Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All Things! New! (Isaiah 65:17-25)

If you're God, you get to call do-overs and mean it.

Isaiah's prophecy foretells a re-created universe in which the wrongs and failings of this existence are no more. In Revelation, John's vision of a new heaven and a new earth will draw on the language Isaiah uses here, and Christianity's view of what's sometimes called the "Peaceable Kingdom" that Jesus will inaugurate with his Second Coming also relies on these images.

Much of the passage is taken up with descriptions of life in this new existence. An exiled people would have been encouraged by the idea that they would build and live in their own homes rather than a foreign land. Folks who were too often prey to disease and death at young ages, and who watched a significant number of children die before they were five, would probably rejoice at the idea of long and healthy lives.

But when I was reading it the other day, something caught my eye that actually wasn't there. My tendency has always been to see the re-creation of the universe has happening the same way the original creation happened: From nothing, and more or less in a blink of an eye at a word from God. That's the way God made the universe in Genesis. The words that describe things before God began to work talk about chaos and nothingness, and from them God brought order and life.

God may do the very same thing when he re-creates the heavens and the earth -- make a brand-new cosmos from chaos and nothingness. But nothing about what God says here through Isaiah says that he will, which means that he might re-create it a different way also. When I started thinking about different ways to make a new heavens and a new earth, I wondered when God might start that re-creation process. And it hit me that he might already have.

We say creation "fell" when the first man and the first woman sinned in the garden. Sin and death entered the world, and became a part of it where they had not been before. What if God's plan of re-creation began even then? Remember God told them that from their seed would come redemption, and that one of their descendants would "bruise the head" of the serpent that had tempted and deceived them.

And then remember the strand of history that follows. Starting with Abraham, God chose a people with whom he would be in covenant. That people grew through Abraham's descendants, until by the time of Jacob they numbered twelve full tribes. Those tribes escaped a famine by living in Egypt, and then their descendants escaped slavery in Egypt and reclaimed their land, led by God working through Moses and Joshua.

When the people clamored for a king, God gave them one, and eventually David became a king through whom God made another covenant, proclaiming that one of his descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever. Through exile and return, the culture of the Hebrews was shaped in a particular way, and that was the culture into which Christ was born, the culture which shaped him and the church he created.

It seems possible to me that, no matter what God does on that final day of judgment in making a new cosmos, that part of his recreation is tied up in the redemption of the cosmos that already exists. The final transformation is something that probably on God can conceive of or enact, but in the meantime he has been transforming this world that is, especially the hearts and minds of the people that live in it.

You and I are a part of God's creation -- when God redeems us and when God's grace heals our broken relationship with him, we are re-created and made new. Not all at once -- based on my own experience, anyway -- but what our sin made impossible our redemption makes reality. Our redemption makes a little piece of the heavens and the earth new.

The final act of re-creation is God's. Isaiah describes the wolf and the lamb eating together. Only God is going to make that happen; no matter how much we try to tame a wolf, if it's hungry and there happens to be a lamb nearby, only one of those two is going to eat. In the meantime we are enlisted to help it move forward. Our own re-creation happens not simply for our sakes, but so that we can spread it around. We have known the love and redemption of God, and now we share that with those around us.

We have been made new, and now God calls us to be a part of making other things new as well.

No comments: