroy on my entire royal mountain. For there will be universal submission to the Lord’s sovereignty, just as the waters completely cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9, cf. Isa 65:25). Additionally, wars themselves would cease, as weapons of destruction would become implements of creation (“They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not take up the sword against other nations, and they will no longer train for war (Is 2:4, cf. Mic 4:3).”
This universal restoration is brought to the fore in the New Testament, most vividly in John’s descriptions of the “New Heavens and New Earth” in the Book of Revelation (Rev 21-22), a book that describes the praise of Christ, symbolized by a “Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:12 ff).” Here, the slain Christ brings salvation to those who trust Him as well as carries out God’s redemptive plan by revealing God’s will (i.e., “breaking seals” Rev 6:1 ff), and conquering earthly powers (Rev 17:14).
There is also the matter of death, the most obvious consequence of Eden’s curse, and often the most painful. The resurrection of Jesus Christ validates the Christian faith – without this event the Christian faith is “empty” (1 Cor 15:14). Christ’s resurrection offers hope that one day all those who believe might put away perishable bodies and be able to take on new, imperishable bodies (1 Cor 15:53-54). The Christian hope is that death shall not have the final word, and that man is not destined only for some inglorious end. Rather, man is able to trust in Christ’s assurance that there will one day be a “lasting city” (Heb 13:14)
I never truly understood the idea of Heaven and eschatology until I saw the movie Garden State. The film opens with Zach Braff’s character sitting, alone in a blank, black and white room, listening to his answering machine play the same message over and over again – a message reporting the death of his mother. We see him go to the medicine cabinet, which we see is full of pills. Zach Braff’s character becomes a portrait of the (post)modern condition, quite literally anesthetizing himself to the pain around him. In the film he talks about “home:”
“You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your [stuff], that idea of home is gone… You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”
Yet when Natalie Portman’s character enters his life, the “blankness” of his world slowly disappears, and color slowly re-enters his world.
Heaven is like that. Against the fear-driven culture and end-times novels, the church has traditionally spoken on the topic of eschatology. This is the doctrine that life will one day begin anew in God’s creation. Hope infuses our dreary world with color, and sensitizes our numbed hearts and minds to God’s glorious future.
And for the present? Over the years there have been those who have accused Christians of placing more emphasis on an “invisible” future for a “visible” present (see, for example, Os Guiness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds).
Yet there remains God’s initial mandate to maintain Creation and be stewards of the created world (Genesis 1:28). While it is true that God will one day restore nature, we may still follow this mandate to care for the created order.
Whether this leads to the positions of present-day environmentalism is another discussion entirely, but what is clear is that there is room for some measure of “green” theology. Which harmonizes well with the present concerns of young people for the care of creation.
Now that we have covered these three forms of reconciliation, we shall turn our attention finally to a holistic ministry model, patterned after what Paul calls the “ministry of reconciliation.”