I heard myself praying those less-than-reverent words in the opening days of Advent, as I considered the state of the world – the Paris attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis, the environment, the economy; pain and suffering, drama and strife among my own friends and family and beyond.
‘If the world has ever needed saving, it needs it now. Millions are suffering, millions are dying. People are wasting their lives on pointless, hedonistic, narcissistic pursuits. Power continues to corrupt. Cynicism, disdain and intolerance are at an all-time high. Despite our humptydumptian efforts to the contrary, the sum total of human effort is making the world worse, not better. What on earth (or in heaven) are You waiting for?
Yes, I actually prayed that song lyric, with no attempt to make it sound musical or rhythmic. It wasn’t singing, more like crying. And it hurt.
Now, I don’t always feel that way, but I did in that moment. I felt myself pining for the restoration promised in the last few chapters of the Book of Revelation.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4
Now, to get to Revelation 21, you have to go through Revelation 1-20, and some pretty unpleasant business happens in those pages. As I wrote last week in The Game, I choose to hope that there’s more to the story when it comes to non-Christians and what awaits them at Jesus’ second coming. I choose to trust that the mercy of God does not rely on our inept evangelistic skills to save humanity from itself. Therefore, (perhaps heretically) I tend to skip to the end of the story, and look forward to the new heaven and the new earth, where all has been set right – and hope (maybe a fool’s hope, but there it is) that none of us are ultimately excluded.
That sounds a damn sight (literally) better than what we experience today, so I’ve been increasingly eager lately for Jesus to get on with it and get back here, already.
And I do mean that literally.
Since I believe Christ literally came to earth and taught, healed and preached, then literally died and literally rose from the grave, literally appeared to His disciples several times over the next 40 days, literally ascended to heaven and then 10 days later, literally sent the Holy Spirit to the church at Pentecost, I expect Him to literally return to earth in power and glory as Jesus the King, and fulfill the apocalyptic prophecies spelled out in the Old and New Testaments.
And ultimately, to bring about a new heaven and a new earth.
And as I’ve been led to understand by some very smart – and/but fairly conservative – experts, this new earth will not only be a spiritual reality, it’ll be a temporal, material reality. When this work is done, we’ll literally have a physical new earth to replace the old one.
But as I recovered from my Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus Moment, I began to wonder what happens to the rest of the universe?
Surely God doesn’t need to undo and redo the entire cosmos – millions of light-centuries across in every direction – because of the sins of a paltry seven-billion microbes living on a speck of dust that orbits that teensy yellow orb in the backwater Milky Way Galaxy. So, logically (a dangerous word to toss around in any exercise in religious conjecture, but there it is), it must only be our planet that gets remade in the restoration.
But as I hinted at in J.C. Phone Home, I tend to think there’s life on other planets. So when the Wookiees, Cylons and Klingons come to visit the earth sometime after the Restoration, will they find a redeemed planet with redeemed people living in wondrous communion with the God who redeemed them?
And wouldn’t this God be the God who made them, too? How does that all work, exactly?
In light of that perplexing question, I began to wonder if I’d bought too wholeheartedly into the notion that Revelation 21 really describes an objective, temporal reality to come.
After all, it’s tough to reconcile the end and renewal of the world as we know it – within the collective lifetime of the human race, no less – with what science theorizes about the origins and life expectancy of the universe.
Now, I know I’m not the only Christian who has trouble buying into a literal interpretation of the six-day creation story in Genesis because it doesn’t jibe with what science says. And yet, I’ve had a tendency to take the new heaven-new earth predictions at something much closer to face value. That seems a little ridiculous, now that I think a little more about it.
That’s why I’ve been wondering lately if the restoration might actually be a purely spiritual reality and the universe as we know it will continue to be the universe as we know it, for as long as we know anything.
But if that’s the case, it’s tough for me to work backwards from that premise and arrive at an understanding of Jesus’ second coming as a literal, temporal reality on this planet – at some future moment in the collective human story.
Is He ever coming back?
Or could it be that Advent is something that happens to each human individually at the end of his or her individual story?
Hmm. Let me think a little more on that, and get back to you tomorrow.
Until then, peace be with you.