This article first appeared in the October 2004 issue of BreakPoint WorldView magazine. Subscribe today or get a gift subscription for someone else! Call 1-877-322-5527.
The impact of Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey’s book How Now Shall We Live? has been huge, but, from my point of view, not nearly big enough. I say that because, with few exceptions, when I hear people refer to the book’s concept of worldview, a full 25 percent of the message is missing.
Colson and Pearcey make it clear that there are four big questions in life:
1. Where do we come from, and who are we? (Creation)
2. What has gone wrong with the world? (The Fall)
3. What can we do to fix it? (Redemption)
4. How now shall we live? (Restoration)
As they relate the content of the book, I have heard students, teachers, and politicians skip restoration entirely. We seem to be comfortable with creation, fall, and redemption, but either uncomfortable with or unclear on the concept of restoring what sin has broken. And yet, as Colson and Pearcey write, “ . . . when we are redeemed, we are not only freed from the sinful motivations that drive us but also restored to fulfill our original purpose, empowered to do what we were created to do: to build societies and create culture—and, in doing so, to restore the created order.”
I suspect we omit restoration because we have trouble seeing the point. And I suspect we have trouble seeing the point because we have a misunderstanding of where all things are headed. If we believe that heaven is our home and earth is passing away, there is no point in building societies and creating culture. On the other hand, if, as the Bible teaches, earth is our eternal home, our approach will be radically different.
WHAT HEAVEN IS NOT
A thousand and one jokes begin with the same setup. Three men or two women or a priest, a minister, and a rabbi die and arrive at the Pearly Gates—the main entrance to heaven, where St. Peter has his celestial office. Questions are asked, books are opened, decisions are made, and after the wings, robes, and halos are distributed—boom—we reach the punch line.
I love those jokes. The disturbing part is how they reflect the popular imagination—including the popular Christian imagination—on our final state after death.
For example, a very intelligent, well-read, but spiritually blind literature professor told us that he didn’t see how anyone could take the Christian view of heaven seriously. Who would want to spend eternity on a cloud playing a harp? None of us could convince him that that was not, in fact, a Christian view. For a Christian view, we need to go all the way back to the beginning.
God created all things. He made the earth, the sea, the trees, the grass, the crow, and the cow. And God made man “from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). He took the physical stuff of His creation, shaped it, filled him with spirit, “and the man became a living being.” And it was very good.
Not only was the creation itself good, but God created it in a state of shalom, that is, perfect harmony, wholeness, peace, and delight. Sin can then be defined as anything that breaks that shalom. When Adam and Eve sinned, they shattered the harmony, wholeness, peace, and delight of God’s created order. The relationship with God was shattered (Genesis 3:8). The relationship with self was shattered (Genesis ). The relationship with others was shattered (Genesis ). The relationship with the created order was shattered (Genesis 3:13b). As a result, God cursed the serpent, the woman, the man, and nature itself (Genesis 3:17-18). We live as cursed creatures in a cursed creation. Remember, however, that human embodiment is not the result of the fall; it is a fact of how God created us, and it is very good.
Redemption is the name we give to God’s response to cursed creatures in this cursed creation. Because He entered into this sin-saturated world by becoming one of us and taking the curse upon Himself, Jesus redeemed not just His people, but all things.
Romans 8:19-21 teaches that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, not only men and women, but also grass and trees and mountains and heavens and birds and bears and rocks and clouds will one day be liberated from the curse and made new. All creation groans in anticipation of that day just as Christians anticipate the fullness of salvation in Christ. When Jesus returns, the great shalom of
WHAT HEAVEN IS
When we die, believers go to be with God. Our souls are separated from our bodies, and our bodies turn back to dust. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “the souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies” (32.1, emphasis added).
While our state in heaven is infinitely better than our state here in this fallen world, it is, nonetheless, incomplete. We were never created to be disembodied spirits. God made us from dust and spirit, so we are and remain embodied beings. Without bodies, something is missing and redemption is incomplete. When Jesus returns, “the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians -17). We get our bodies back, our final state characterized by physical as well as spiritual wholeness and perfection.
While it is true that when we die we go to heaven to be with God, our final state is the reverse. Not only will our bodies be made new, but the earth will be made new (Revelation 21:1-3). Our final home is not “up there,” but “down here.” We do not go to live with God forever; He comes to live with us forever. The story that began on earth in a garden ends on renewed earth in a city, the primary arena for building society and shaping culture.
Our vocations and our efforts to shape and renew culture are not, then, exercises in “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic,” a tinkering with the stuff of a doomed world. Instead the question of “How now shall we live?” becomes central, rather than peripheral to or absent from, our thinking.
THE WORK BEFORE US
If God is in the business of renewing all things (and Revelation 21:5 indicates that He is), then it is the Christian’s business as well.
On the renewed earth there will be no sickness, suffering, or death, and so God’s people are called to medicine and medical science to make that reality of “heaven”—however imperfectly—present today. God’s reign over the renewed earth will fill it with shalom, and so Christians are called to things like law enforcement, law, the military, and politics to work for peace, justice, and the common good so that we might see glimmers of that shalom now. There will be meaningful work and plenty on the renewed earth, and so Christian businesspeople labor to provide jobs and to produce products and prosperity that reflect what will be. And it is the same for every human calling.
How now shall we live? We shall live in such a way that we reflect the God-saturated, renewed creation that is to come. Understanding creation, fall, and redemption is not enough. Restoration is our obvious, “heavenly” task when we face the future that is truly ours.
Jim Tonkowich, D. Min., is the Managing Editor of “BreakPoint” Radio. He is also an instructor in the Wilberforce Forum’s Centurions Program, which began its second year in 2005.
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