Eden and Eternity. The Beginning and the End of the Story.
Eden. Perfect man and perfect woman created in the imago dei to live in a perfect world. Created to rule and steward the earth together. Created to love perfectly both in friendship and if married, in one-flesh union. Created for community with God and with a world filled with perfect men and perfect women together imaging a creative, loving God who sits on a heavenly throne and walks in a lush garden.
Stop. Fast forward.
Eternity. A new heavens and a new earth converge as the Holy City, the place of the heavenly throne, comes down to dwell among the community of the imago Christi. The Second Adam comes for his Bride and wipes the tears from her eyes. No death, no mourning, no pain, no night. Instead there is dazzling beauty, shining glory, and thirst-quenching, healing life from a river and from a tree. The new earth is not the old Eden restored. It’s completely replaced by a far more glorious creation.
The old has passed away; Christ makes everything new (Revelation 21:4-5).
In the meantime we live in the middle story between Eden and Eternity, bookended by perfection in creation and then recreation. The challenge lies in trying to anticipate the story yet to be written because those who consider themselves to be characters in God’s story tend to want to write the future script based on the past script, especially the sacred script.
But God is not one to be scripted by any human.
God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts; his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9; Job). God may change the rules (Deuteronomy 23:1 to Isaiah 56:3-6; Old Covenant to New). God will dismiss former things to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:18-19).
Furthermore the sacred script is often silent on many social issues, which begs the question, “Why, if the text is inspired, did God not make his thoughts more clear from the beginning?” Thoughts concerning polygamy or slavery or the treatment of women. Those who care about these issues and then read the script at face value conclude it is flawed and therefore God is an imaginary character.
I think on these things and wonder if the sacred script is ambiguous or deeply complex on purpose. Perhaps the flow of the story in the sacred script is indicative of how the script will progress throughout humanity’s history. Perhaps God intends ambiguity and has actually inspired more descriptions than prescriptions than we allow. For a good reason.
God continues to give us choice in this middle place of grace.
I wonder if God’s intention is to invite us to obedience rather than demand it, to give us enough clues about his heart and character so that we choose to obey out of love, not law. I see this in the story of Jonah which has an unwritten ending, an unanswered question. Did Jonah ever repent of his anger and choose to love the repenting Ninevites? Not knowing how Jonah ends his story forces us to examine our own and consider where we fall short of compassion. It allows us to write the rest of the story based on who God is and how he acts.
Christ came to reveal the Father through his teaching and his works. He gave us enough clues to figure out what following him entails, what it means to love a community and love God. But not everything is laid out. Not every question is answered.
So the early church has to figure out the rest of the story according to Christ’s clues. It’s rough. It’s messy. Things have to be figured out on the fly. Adjustments are made and roles are created. The church evolves. I think we forget that the church was an infant in need of time to grow up and wrestle through the implications of Christ’s Kingdom in their cultural context. The priority was not to get everything right the first time. It was to listen to the Spirit only for what the next step should be. And every step was counter-cultural, even if a very small step.
History tells me we are still on the journey of more accurately understanding God’s thoughts and ways. Otherwise we wouldn’t have needed the Reformation. History tells me silence does not mean approval on the part of God. Otherwise we would be supporting slavery today. History tells me God gives space to our broken social structures that may change over time. Otherwise we would still be engaged in polygamy and concubinage.
As each generation reads the same words on the pages of the sacred script, a different story may emerge from their new perspective. This requires discernment of God’s invitation to a more mature faith, a more loving community, and a more powerful witness to the gospel. This is what the Jews in the Old Testament understood when the author of Chronicles reread Israel’s history recorded in Samuel, Kings and other accounts and then rewrote their history in light of their post-exilic context. The changes are subtle but the changes are there. Israel needed to move on and adopt new practices in their new situation.
A new perspective always invites a new reading. (Otherwise seminaries would quickly become obsolete.) This principle was pictured for me by a modern sculpture that I encountered in Washington, DC. The sculpture is an optical illusion in which the artist created a 3-D image of a corner of a house. But as you walk from one side to the other, the house appears to move and change in perspective. Each step forward requires reinterpreting the house you are observing. Perhaps the sculpture is a metaphor for Scripture. The words on a page don’t change but their interpretation may with each change in perspective. And each new, Spirit-illumined interpretation gets closer to the “new thing” Christ is making.
In this middle time between Eden and Eternity I believe God allows ambiguity, contradiction, unanswered questions and changes in the sacred script because he wants us as a faith community to wrestle with the unwritten script. It forces us to ask important questions of identity, both of God and ourselves. It requires that we seek the Kingdom of God and not our own kingdoms. And if Christ is the only one who most accurately represents the heart and character of God, then it demands that we see life, both people and circumstances, through the lens of Christ, through his life, death and resurrection. It is the gospel that guides us through the unwritten script of the middle place.
Perhaps in this middle time between Eden and Eternity, God the Father is growing humanity, like a child, toward maturity so that past systems, past cultural dynamics, past patterns are not what write our script but only Christ and his Kingdom. It is the vision of eternity that drives our story forward. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.
It is a Kingdom vision that drives my passion for mutuality and equality on earth. I believe it is time for all the church to grow up into what has always been present in heaven. It is time to reread the sacred script from our current perspective and take a step closer to our new creation.
Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is also the Middle. In the space between Eden and Eternity, our story is still being written. Who is writing it for you?