Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paradise Lost - Forever

There is a new article on the Christianity Today web site about the importance of environmentalism.

"Second Coming Ecology: We care for the environment precisely because God will create a new earth," David Neff

(I'll get back to the sub-title in just a minute.)

As I read along, I was totally with the author. Stewardship is important. God wants us to responsibly manage resources. Christians who don't care about the environment are annoying. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Then, I got to the third page and fell into the ditch.

But as the apostle Paul contemplates the end of all things in his epistle to the church in Rome, he talks not just about individuals awaiting their redemption, but about the whole Creation as well.

The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Rom. 8:20-24

Christ didn't come to save just you or just me—though his ultimate sacrifice assures us of our individual worth. He came to save Adam's fallen race by becoming the Second Adam, the head of a new humanity that will someday inhabit a new and improved version of the Eden that Adam and Eve were forced to leave. When we remember that a restored humanity in a restored Eden is the crowning vision of Scripture, we come to see ourselves and our responsibilities in a bigger, broader landscape.

That broader landscape will encourage us to engage with the "groanings" of Creation as we are now able to hear them.

Now here's where I have a problem. Yes, Romans 8 teaches the universe has been subjected to the law of decay. But it doesn't say when that subjection happens. Christians seem to read into the text that it happened at the fall of Adam, but nothing in the text actually says that. Paul's focus is on when all of humanity and creation will be redeemed- at the second coming of Christ.

My second issue is with Mr. Neff's statement that a restored earthly Eden is the "crowning vision of Scripture." It is? Where does the Bible teach that? The Bible repeatedly uses various analogies to say that this universe will eventually come to an end: it will be rolled up like a scroll, the elements will be burned with fire, etc. (Ironically, science is telling us the same thing; this universe can't last forever.) Then, God will create a "new heavens and new earth." It doesn't say God will "renew the heavens and earth."

That being said, the crowning vision of Scripture is a return to Eden of sorts, but it's a spiritual return. The best way I can explain this is to encourage you to read through the first three chapters of Genesis and the last three chapters of Revelation and record all of the parallel language. It's clear that we are supposed to understand heaven in some sort of Edenic sense. But Eden is a type or shadow of heaven. It was pointing forward to heaven, like the Tabernacle pointed forward to Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Earthly Eden isn't something to pined over. We don't pine for the shadow (that's the whole point of the book of Hebrews!). It's gone for good. For our good. We look forward with anticipation to a better fellowship with God for all eternity that can never be lost.

So, why do I bring this up? Because this is a fundamental theological error made by young-earth creationism. And I really think it needs correcting. The Bible does not teach that we should look forward to an eternity in restored Eden. We look forward to a new heaven and a Earth. What will that look like? I have no clue. But I'm sure it will be way better than earthly Eden ever was and than a "restored" Eden could ever be.

Thus I take issue with Mr. Neff's sub-title. I don't care for the environment because God will create a new Earth, as if me trashing the Earth less now makes for less work for God later (I guess that's what he's implying). I care for it because God told humanity to care for it. Isn't that enough?

Speaking of which, I need to go take my girls to the recycle center to turn in about 500 bottles and cans.


Sabai said...

i'm old earth...because of you...and love what this guy's saying, too. So, they're not mutually exclusive.

Heather said...

Now here's where I have a problem. Yes, Romans 8 teaches the universe has been subjected to the law of decay. But it doesn't say when that subjection happens. Christians seem to read into the text that it happened at the fall of Adam, but nothing in the text actually says that. Paul's focus is on when all of humanity and creation will be redeemed- at the second coming of Christ.
May I ask, in your opinion, when did (or will)the universe become subjected to the law of decay if it was not at the time of the fall?
BTW, I just found your blog and am hoping to spend time reading your posts and the links that you have provided.

Child of God said...

Heather: This is a great question. I am not sure the Bible is totally clear on this point. However, I do think information from the realm of nature may give us some insights about it.

IF (and I'll grant you this is speculation) the "bondage to decay" is referring to what scientists have named "entropy," then the universe has been "decaying" in that sense since the creation event. Stars have been burning for billions of years and will continue to do so until they burn out.

And we know from Genesis 1 that stars and galaxies were part of the creation prior to the creation of humanity.

Because I hold to Dual Revelation theology, I believe insights from the realm of nature can legitimately inform our interpretations of Scripture. And I think this is one of those issues where that information from science is helpful.

Hope that makes sense.

P.S. Glad you're here.

Heather said...

Thanks for your quick reply.
How do you interpret the cursing of the ground in Genesis 3 :17?
Does the concept of entropy require it begin immediately upon creation or is something allowed to be introduced that causes entropy? Pardon my ignorance as I was not a good science student and still struggle to understand much of these things.
I ask because I wonder if entropy requires a change of state, meaning something is introduced to cause it, then why couldn't entropy been introduced at the time of the fall when God cursed the ground?
I also wanted to ask about the literalness of the "new heaven and new earth" mentioned in Is. 65 and Rev. 21. You appear to speak of them as physical locations with eternal qualities. But in Is. 65 that creation seems to happen in fulfillment with the rest of the passage where death at an old age will be considered young. How can we reconcile the perfectness of a new heavens and earth with death still being spoken of, albeit in limited terms? I also wondered about the mention of Jerusalem in both passages. Is it possible that it refers to the new covenant, like in Gal. 4:26, "the Jerusalem that is above is free and she is our mother"?
As you can see, I have many questions and no real answers. :)

Child of God said...

Great questions, Heather. I don't have time to give a full response here. But I would recommend Reasons To Believe's audio series, "Life and Death in Eden" and Mark Whorton's Peril in Paradise (also available through RTB). It will address your questions in full.

Real quick, however, I am not advocating heaven as a physical place like Earth. That's the Edenic restoration/young-earth view. Although I certainly think heaven will be capable of sustaining our glorified bodies (in whatever form that is), I think it will primarily be a spiritual state. (But I could be wrong. I'm not sure Scripture is entirely clear on this point.) When Revelation says that this universe passes away and God creates a "new heavens and new earth" I believe that is actually what happens. God is not REnewing the heavens and earth.

Heather said...

Thanks for your thoughts and the suggested series.