The work of God on earth

Gleanings from Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Part 3)

…the situation in the world demands that God fixes it Himself.

To be honest, Tom Wright doesn’t tell anything particularly new in his book that I haven’t heard of. For example, my belief system includes the resurrection (check), the new heavens and the new earth (check), the mission of the church in the world (check), the reinstating of humanity-under-Christ as the rightful stewards of the earth under God the creator (check). But what he does is to reaffirm that these represent the fundamental backdrop from where the biblical narrative springs forth.

He arranges the facts of the biblical narrative to a coherent worldview that both transcends and encompasses our individual / private experience of God to a larger framework of creation. This is paramount to Tom Wright’s work, and again, this is not new. What I am seeing is this — we cannot extract our personal faith in Christ and moral piety from the broader existential question of our role as stewards of the earth. In my own reading of this and my own arising position, piety is holiness, but holiness is not piety per se because piety is only a subset of holiness; and morality is stewardship but stewardship is not morality per se because morality is only a subset of stewardship. And I would add that not only are individuals co-partners of God, the whole of humanity was meant to be co-partners of God.

We move on to the next part of my reflections from Surprised by Hope.

Tom Wright begins Part 2 of the book by saying that the situation in the world demands that God fixes it Himself. He words this as “put things to rights”. No one else can do it. Firstly, the world is not on the way to evolutionary heights i.e. it’s not getting better and better. Although we are technologically advancing, creation including humans is being subjected to increasing lashings towards itself. Secondly, the decay of the world does not mean that the answer is to have humanity ejected from it (whether through passing on to heaven or through being sent to Mars or the moon).

what redemption entails is no longer even a case of getting ourselves saved (wherein we debate about the possibility of saving ourselves). It is exponentially a much larger scope than saving an individual or a people. It is putting the entire cosmos right, making the entire creation new.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is what God has done to fix the situation in the world, to put things to rights. N.T. Wright is saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection has in a dramatic way altered and launched the new creation, as planned, and set it onto a different path.

So what background does this “putting things to right” look like?

  1. Creation is good. God made creation as a thing separate from Himself. And God made creation good. Creation is to be distinguished from more independent, self-sufficient perspective of “nature”. More so, creation is a thing of God, that reflects who He is. Especially humanity which was designed to reflect God. And therefore, nothing that is created is essentially evil. From this angle, Jesus emerges as the one who reestablishes humanity is the good stewards of creation, as He Himself becomes of Lord of it.
  2. Evil is rebellious idolatry, where in a grand twist of things, humans worship the created rather than the Creator. What results is that cosmos becomes haywire, when evil is unleashed as a result of that idolatry.
  3. Redemption is not touching the reset button, or putting everything to the shredder and replacing it with something totally new. It is not making renovations or incremental improvements to creation. Redemption is remaking and refashioning creation from the distortion and corruption that has marred it. Redemption is liberating what has become enslaved. And so what redemption entails is no longer even a case of getting ourselves saved (wherein we debate about the possibility of saving ourselves). It is exponentially a much larger scope than saving an individual or a people. It is putting the entire cosmos right, making the entire creation new. (My heart always pounds with a strange hope when I read the quote from Jesus “I make all things new”.) This is something that only God can do, and He does this by actively giving Himself to this entire redemption project. In this narrative, God in the form of Jesus gives Himself, first to establish a new humanity (the ecclesio-church) which from there forward is involved in establishing His just and loving Lordship over all of creation, reconciling all things to Him.

And so the putting things right is the mission and work of God and this is done in the work of Christ in proclaiming and establishing God’s Kingdom — His reign and rule — on earth, indeed the whole of creation. By extension, His church established by Christ is continuing the work that He has started.

Some key references he makes regarding God’s work in reconciling creation to Him:

  1. Romans 8:18-25
  2. Colossians 1:15-20
  3. Ephesians 1:9-12

I will end this blog post by sharing our final eschatological hope (or maybe, the nearest eschatological hope in which we know of). And that is the marriage of heaven and earth.

N.T. Wright points out what is to me the zenith of all hopes. The hope of all hopes: that in the final day (or the nearest knowable revealed future from when the rest of unknown or fuzzy eternity continues), heaven will come down as it were to earth. There will be new heavens and a new earth that will be once more closely intertwined with each other, as they were created by God in Genesis 1:1 to be.

The city of God the church will come down to earth like a bride to her husband. We will have a new world to live under God’s reign and rule of love.

I don’t know about you but my understanding of good news has now escalated to dazzling new heights.

Read Part 1: Life in the body is good | Read Part 2: Resurrection: So what?

_____

Wright, N.T. (2008). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperOne: New York
Available from Canaanland

Disclaimer: Apologies if I misread Tom Wright or communicated it poorly. Happy to discuss it with you here or debbie.loh@gmail.com

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