Thursday, April 15, 2010

Earth Vision

In Genesis 1, God made humans in his image and entrusted them with sovereignty over the rest of creation:

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them reign 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." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and reign over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

This sovereignty over creation isn’t a despotic rule to do whatever we want with and to the earth, imposing our will on it. Ever try to do that to a garden, forcing the soil to bend to your will? Doesn’t work too well, does it? I like fresh corn, but planting corn in December doesn’t work. The seed will rot in the ground before it has a chance to take root. Planting in September doesn’t work either—the stalk will freeze and die before it has a chance to mature. No, to rule over creation is to do what God does in Genesis 1, which is bring order to the garden to enable it to flourish.

In Genesis 3, the Humans moved away from this plan, seeking to use creation for their own purposes and desires, but that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned his original plan for creation or for those designated to be its sovereign caretakers. Repeatedly, in both Testaments, Scripture refers to humans ruling with God. Psalm 8:1-9; Daniel 7; Revelation 3:21 and 22:3-5; Romans 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:8-13 are just a few of the passages that speak to it. 1 Peter 2:9, echoing Exodus 19:4, calls us a royal priesthood—king/priests, mediating God’s kindly sovereignty over his world. Once again, this isn’t as much ruling over the world as it is ruling on behalf of the world, serving by keeping peaceful order so that the world may flourish.

We hear much about this in our churches or our Bible studies, do we? Undoubtedly it is because, though not many of us have experienced being a king, far too many of us have suffered under human kings, and we don’t want any part of that tyranny. This country threw off the yoke of kingly tyranny, and we don’t trust anyone getting close to it. George Washington suffered many accusations of wanting a monarchy (and some were willing to give it to him). The Constitution was changed after FDR was elected president four straight times, limiting future presidents to two terms. We don’t like rulers, we don’t trust rulers, and we push back against anyone with pretensions of a ruler. So we’re uncomfortable with any vision that includes anyone but God as our ruler. (And we’re not quite sure about that, if we’re really honest.)

But I’m not sure that a large part of the reason is that most Christians don’t have any kind of vision of an earthly future. We have a heavenly vision of the future, but in that vision the earth is destroyed, it’s gone forever, and all that’s left are heaven and hell. Our job is to make sure we go to heaven and then, if it’s convenient, try to get as many others to heaven as possible so that the only ones who are in hell are really bad people like Hitler and the terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. But our vision doesn’t include the earth, in spite of the many passages of Scripture that speak of the future of the earth.

The fact is that Jesus rarely spoke after the afterlife of heaven, but he repeatedly talked about the future life on the earth. He called it the Kingdom of God, and though people often think he was talking about the place saved people go when they die, he wasn’t. Or, more precisely, he was talking about so much more than that. He taught us to pray that God’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” He spoke of the coming age, which was an earthly age when God’s sovereignty over the earth would be recognized by all and enjoyed by all. Jesus’ birth was announced with promises of “peace on earth, and good will toward humans.” The book of Revelation ends with a vision of a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to earth. The streets of gold described there are not descriptions of heaven but of this new Jerusalem. On earth.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God had a vision for the earth and for our place in it, and he has never abandoned that vision.

We shouldn’t either.

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