How Then Shall I Live? (Part 2)

 

We have determined that our love is what points us in the direction that our life is taking.  We also noticed (in our previous article) that the direction of our lives is mostly lived by habit.  The thing we need to know now is that habits are not simply things that we do.  Habits do something to us.  Habits can actually create love.

Recall the habit-loop explained in the previous article which consists of cue, routine, and reward.  We now add another thing to that loop, the very thing which drives the loop: love.  Charles Duhigg calls it “craving.”1

In order to explain craving he introduces us to Julio, one of the monkeys that was used in experiments by Wulfram Schultz and his team in the 1980s.2 When Julio saw shapes appear on a monitor he was to pull a lever. When the lever was pulled at the right time a drop of blackberry juice descended at tube from which Julio could drink. Once Julio learned that juice would appear at the conclusion of this routine his passing interest in the monitor became a fixation. He learned that shapes on the monitor (cue) signaled a routine (touch the lever) which brought about a reward (blackberry juice). Each time he drank the juice brain scans indicated that the pleasure centers of his brain lit up. He was happy. The most amazing thing, however, is what developed later. As the habit became more ingrained in Julio the shapes on the monitor became a cue for more than the routine. Now the shapes were a cue to the pleasure centers of his brain. He began to experience happiness before the blackberry juice arrived. The shapes on the monitor trigger a kind of pleasure anticipation. That is what we call “craving.” Or, to put it another way, “love.” However, cravings only appear when the reward is desirable enough or when the habit is practiced long enough. Other monkeys, whose habits were not yet settled, could be distracted from the monitor by the promise of other food or play time with friends. But once a craving had set in the distractions were ineffective. The results are telling. “The anticipation and sense of craving was so overwhelming that the monkeys stayed glued to their screens, the same way a gambler will play slots long after he’s lost his winnings. This explains why habits are so powerful: They create neurological cravings.”3 Habits can actually create love!

We have suggested all along that we are what we love. It is love that drives us. Science agrees. “[A] cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last … The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.”4 In the end it is desire that drives the loop. “[C]raving is an essential part of the formula for creating new habits.”5 This settled love predisposes us to certain actions. Before the cues even arrive we are sitting, waiting for them. Just like the monkeys in front of the monitor. Once the cue arrives we cannot not follow our routine. For manic texters the “ding” or “buzz” of a new text pulls them towards their phones. For social media addicts the red numbers notifying the user of comments, likes, and loves cannot be ignored. This craving is the reason why participants in 12-Step programs sometimes describe their addiction in language which sounds much like demon possession.  They describe the power of the habit-loop over them as feeling “possessed” by some sort of “force” which they cannot explain. They are “pushed” to perform and “the presence” within them will not take no for an answer. This is how habits work.  It creates craving/love and love runs our lives. We are what we love.

Conclusions
1. Habits can actually create love. Therefore our habits are not just things that we do, they are things that do something to us. If we want to love the right things then we must beware of the habits we are forming because, in fact, those habits are also forming us. And we may not like what they make us.

2. Some loves are stronger than others. Before the craving for juice had developed in the monkeys the desire for other food or the desire for play time trumped the desire for juice. In these cases the love for the former was stronger than the latter and therefore over powered it. The strongest love wins it. It is what directs our lives.

3. Loves can be strengthened. Although the desire for food/play time was at one point strong enough to trump the love for juice, some monkeys reached a tipping point. Eventually the love for juice grew and became stronger than the love for food/friends. Once this happened the love for food/friends, though it had not diminished in the slightest, was now weaker than the love of juice. Now it was that love which directed its life. It remained it its seat awaiting his cue and ignored food and friends.

4. We become what we worship. We all love a great many things. But whenever those things clash it is the thing we love most which wins out. And when we begin to speak about that which we love most, our “ultimate love” we are now in the language of worship. To say “We are what we love most” is just another way of saying, “We are what we worship”, and this has the witness of scripture to support it. “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feed, but do not walk; they make no sounds in their throats. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:4-8). Now we may not “make” idols by forming them of gold and silver but we make idols none the less. “Greed … is idolatry” (Col. 3:5) because it makes an idol of whatever it is for which we are greedy. We love it most therefore it takes on the status of a god. We still make idols and we still become like them. We are we what love, that is, we are what we worship.

Because we are what we worship, and because we are made in the image of God, then worshipping God is the most human thing we can do. That is why loving God is the first and greatest commandment. It is what it means to be simply human. So join me in being human. Because you were born to.


1. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit, (New York: Random House, 2014), 47.
2. Ibid, 43-52.
3. Ibid, 47.
4. Ibid, 51.
5. Ibid, 55.

How Then Shall I Live? (Part 1)

This article begins to bring together all of the ideas of previous articles.  We discussed how that we are embodied creatures.  This means that most often our minds do not run the show.  It is our non-cognitive affective part that guides our lives.  It is not perspective but passion, not conviction but concern, not our belief but our bodies that determine who we are.  We are not what we believe.  We are what we love.

We learned that we are teleological beings.  All of our loves are aimed at something.  We cannot merely love.  We always love something.  That something is a particular vision of The Good Life.  It is the social vision that we all work towards.  It is our own little kingdom.  We are desiring beings and we desire a kingdom.

Then we took a look at what the kingdom of God looks like by examining Revelation 21/22 (our “end”).  We also discussed what sort of person is aimed at that vision of the kingdom by defining what it means to be made in the image of God (our “beginning”).  Only a person who imitates God’s creative goodness, love, and justice is “aimed” at the New Jerusalem.  This leaves us with the question that will occupy this and upcoming articles: “How then shall I live?”  In other words, “How do I become that person?”

Aristotle offers insight in this regard.  First, he recognizes that education is not just about the right beliefs but about pleasures and pains, likes and dislikes.  In essence, he suggests that education is a bodily education of our loves.

“Thus ethical virtue is concerned with pleasures and pains; for we do what is bad for the sake of pleasure, and we abstain from doing what is noble because of pain.  In view of this, we should be brought up from our early youth in such a way as to enjoy and be pained by the things we should, as Plato says, for this is the right education.”1

Further, he views virtue from the beginning and from the end (as we did in previous articles).

“It should be noted that every virtue (a) makes that of which it is the virtue be well disposed and (b) makes it perform its function well; e.g., the virtue of an eye both makes the eye a good eye [its “beginning”] and makes it perform its function well [its “end”], for it is by virtue of the eye that we see well.  Similarly, the virtue of a horse makes (a) the horse a good horse [its “beginning”] and also (b) good at running and carrying its rider and facing the enemy [its “end].  So if such is the case in every instance, the virtue of a man, too, would be the habit from which he becomes good and performs his function well.”2

If we want to know how to be good (our “beginning”) and how to live into the vision of God’s kingdom (our “end) then we find ourselves firmly within the realm of habits.  For to be good and to live towards the right vision is to be virtuous, and virtue is a habit.  The following articles, therefore, will examine habits: #1 How we form habits. #2 How habits form us.  #3 and #4 How we may form bad habits without knowing.  #5 How we can be sure to develop habits which direct our love towards the kingdom of God.

Science has helped us to learn more about habits, how they are formed, and the “power” that they have to move our lives.  In recognition of this Charles Duhigg titled his New York Times Best Seller The Power of Habit.3 Duhigg describes what he calls “the habit loop” which consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. To establish this he cites one study performed by MIT researchers in the 1990s.4 A rat was placed inside of a T-shaped maze. The rat was placed in the tunnel of the ‘T’ behind a partition. When a “click” sounded (the cue) the partition was raised. The rat then traveled slowly and cautiously down the tunnel at the end of which he was forced to turn either to the left where chocolate waited, or to the right which was a dead-end. When he successfully navigated the maze (the routine) he found the chocolate (the reward).  By sensors inserted into the rats’ brains the scientists were able to observe the brain activity of the rats as they repeatedly performed this exercise.  The results are important for our understanding of habits.  The first time each rat ran the maze the brain was wide awake.  The brain remained highly active in order to take in all of the new details.  Its high-alert status helped it to look out for potential dangers.  When it found the chocolate there was another spike in brain activity.  As the rat repeated the process he ran the maze faster and faster.  He knew the routine.  Run the tunnel, turn left, eat chocolate.  It no longer meandered or sniffed walls and corners.  It went straight for the goal with expert efficiency.  The amazing thing is what happened to his brain activity.  After the exercise had become a habit his brain activity bottomed out.  While waiting behind the petition his brain was still very active.  But the moment the cue sounded his body went into auto-pilot.  His brain knew the pattern so that it no longer had to exert itself.  Its decision making centers went quiet, even the memory went quiet!  The maze was not “remembered”, it was merely run.  The rat quite literally ran the maze without thinking.  Once he arrived at the chocolate the routine was completed and the habit-loop was closed.  His brain woke up again.

Each part of the habit-loop is important.  The cue is important because it indicates to our brain which pattern is appropriate for the scenario.  If the rat performed the same routine in response to a cat’s “meow” as it did to the “click” of the raised partition then the rat’s brain would shut down right at the time when it needed to be most alert and it would run right into the clutches of the cat.  The routine is important because thinking often impedes out actions.  Skills are performed most fluently when we do not have to think about them (e.g. typing, speaking a language, driving).  Also, when the brain is not focused on the performance of the routine it can think about other things.  This is what allows us to talk while we drive, make to-do lists while we get ready in the morning, and work through marital disputes while we take a mid-afternoon run.  Finally, the reward is important because it is what signals to the brain that the cue and routine are worth remembering.

Conclusions
1. As we have repeatedly emphasized, we are not primarily thinking-things or even believing-things.  We are desiring-things or loving-things.  What drives us is a bodily wanting not a cognitive believing.  Most of what we do is out of habit and a habit by definition is done without thinking.  This goes for our good habits as well as our bad habits.  This is why when we are insulted (that’s our cue) we often shift to a pattern of retaliation (routine) in order to gain revenge or equilibrium or some sense of “justice” (reward).  And after it’s all over, when we are apologizing for our insults and anger we say, “I’m sorry.  I wasn’t thinking.  I don’t know what got into me.”  It’s also the reason people like myself sometimes say things that make no sense.  On a number of occasions when the waitress has brought my food at a restaurant and said, “Enjoy your meal” I responded by saying, “You too.”  Even though the waitress has no meal to enjoy I have trained myself to respond to well-wishing (cue) with a benediction of my own (routine) in order to be polite (reward).  These good habits of well-wishing and good manners are just as reflexive and automatic as bad habits of anger and retaliation.

2. Because habits are performed without thinking then the answer to bad habits is not to change our thinking.  Chances are we already think rightly about bad habits.  It is our right thinking that labels bad habits as bad.  The problem is not in our thinking/belief.  The problem is in our bodies’ learned responses.  Therefore, in order to become the people we are intended to be we need a sort of education that targets the body instead of the mind.  This will be addressed in future articles.

For now the most important thing is that we realize how large a part the body plays in who we are as human beings.  The education of the body is the education of our habits.  This is why we are encouraged to give our bodies over to God.  “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1).  This is what it means to be simply human.  So join me in giving our bodies over to God.  Because you were born to.

 


1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. H.G. Apostle (Grinnell, IO: Peripatetic Press, 1984), B.1104b.10.
2. Ibid, B.1106a.15-25, brackets mine
3. Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit, Random House Trade Paperback Edition (New York: Random House, 2014).
4. Ibid, 12-21.

Why Am I Here? (Part 2)

 

In the last article we focused upon our end.  We looked at the vision of John that we are to live into.  Another way of getting to the same place is to look at the beginning. “Eschatology [the study of last things] is like protology [the study of first things].”1  A thing’s end is “built in”, so to speak, from the beginning.  A broom is made (its beginning) to sweep up debris (its end).  A camera is made (its beginning) to take pictures (its end).  One can ask “What is a thing made to do?” in order to get a vision of its end.2 When we ask, “What is Man made to do?” We answer “be the image of God.”

The image of God should be understood as more of a vocation than some quality that we possess.  It is related more to what we do than who we are.  (That’s why it is addressed under “Why am I here?” instead of “Who am I?”).  Consider that the days of creation are more concerned with assigning role/function than they are with material existence.3 Whereas Genesis 1:1 is an introduction to the account, 1:2 describes the “stuff” of creation as without form and without function. Day one is about the ordering of periods of light and dark, not the existence of light per se. Notice, v.5 says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Why not just call the light, “light”, and the darkness, “darkness”? Because he is not concerned with the material existence of light and dark (if dark can even be said to “exist”) but about what function they perform. The meaning of the verse is that God called the period of light “Day” and the period of darkness “Night.” This further helps make sense of the previous verse. “God separated the light from the darkness” (1:4). If we are speaking materially then it is nonsensical to speak of the separation of light and dark. There is nothing to separate because they cannot dwell together in any rational sense. They are mutually exclusive by nature. However, if it means that God established a particular and ordered period of light and an ordered period of darkness, then it makes sense. To be consistent we should understand “a period of light” throughout whenever the text says “light”.  Therefore, 1:3 is not about the creation of light materially but about assigning a role/function within an ordered system. The meaning would then be, “Then God said, ‘Let there be a period of light’; and there was a period of light.” This sort of role assignment continues throughout Genesis 1. In 1:6 the dome is created with the emphasis falling on its function.  “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.'” (1:6).  When he created the “lights” of the sky he specifically mentions what function they are to perform. “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so” (1:14, 15).  If that is the pattern of Genesis 1 then we should consider the “creation” of Man also to emphasize his role rather than his existence.4  That is exactly what we find.

When we arrive at our text the writer places the weight upon the function of Man (1:26).  The “image of God” is defined in terms of what Man is supposed to do, not in terms of what he is.  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  Man’s vocation, his role/function, is further explained by v. 28, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”  Hence, in response to the question, “Why am I here?”  we can answer, “To have dominion over the earth, to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth.”  The rest of this article will be dedicated to unpacking these dense phrases to see what they mean for us.

We Reign Under God
Because of our twisted ideas of power it is dangerous to say simply, “I am here to have dominion.”  It must be acknowledged up front that Man’s dominion is derivative.  Authority is not inherent in us; it has been delegated to us.  God has granted us authority.  “[Y]ou have made [human beings] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (Ps. 8:5, 6).  We are “crowned” but there is one higher than us who does the crowing.  God is the one that has given us authority and he must be acknowledged as having more authority than we do. “But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him” (1 Cor. 15:27).  This means that we are not to rule however we want.  We rule under the authority of God and always in deference to him.

We Reign in Imitation of God
Our duty is described as “the image of God” because we are to represent God to the world (this is another reason why we must defer to his authority).  If we are to represent God then there must be some analog between what we do and what God does.  This is, in fact, exactly how the narrative describes it.  We could describe God’s works in Genesis 1 as twofold: separating and filling.

First, separating.  God separated the light from the darkness (1:4), the waters above from the waters below (1:6, 7), and water from dry land (1:9).  Paired with the act of separating is the act of naming.  They are intimately connected.  To name something is a way of separating it from other things.  To give a name to something is to say that it is this and not that.  Our English word “denominate” literally means “to name” but it is also used to designated the number by which a whole is divided, hence the word “denominator.”  As God separates he also names.  He names the light “Day” and the darkness “Night” (1:5), the dome which separates the waters is named “Sky” (1:8), and the dry land is called “Earth” while the water is called “Sea” (1:10).
In imitation of God, the very first thing we find Adam doing is separating the animals by giving them names.  “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (1:19).

Second, filling.  Genesis 1 is a symmetrically arranged account of creation.  Those things which are separated on day 1 are filled in day 4, those separated on day 2 are filled in day 5, and those separated on day 3 are filled in day 6.5 The periods of light and dark are filled with their luminaries (1:14-19), the water and sky is filled with fish and birds (1:20-23), and the land is filled with land animals and human beings (1:24-26).
In imitation of God, Man is commanded to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28).

In creation there is a sense in which God held back.  He carried creation only so far and then placed Man upon the earth to carry that creation forward.  God could have named all the animals on his own but he didn’t.  He left that duty to Man.  God expects us to carry on his work of separating/ordering and filling.  “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings” (Ps. 115:16).

We Create Cultures
More and more scholars agree that a great part of Man’s duty upon the earth is to create cultures which glorify God.6 The biblical image of this is that of a gardener.  Indeed, agriculture is the most basic form of culture-making.7  Gardening is an act in which Man takes the raw “stuff” of creation and, by wise nurturing, helps it to grow up and realize its full potential.  This is the picture of what Man is to do with all of the “stuff” of creation.
Creating cultures is, I believe, part of Man’s responsibility inherent in the command to “fill the earth.”

“The command to ‘fill’ the earth here is not merely a divine request that Adam and Eve have a lot of babies.  The earth was also to be ‘filled’ by the broader patterns of their interactions with nature and with each other.  They were to bring order to the Garden.  They would introduce schemes for managing affairs.  To ‘subdue’ the Garden would be to transform untamed nature into a social environment.  In these ways human beings would be ‘adding’ to that which God created.  This is the kind of ‘filling’ that some Christians have had in mind when they have labeled this command in Genesis 1–helpfully, I think–‘the cultural mandate.’  God placed human beings in his creation in order to introduce a cultural ‘filling’ in ways that conform to his divine will.”8

 

This also is in imitation of God.  So much of what is pictured in Genesis 1 is not God making more “stuff” but ordering that stuff in meaningful ways so as to make a habitable (and beautiful) environment for Man to inhabit.  God makes the world liveable (by assigning function) but also loveable (by giving excellence of form).  That is the very definition of culture-making.

 

Conclusion
We began our investigation into “Why am I here?” by looking at our end.  In our discussion of John’s vision of the New Heaven and New Earth we saw the sort of kingdom we are working towards.  In this article we answered that same question by looking at our beginning.  Hopefully we can now see how those two are intimately connected, how the end is “built in” to the beginning.  If Adam and Even would have faithfully fulfilled their commission the picture of Revelation 21, 22 would have become a reality.  Their Garden would have become Revelation’s Garden-City.  They failed, however, and God through Israel and eventually Jesus Christ worked to put it right again.  Christians, through the Spirit of Christ, carry on this project.  It is what we were created to do.  Day by day the image of God is being renewed in us through God’s Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18) as we work towards bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  This is who we are.  This is what it means to be human.  So join me in fulfilling our ancient calling.  Because you were born to.

 

©M. Benfield 2016


1. J.D. Levenson, Journal of Religion 64 (1984), 298; quoted in T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 14.
2. David Foster Wallace illustrates this in his novel The Broom of the System, The Penguin Ink Series (New York: Penguins Books 2010), 149, 150. “What she did with me–I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers–was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding onto the bristles, but couldn’t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, ‘Aha, that’s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn’t it? It’s because of what you want the broom for, isn’t it?’ Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of domestics gathered; but that if we wanted the broom to sweep with, see for examples the broken glass, sweep sweep, the bristles were the thing’s essence … Meaning as fundamentalness. Fundamentalness as use. Meaning as use. Meaning as use.”
3. On this point I am indebted to John Walton’s work, especially The Lost World of Genesis One, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
4. J. Richard Middleton agrees with Walton here. “These two examples of creatures in 1:6 and 1:14-18 whose existence is explicitly defined by their function or purpose thus sets up the expectation, or leads to the presumption, that the royal function or purpose of humanity in 1:26 is not a mere add-on to their creation in God’s image, separable some way from their essence or nature.” The Liberating Image: the Imago Dei of Genesis 1, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 54).
5. This is widely recognized by scholars, Walton and Middleton included. See their respective works listed above (The Lost World of Genesis, 62; The Liberating Image, 75).
6. J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic 2014), 41-55; The Liberating Image, 31, 88, 89; Randy Alcorn, Heaven, (Carol Stream, IL; Tyndale, 2004), 375 and passim; James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2009), 163-164, 205-214; Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), passim esp. 33-37.
7. “As anthropologists know, the basis for all culture is agriculture. We could not develop the sort of complex cultures that we have today–with cities, governments, technology, art, science, and academic institutions–if we did not first find a way to produce enough food for people to eat. Hunter-gatherers can develop only a rudimentary culture. In order to develop any form of complex social order, people must be able to settle down somewhere and have a dependable supply of food. This makes sense of the garden of Eden as the original human environment of Genesis 2. God’s encouragement to the first humans to eat freely from the trees of the garden (Gen. 2:16) clearly indicates that the garden is meant to provide food for human needs.” Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 41.
8. Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, 35.

Why Am I Here? (Part 1)

 

In previous articles we asked the question “Who am I?” to which we gave two answers: 1. I am primarily an embodied creature.  2. I am a teleological creature.  This means that what I do is not governed first of all by my thoughts/beliefs but by my desires/loves and that my love is pointed towards something.  My love moves me towards a particular vision of the good life.  This good life is a social vision and therefore can be described as a sort of “kingdom.”  Because we are embodied creatures we are moved by desire  and because we are teleological creatures we desire a kingdom.1

Now we ask the question, “Why am I here?”  We are here to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven by “imaging” him into the world.  This will require a discussion of what God’s kingdom looks like and the deeds which characterize a person who is living into that vision.  The former will occupy this article and the latter will be expounded in future articles when we seek to answer the question, “How then shall I live?”

Another way of asking “Why am I here?” is to ask “What is my purpose?”  Or “What is my goal?”  The question becomes, “Towards what vision am I supposed to live?”  Insofar as we are teleological creatures we are all living towards some sort of vision.  But we want to know which vision God intends for us.  What end did God have in mind at our beginning?  Thankfully, we do not have to guess.  God revealed that vision to John almost 2,000 years ago.

Revelation 21-22 gives us a picture of what God intends for all of creation: a New Heaven and New Earth.  A detailed explanation of this passage is beyond the scope of this article but I want to paint a few broad strokes so we can begin to imagine our future with God.

It Is Material
What John saw was not the destruction of the material cosmos.  He saw a new heaven and a new earth (21:1).  God did not make creation with the intention of throwing it into the trash bin.  Earth is not a temporary holding cell to be evacuated so that we can dwell somewhere else, in an immaterial disembodied heaven.  He formed the earth “to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18) and he isn’t going to turn his back on that intention. He even gave us material bodies to accompany that material earth. Just like the future of the cosmos is renewal, not destruction, so the future of Man is not to evacuate the body (or the earth) but for the body to be renewed and resurrected.  Jesus’ resurrection body was a physical body (Luke 24:39) and our bodies are to be modeled after his (1 Cor. 15:20-23; 1 John 3:2).2 How then shall we live?  We ought to treasure creation.  It is God’s and we are just stewards of it (cf. Ps. 24:1; Lev. 25:23).  This means we care about the environment and the ethical treatment of animals.  It means we take care of our bodies.  We do not feed it trash and we do not neglect the necessary exercise to keep our bodies healthy.

It Is Free of ‘The Curse’
Man was made to bring order from non-order, to spread God’s love and goodness and justice and creativity into the world.  After the tragedy of Adam and Eve all of creation was cursed.  God’s good intention was twisted somehow.  The result was hate, war, injustice, and chaos.  The picture of Revelation 21-22 is the healing of creation.  John saw that “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”  In Apocalyptic literature like Revelation and parts of Daniel, as well as in Ancient Near Eastern creation stories, the sea or sea monsters were associated with chaos (Rev. 13:1 cf. also Dan. 7:2-3; Ps. 89:9-10; Isa. 27:1).  The non-existent “sea” of Revelation does not indicate a lack of water in the New Earth.  Instead it points to the victory of God over chaos.  Just a few verses later John says, “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).  God has overcome everything which “tastes” of Death.  John describes this as God’s victory over the “curse” of primeval history.  “Nothing accursed will be found there any more” (22:3).  This is why “nothing unclean” will enter into the New Jerusalem.  All of “the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars” who have not put their trust in Jesus will be done away with (21:8).  How then shall we live?  Any where we see anything tainted by the curse we fight to overcome it.  We develop medicine to fight against death.  We fight against the unjust systems which keep the poor impoverished.  We fight against the addictions which rack individuals and ruin families.  We fight against every thing which makes good men bad.

God Is There
With the New Heaven and New Earth John sees a New Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth.  This city is pictured as being in the shape of a cube whose “length and width and height are equal” (21:16).  In all of the Bible there is only one other cube mentioned: the holy of holies in King Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:19-20).  What John sees is the entire city become the place of God’s presence.  “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:22-23).  How then shall we live?  We live in God’s presence in the here and now, which is another way of saying that we should acknowledge God’s presence.  David knew that he could not escape the presence of God.  “Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7-10).  The angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).  So in our lives we should acknowledge God’s presence instead of “kicking God out.”  We invite him into our homes, our marriages, and our work place.  We acknowledge his presence at the dinner temple as well as the bedroom.  He belongs everywhere.

God Rules
In the New Jerusalem God is on the throne, as well as Jesus the Lamb.  “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb … But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (22:1, 3).  How then shall we live?  We acknowledge God’s authority.  God presence is a ruling presence.  Everything that we do is under his command.  Everything I do ought to serve God and his purpose.

We Rule With God
“[God’s servants] will see his face … and they will reign forever and ever” (22:3-5).  Though God is in charge he always intended to run the world through Man (cf. Psalm 115:16).  We were created as his vice-regents (cf. Gen. 1:16-28; Psalm 8:4-8).  How then shall we live?  Even though God is in charge we do not just sit back and let him handle it all.  God intends his purposes to be worked out in the world through human beings.  The Eternal Word became a human being for this very reason.  He now reigns as Man–without ceasing to be God–over the world (1 Tim. 2:5).  So Jesus, who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mat. 28:18), delegates that authority to human beings.  We continue God’s project in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

We Develop Culture
John writes that “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it … People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev. 21:24-26).  Here John pulls from the imagery of Isaiah 60.  This helps to explain what it means that the kings will bring “their glory” into the heavenly city.  Isaiah uses the phrase “wealth of the nations” to describe the “glory” that is brought to the LORD (60:5).  All the best that each nation has to offer is brought into the New Jerusalem.  “A multitude of camels” along with “gold and frankincense” (60:6).  “Silver” also (60:9) as well as the “glory of Lebanon … the cypress, the plane, and the pine” (60:13).  In the New Creation the development of culture does not stop.  Kings and nations continue to bring their best into New Jerusalem.  How then shall we live?  We develop culture here and now.  We involve ourselves in the advancement of art and technology.  God cares about sculpture and dance and mathematics.  He is intensely interested in science and music and economy.  Government, agriculture, and architecture, all of this is important to God.  So we practice it here and now.

It Is a Multi-Ethnic Kingdom
John’s vision includes the “nations” (21:24, 26).  People from all walks of life, all colors and stripes, are included in God’s New Creation.  How then shall we live?  If we are going to be with people of all races and all cultures then we have to learn to live together now.  Racism, classism, sexism, and every sort of “-ism” is excluded from God’s Kingdom.  We honor all people as equally precious in God’s sight.  That is the vision we live towards.

Conclusion:
What we hope for tomorrow determines how we live today.  When Peter pictures the purification of the cosmos, resulting in a New Heaven and a New Earth, he concludes, “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holines and godliness … But, in accordance with this promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Pet. 3:11, 13).  We do not simply wait for God to bring the New Age.  That New Age has already begun in Jesus Christ.  His resurrection body was the first “bit” of New Creation (Col. 1:15-20).  That part of the future has invaded the present.  So we live out the future now.  Day by day we pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” (Mat. 6:10).  This is what we were made for.  This is why we are here.  This is what it means to be human.  So join me in being simply human.  Because you were born to.

 

©M. Benfield 2016


1. This is the reason that James K.A. Smith entitles his book Desiring the Kingdom, (Grand Rapids: BackerAcademic 2009).
2. The best objection to a physical/bodily resurrection is from 1 Corinthians 15:44 which says that the body is sown a “physical body” but is raised a “spiritual body.” The answer to this is that the adjectives “physical” and “spiritual” do not describe the “stuff” from which the body is made but the thing that animates that body. The word “physical” is psuchikon which describes those who “do not have the Spirit” (Jude 19; cf. also 1 Cor. 2:14; James 3:15). While the word “spiritual” (pneumatikon) often describes men in physical bodies who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and are thus “animated” by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:15; 14:37; Gal. 6:1).