When I was a boy, I loved going camping with my family. We’d jam our car full of all sorts of equipment and head for the mountains. Once we arrived, my dad would set up our tent, a spacious canvas structure with a floor to keep the critters out. Our tent was fairly good-sized for a tent, but it had to provide shelter for six people, my parents and three siblings in addition to me. As you can imagine, six people living in a tent for a couple of weeks was quite an adventure.
If God really cares about the world as much as Revelation 21 implies, then God also cares about how you live and lead each day. God cares about your work, your business deals, and your relationships with your colleagues and competitors. God cares about what your work produces and whether it contributes to the goodness of the world. God cares about what you do, how you do it, and for what purposes. Everything we have and everything we do matter to God.
We might have supposed that when God creates a new heaven and a new earth, human beings will dwell once again in God’s garden paradise. But, as it turns out, this is not the case. In Revelation 21:2, John sees “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” In this vision of the future, human beings won’t live in a lush garden but in a shining city.
So, when John says that in his vision of the future “there was no longer any sea,” this does not necessarily mean there won’t actually be large bodies of salt water in the future, along which we might walk or in which we might surf. The point of “there was no longer any sea” lies elsewhere… When we read that “there was no longer any sea,” the point isn’t the absence of large bodies of salt water so much as the absence of the source of evil and the realm of death.
It is particularly striking to me that the vision of the new heavens and earth in Isaiah 65 includes a clear picture of good work with good results. God’s people will build houses and live in them. They will plant and eat the fruit of their labors. Even more pointedly, they “will long enjoy the work of their hands” (65:22). The full goodness of work, lost when human beings sinned, will be restored in God’s new creation… Divine blessing does not mean we no longer work, but rather that our work is fruitful and meaningful.
My boyhood vision of Heaven came not so much from Scripture as from popular Christian tradition and imagination. If I had read Revelation 21-22, for example, I would have learned things that both contradicted what I assumed and gave me hope that the life of the future would be much better than anything I had imagined. Yet, for some reason, I completely missed the heavenly vision in the end of Revelation until I encountered it later in life.
In the last couple of days, I have been reflecting with you on how the “frame” of Scripture helps us understand the Bible, and therefore our lives, more completely. In yesterday’s devotion, we noted how both the first creation in Genesis 1-2 and the new creation in Revelation 21-22 underscore the importance of the created world to God. And if God cares so much about creation, then certainly we should as well. Today, I want to consider the role of human beings in both creation stories.
If we frame the biblical story with these verses and what follows, we will understand just how much God cares for his creation, including but not only human beings… The more we take seriously the Bible’s own frame, the more we will understand that this world matters, not just to us, but to God. God is not just in the business of getting human beings to heaven when we die. Rather, God wants the world he created and its inhabitants to flourish as much as possible.
I believe that Christ died so that I might be forgiven and rose so that I might enter into the life of God. No events in history have a greater bearing on my life than the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, when I framed the biblical story mainly by the death-bringing events of Genesis 3 and the eternal-life-giving events of the Gospels, I missed much of the story of Scripture… My frame limited my vision, which also limited the way I lived each day.
Last Friday, I told you the story of the naming of my son, Nathan. His name, which in Hebrew means “he has given,” represents God’s grace given to my wife and me after a long season of infertility. When Nathan was about a year old, Linda and I began to think about having another child. Given how long it had taken for us to get pregnant with Nathan and how much medical help we required, we assumed that it might be several years before we had a second child, if we were able to do so at all.