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).

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 5)

 

We’ve come a long way.  We began with God’s good creation and saw it cursed.  We’ve seen God work through his people Israel eventually bringing about the True Israelite, indeed the True Human Being, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the perfect reflection of the image of God.  He is fit to rule God’s creation just as God intended and he goes about to do just that.  Where ever he finds things which are not like they are supposed to be he puts them right.  But “patch up” work will not suffice.  Jesus moves to strike sin and death at the root.  He submits himself to death and by doing so he quite mysteriously exhausts the power of sin and death bringing forgiveness and life to all under his rule.  Christ himself being freed from death in his resurrection now offers that life to all who are his.  But if Jesus conquered the powers of sin and death then why do people still sin and why do people still die?  This article will discuss this question and give us a picture of what it means for us to bear the image of God in God’s good (but fallen) world.

First, insofar as Jesus is to be seen as the fulfillment of all that God promised (Acts 13:32), we would do well to get a sense of what God promised.  A quick look at just a few scriptures will give us a sense of what the people expected God to do when he put things right.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken” (Isa. 25:6-8)

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind … The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD” (Isa. 65:17-25)

These two passages, and many others could be named, picture the state of things when God puts things right.  All of “the former things” which are associated with the curse “shall not be remembered or come to mind.”  In fact, death itself will be destroyed and “the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.”  This time, when God puts all things right, is variously described as “the day of the LORD,” “the latter days,” or vaguely “a coming day.”

The picture we are left with is one “day” or “age” or “time” which is ruled by sin, death, injustice, and oppression and another day in which those things are done away with and God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, a time in which what God wants done is done.  And the picture of the prophets is that this happens quite abruptly.  All at once we pass from one age to the next.

Second, now that we know what was expected we know what we can look for Jesus to do.  As was shown in the previous article Jesus does what was expected.  So often whenever he sees things which are not as they should be he puts things right.  This the way the “kingdom of God” looks when it arrives (cf. Mat. 12:28).  Jesus fights and wins the ultimate victory against the powers of sin and death by his crucifixion.  He then is resurrected in a physical body which is never to die again (Acts 13:34).  His body is untouched by the curse.  His body is a little “bit” of that “age to come” in which death is destroyed.  But this is where the mystery appears.  The “age to come” did not arrive all at once.  We are in a sort of in between period, what theologians often call the now-and-not-yet.

For example, just before Jesus makes his finally entry into Jerusalem he goes to the house of a dear friend, Lazarus, who has just passed away.  Before Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ house his sister runs to meet Jesus.  Martha says to Jesus that if Jesus had been there Lazarus would not have died.  In response Jesus makes his intentions quite clear.  He will resurrect Lazarus.  He says to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). As explicit as Jesus might be the idea of someone rising from the dead in the middle of time was absurd.  That was an event reserved for “the age to come” or “the last day.”  In that day, when God’s kingdom comes an earth as it is in heaven, when death was overthrown all at once, then Lazarus would be resurrected.  Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (11:24).  But Jesus is making a surprising claim.  That future world has rushed backwards to meet Lazarus in the present.  The kingdom of God, and indeed the resurrection, is present right there in Jesus Christ.  “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.'” (11:25).  This helps to explain the mystery of the now-and-not-yet.  Whereas the expectation was to leap immediately and all at once from “this age” to “the age to come,” the reality in Jesus is that those two ages actually overlap.  Yes the age to come has in fact arrived in Jesus but not in its totality.  That is still reserved for the future.  But the last days have begun.  We are living in them now.  And any who are attached to Jesus by faith and baptism have been “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred … into the kingdom” of Jesus (Col. 1:13).  This leads us to my final point.

Finally, we live in the overlapping of the ages.  This explains why people still die and people (even Christians) still sin.  We are still waiting for the fullness of our redemption.  But, that redemption has begun.  And that has serious consequences for the way that we ought to live in the world.

If God’s kingdom has been inaugurated on earth then all those who belong to him recognize that we are under new management.  And that means we must start acting like it.  After Jesus resurrection he gathered his apostles and said to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).  One teacher put it like this: what Jesus was for Israel they (and we) are to be to the world.  Just as Jesus went about “putting things right” so we are to do the same.

But we are not to repeat the sin of our first parents.  We cannot attempt to run the world however we see fit.  We are to do it under the sovereignty of God and we are helped along the way by the Holy Spirit.  “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (20:22).  Whenever a person is placed into Christ by faith and baptism he receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38) which is else where described as “the pledge of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14).  The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is a pledge or a promise.  It is a promise that the work which God has begun in us he will bring to its full and final fulfillment.  But again this implies that the work has already begun.  The image of God in us is being renewed “according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).  As we walk in step with the Spirit he brings forth the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23).  It is by the Spirit that we build for God’s new world in the midst of this world.  And we are promised that our work “is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).  The good we do will not be forgotten.  Indeed it will have a part in God’s New Heavens and New Earth.

This is our duty.  This is what it means to be simply human.  Wherever we see death, we fight against it to bring life.  Wherever we find oppression we bring freedom.  When we see crookedness we bring justice.  Where ever we find division we bring unity.  Where ever we find war we bring peace.  When we find indifference we bring love.  Where ever we find anger we bring forgiveness.  God is making the world new in Jesus Christ.  It has already begun.  Our privilege is to partner with God.  We can be a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  We can build for that new world.  So join me.  Partner with God.  Be simply human.  Because you were born to.

©M. Benfield 2016

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 4)

 

God’s good creation has fallen under the curse.  He moves to redeem the world and he does so through Abraham and his family, the nation of Israel.  But, Israel too has fallen prey to the curse.  The rescuer needs rescuing.  That savior is Jesus of Nazareth.  He carries forth Israel’s Story.  He becomes representative of Israel and humanity itself.  He succeeds where we have failed.  In so doing he restores Israel and releases the blessing of New Creation into the world.  Let’s dive in and so how all of this works out.

The Gospels are those four books which give us most of what we know about Jesus’ life and each one in its own way makes a point of connecting Jesus’ story to both the Story of Israel as well as the long sad Story of human history.  For example, Matthew begins his Gospel with the words biblos geneseos (Βίβλος γενέσεως) in Greek which means “The book of the generation” or “the book of the genealogy.”  This may not seem overly significant until one realizes that those words form the very chorus of the book of Genesis.  Ten times Genesis draws attention to “the generations” or “the genealogy” or “the story” of a particular person (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2).  The first two of these times the exact phrase biblos geneseos is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (called the Septuagint or LXX).  By using this phrase Matthew connects Jesus’ story to the Story of creation (2:4), the Story of all Mankind (5:1), and the Story of Israel in particular (11:27 etc.).  Matthew intends for us to understand the Jesus is the one who carries this Story forward.

John is even less opaque.  His gospel begins exactly like the book of Genesis begins, “In the beginning” (John 1:1; Gen. 1:1).  Just like there were seven days of creation, John shapes his gospel around the number seven in many ways but specifically by recording seven signs of Jesus culminating in his resurrection.  He even enumerates the first two signs just as God enumerated the days of creation.  “The first of his signs … the second sign …” (John 2:11; 4:54).

Jesus’ story is the Story of Man carried forward.  A designation frequently used to refer to Jesus is “the Son of Man” which, as already noted, means “the Human Being.”  But his story is also the Story of Israel carried forward.  In a myriad of ways he relives Israel’s history.  Just as Israel was called out of Egypt as God’s firstborn son (cf. Ex. 4:22), so Jesus was called out of Egypt as God’s son.  Matthew even uses a quotation from Hosea which refers to Israel herself and applies it to Jesus.  “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son'” (Mat. 3:15; cf. Hos. 11:1).  Jesus forty days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil (Mat. 4:1ff) mirror Israel’s forty years wandering in the wilderness.  And even Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan corresponds to Israel’s crossing of the Jordan which was itself recalling Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea in their exodus from Egypt (cf. Josh. 4:23).  After Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation he enters the synagogue in Nazareth and reads a section from Isaiah (61:1, 2) describing the mission of God’s “servant” (a name for Israel–Isa. 42:1; 43:10) and declares the scripture fulfilled in him (Luke 4:21).  Jesus is an Israelite who now embodies/represents Israel.  He is the True Israelite.  And he proves himself to be such by fulfilling Israel’s mission as described in the prophets.  He does in fact go about releasing the “captives”, curing the blind, and bring good news to the poor.

On one occasion Jesus saw a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years.  After healing her he describes the healing as an instance in which he has set the captive free.  He asks the indignant leaders, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16).

On another occasion Jesus meets a man with a withered hand.  Jesus “restores” it to health.  The word translated “restored” (apekatestathe)is significant.  A form of the same word is put into the mouth of Peter as he looks forward to the fate of all the world.  God is working towards a “universal restoration (apokatastaseos)” (Acts 3:21).  What God intends to do for the whole world he does in miniature through Jesus Christ for this man with a withered hand.  The curse which has tainted all of creation since Genesis 3 is responsible for the state of the man’s hand and Jesus, by reversing the curse, brings God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, he heals creation and “restores” the man.  Just as God intended to fix what went wrong through Israel so he does through Jesus the True Israelite.

But these local victories only point forward to that grander cosmic victory.  The preaching and healing that accompanied Christ where ever he went were ways of “binding the strong man” so that Jesus could eventually “plunder his property” (Mark 3:27).  The details of how Jesus’ death turned out to be a victory is not explained, the Bible only says that it was.

As Jesus went to his death he faced, not just the Jewish guards, nor the Roman empire, but the “power of darkness” itself (Luke 22:53).  In his death, when he was “lifted up,” the “ruler of this world” was “driven out” and “condemned” (John 12:31, 32; 16:11).  By the voluntary sacrifice of his life (John 10:17, 18) Jesus exhausted the power of the twin terrors of sin and death (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14).  Death, now without power (Acts 2:24), could not hold him and he resurrected on the third day in a body untouched by the curse, which would never see corruption (Acts 2:31, 32).  The work which God began, in some sense, was now “finished” (John 19:30).  The curse is lifted and the spell broken.  Jesus’ body is the first bit of New Creation, an incorruptible creation.  And the promise is that all of those who are joined to Jesus by faith and baptism will share in a resurrection like his (1 Cor. 15:20-23; 1 John 3:2).

But if Jesus has broken the back of sin and death, why do people still die?  And why is it that even those who belong to Jesus still sin?  And what are we supposed to do about it, if anything?  That will be the topic and concern of the fifth and final article in this series.

CONCLUSION:
1. Jesus is the climax of the long Story of the Bible.  God made the world to be ruled by Man and never rescinded that commitment.  When Man fell and brought the curse upon creation he moved to save Man by Man, specifically through Israel.
2. Israel, the rescuer of the world, found that she too shared in the curse.  He continually broken the partnership she had with God and brought curses upon herself.  The rescuer needed rescue.
3. Jesus, both the True Israelite and the True Human Being, came to restore Israel and to break the twin terrors of sin and death.  He began the work in his life and won the final victory in his death.  By submitting to death he exhausted the power of death and brought new life, indeed New Creation into the world.
4. This means that the New Age, the age which is no longer run by sin, death, corruption, oppression, war, and injustice but rather by righteousness, life, freedom, peace and justice, has begun with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If that New Age has begun then we ought to live as if we are there instead of here.  We must live as people of life, peace, freedom, and justice.  Now.  This is what it means to be fully human.

©M. Benfield 2016

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 1)

 

“In the beginning …” Those weighty words begin the Hebrew Bible.  Too often the story of creation has been flattened out to become a simple account of how God created the world, but there is much more to say about the first episodes of the true Story of the world.  This article explores what it meant for God to pronounce his world “good” and what that means for us today.

Focusing on a couple of key words in the first chapter of the Story will help to give this article direction.  First, the word good” (Heb. tov) may indicate moral goodness (in contrast to evil).  Here, however, it indicates flourishing or, as it is sometimes translated, “prosperity” (Deu. 23:6; 1 Ki. 10:7; Job 36:11; Ecc. 7:14; Zec. 1:17).  A helpful way to think about “goodness” is in the way that George MacDonald explains it: ” ‘They are good’; that is, ‘They are what I mean.’ ” 1  Whenever a thing is as God intends it to be then it is “good.”

Second, the word “blessed” (Heb. barak), among other things, means to wish or to cause flourishing/prosperity.  For example, “The LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your ground in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give you.  The LORD will open for you his rich storehouse, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all your undertakings” (Deu. 28:11, 12 italics mine).  To bless something is to bring about its good, its life, its flourishing.  Notice the parallels between life, prosperity, and blessing:

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity [Heb. tov] … I have set before you life and … blessings [Heb. barakah]” (Deu. 30:15, 19).

Now to get to the Story.  When God creates his world the chorus of the creation song is “It is good” (mentioned 6 times: 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) ending with the grand climax “It is very good” (1:31).  This means that initially all of creation was good, i.e. as God intended it to be.  It was ripe for flourishing.  And God intended it to continue to flourish.  The only two times “blessed” appears in the chapter it is followed by the command to flourish: “God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth’ … God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth …'” (1:22, 28, italics mine).  God’s intention for all of creation was life, not death.  Man did not eat the animals and even the animals did not eat one another (1:29, 30; cf. 3:22; 9:2, 3).  Death, corruption, and all things which “taste” of death, oppression, injustice, dishonesty, etc. do not belong in God’s good world.

Sadly, this Story takes a horrible turn.  After the primal pair turn away from God (the very source of life/flourishing) they welcome death, not life, into the world (3:19; cf. chp. 5).  They bring a curse, not blessing, upon creation. “Cursed is the ground because of you … thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (3:17, 18).

But the goodness of God was not undone, only infected.  Much like a person with a terminal disease is not dead but has the “sentence of death” in him, a kind of “creeping death” which will eventually claim his life.  Much good remains, but that good is now stained.

If we were to stop here and predict how the rest of the Story would play out we could probably guess.  Like any good Story what has gone wrong will now be put right.  Like Narnia waited for the eternal winter of the White Witch to be lifted, so creation now awaits its redemption (Rom. 8).  Death will pass away and all that takes part in death (Rev. 21:4).  That is exactly what we find.  God moves from Genesis 3 onward to reverse the curse.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.  It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa. 25:6-9).

Death disappears.  The curse of our body is gone.  And when the curse of the body, which is made from the earth (cf. Gen. 2:7; 3:19), is undone so shall the curse of the earth itself be undone.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 55:10-13)

So, God never gives up on his original intention for creation.  He wants it to live and flourish.  Through the agency of his people Israel, culminating in the representative Israelite, and human being, Jesus Christ, God won the victory over all that would corrupt his good world (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 57).  In the end God will purify his world from all that is bad bringing about a New Heaven and a New Earth (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1-13).  God wins and fixes what went wrong.  All that was lost in the beginning is restored in the end:

“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 through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there any more.  But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:1-5, italics mine).  This is the vision about which Isaac Watts sang in his beautiful hymn:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow / Nor thorns infest the ground / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found”4

CONCLUSION:
So what does this have to do with being human?  That will be explored in more detail in Part 2 of this article but I want to point forward for just a moment.  There are two important things to draw from this:

1. The Story is not “our” Story.  The Story of the Bible is about the mission of God in the world.2  This means God is the Lord, not us.  He is the focus of the Story, not us.  He is the Savior, not us.  Therefore, to be human is to be an actor in a Story which is not our own but which we are invited into.  We are granted a place in an amazing work, the greatest Story every told.  To have a role in this great drama3 is an honor indeed.

2. Creation matters.  God cares so intensely about all he created that he does not intend to give a single bit of it up to the enemy.  All will be redeemed.  Every thing is precious.  Every “rock and tree and creature.”  We are created beings intended to care for created things (cf. Gen. 1:26-28).  We can have confidence that the things we care about will not be forgotten because God cares about them too.

This is the Story we live in.  This is what it means to be simply human.

©M. Benfield 2016


1. “George MacDonald: An Anthology“, C.S. Lewis. 251.
2. “The Mission of God“, Christopher Wright.
3. “The Drama of Scripture“, Craig G. Bartholomew, Michael W. Goheen.
4. “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts.