15 March 2010

what season is it in heaven?

There are many different expression which try to get at the experience of heaven. Some people talk about how it will be a neverending worship service. Indeed, our grandparents were fond of talking about how we would sing the great hymns of the faith into eternity. I have often wondered, would God really do that to himself?

Superficially, such sentiment could be taken or left. More seriously, didn't God create humans to be human? In other words, are all of our gifts and talents forgotten at the gate of heaven where we are forced into the choir? I don't think so.

There is more to humanity than the singular purpose of singing praise to God. We are summoned to be God's representatives on earth, to be caretakers of his creation, and to be in fellowship with him. Redemption and restoration cannot mean that lose our distinctiveness and purpose as humans, for that would not be undoing the effects of sin but letting sin run us out of God's plan and forcing him to come up with some lesser alternative.

The same ought to be said of creation as a whole. Far too many Christians today believe that God is simply going to dispose of this earth (and heaven) for the new earth (and new heaven) that is to come. Simply stated, this is replacement theology. It is assuming that the earth has become so corrupted that it no longer rests within the Creator's ability to restore it and rescue it from evil. He has no choice but to blow it up and start again with something else. Again, this is not undoing the effects of sin, but conceding to it and moving on to something else.

And this is not God.

The Bishop has written two incredible books on this topic (The Resurrection of the Son of God and Surprised by Hope). In both of these he stresses quite strongly and rightly that the ultimate Christian hope is not 'life after death' but rather 'life after life after death' and that God's ultimate plan is found in the renewal of heaven and earth. This is the only way to makes sense of so many of the biblical texts, but leaves us baffled under the weight of generations who have simply assumed otherwise.

What is our expectation for the hope of this world? It is quite like asking what season it will be in heaven? Or perhaps we should be asking what season it will be in the new world?

As complex as the world is . . . and it really is an enormous complexity which our best minds and computers cannot fathom . . . are we to assume that it is always summer in the new creation? Will it always be springtime, because of its 'newness' and 'freshness'? Will it be autumn? Will it ever be winter? Or will it be the world that God has always intended it to be, and will cycle the way that God designed it to cycle?

What of those who enjoy winter? Will the new world be a place that allows the Winter Olympian to be as completely at home as the pipeline surfer? Is the new existence something that requires us to be uniform and alike? Or is it a world which is just as wonderfully diverse and exciting as creation has always been, now found to be more so because of the unbridled experience of God's love?

Our answers tell us what we think of heaven and new creation. And what we think of ourselves. And what we think of God.

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