God likes colour.
God likes details.
God likes surprises.
God likes creativity and imaginative design.
God likes grand statements, and intricate whispers.
God likes to reveal himself, and to work invisibly.
We know these things because God reveals himself in Creation. Through nature God shares the things he likes with the people he loves.
This past Sunday our church held our annual Worship in the Park. Each year we enjoy lots of good food and games for all ages. We also worship in the open air surrounded by a wall of trees… and harassed by numerous insects.
My text this year was Isaiah 66:1-2. In preparation for this special service I started reading a new book by Hicks, Valentine & Wilson titled Embracing Creation. I’ve really enjoyed it so far as the authors draw attention to God’s love not only for humanity, but creation as a whole.
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
they and everything in them are mine.
I, the Lord, have spoken! Isaiah 66:1-2a (NLT)
The opening lines of this text describe heaven and earth (Creation) as God’s self-built temple or dwelling place. He then contrasts this with any temple or dwelling humans could construct for him.
When we think of Creation as God’s temple, the next logical step is to recognise Eden as his Holy of Holies. Eden provided the focal point for God’s presence and there he communed with humanity.
If God created the universe as his temple, it gives meaning to psalms such as Psalm 148 that call upon all nature to praise God. The temple is a place of praise and honor.
Science does a wonderful job of telling us how bird songs reflect mating calls, or statements regarding territory, or warnings of danger. But Christians also view the world through a more poetic eye. We recognise that birds sing not for our enjoyment, but to praise their Maker.
As the temple of God, Creation’s well-being correlates with humanity’s relationship with God. In Genesis 3 Creation bears the curse resulting from Adam & Eve’s sin.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17b-18
In Isaiah 55 God invites his people to renew their covenant with him. If they will return to him he describes the consequences. Notice how God’s Temple, Creation, rejoices as joy and peace once more characterise the relationship.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.
It is then unsurprising that Revelation describes nature responding in torment to the affliction of God’s people. As those worshiping in God’s temple are persecuted…
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Revelation 6:12-14
I’m not suggesting that every natural tragedy can be paired with a sin. Rather, highlighting how God views the created world. I believe that if we walk through life and walk through nature regarding it as God’s temple, we’ll find ourselves seeing God around us. I believe we’ll interact differently with nature when we have the attitude that we’re engaging the temple of God. How we regard nature influences how we worship God.
Thus in the closing scene of Scripture we again find God coming to dwell upon the redeemed new heaven and new earth. The temple has been purified and humanity is once more invited into the Holy of Holies as God shares what he likes with the people he loves.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:2-3
I don’t believe that Heaven is the eternal dwelling place of the soul. Instead, I believe the Bible looks forward to a New Creation: A new heaven and a new earth.
I’m familiar with 1 Thessalonians 4:17:
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.“
I know the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16.
I remember Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:3:
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.“
I believe that each of these familiar passages and images can be reconciled with a New Creation understanding of eternity. 2 Peter 3:12 describes a purifying fire that melts the elements, but v13 continues that “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”
One of the most poignant images of this new heaven and earth is found in Revelation 21. In verse 10 the faithful Christians are not taken up to heaven. Rather, John saw “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out heaven from God.” God relocates his dwelling place from “Heaven” to the midst of his “New Creation”.
I’m really not super passionate about this topic as I understand that God reveals himself to us in terms and images that we can understand. It’s quite possible that His plans for our eternity are simply beyond our understanding and all these images are the most we can grasp.
However, I am convinced that our understanding of eternity influences the way we live in the present.
Here’s one application of that principle.
1 Corinthians 5:17 reads,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
When we are “in Christ” we exhibit God’s new creation. We provide a glimpse of eternity. We taste the blessings of eternity in our lives.
This amazes me.
My life doesn’t always (seldom?) actually feels like a glimpse of eternity. But neither does my life feel like it’s held in bondage by darkness.
Christians don’t always do a great job of demonstrating what New Creation looks like. But we can demonstrate grace. We can provide examples of forgiveness. We can work to bring peace. We can wipe away tears and ease pain. We can because God’s Spirit lives within us. We can because we represent the kingdom of God which is so much bigger than the kingdoms of this world.
Verses 18-6:1 describe how we, as representatives of New Creation, now have responsibilities as as Christ’s ambassadors carrying out a ministry of reconciliation. Reconciling the world to God. Communicating to the world that because of Jesus, God no longer counts people’s sins against them!
If we are “in Christ” we are a beachhead of New Creation in the midst of a Fallen Creation.
Let’s live like we mean it. Let’s live as though eternity will be a good thing. Let’s live as though we represent God’s best. Let’s live like we know where we’re going.
BONUS TRACK: Coincidentally, a friend of mine wrote a similar post today HERE. In this blog Rex describes how our understanding of New Creation impacts our attitude toward race relations in the present.