Thursday, October 7, 2010

Creation and Eschatology

Last evening I joined an all too brief discussion on creation theology and eschatology. It reminded me of this sermon, originally posted on 9 September 2007. One day I will express these same ideas better -- there is much room to do so -- but for now, I offer this again.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

16Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch. 18To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. 19Lamech took two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock. 21His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools (Gen 4:16-22a, NRSV).

There was no music in the Garden. Oh, the birds sang almost certainly. But the sound of wood and string – the harp and lyre – and the sound of wood and wind – the flute and the pipe – well, these were not heard. Human music was generations away, east of Eden. There was no art in the Garden. Oh, the artistry of the Creator filled the earth and the sea and the heavens above them both. But the work of human hearts and hands – bronze sculpture and statues – well, these were not seen. Human art was generations away, east of Eden. There were no cities in Eden, no tended flocks. These, too, lay generations away and to the East. Much that is distinctive about human nature – our culture and civilization – was nowhere to be found in the Garden.

All these human accomplishments – music, art, tools, architecture, animal husbandry and the like – followed man’s original sin; but, there is no biblical reason to believe they proceeded from it. If anything, this human development shows that man, even in his fallen state, is capable of and is drawn toward God-ordained growth and maturity. Had man remained in the Garden, lovelier music and art would have graced Eden than that which we now know. Tools would have cultivated the garden and not ravaged it; never would plowshares have been beaten into swords. Architecture and agriculture would have ensured homes and food for all Eden’s inhabitants; homelessness and poverty – certainly born of sin – would never have been known.

A garden is not only an idyllic place of beauty and rest, it is also a place of fertile potential, a place where growth toward abundance is both possible and natural – expected. Perhaps we should envision Eden not as a beautifully landscaped but essentially static English garden, but rather as a newly-furrowed working farm awaiting the seed. As stewards of the Garden our first parents were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, which has implications far beyond mere physical reproduction. Grow, develop, mature in your relationship with creation, with one another, and with God – learn to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself: these were the divine mandates spoken into the very nature of man when God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” (Gen 1:26, NIV). From creation man was oriented toward God – not statically, but dynamically – moving ever closer, growing in grace and knowledge, reflecting ever more clearly and fully the image and likeness of God. Man was to become like God through an obedient relationship with God. This was, and still is, our nature and vocation.

And then sin entered the Garden. If you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will be like God, the tempter promised. You will be like God. Do you see the temptation, the snare? Becoming like God is the God-given nature and vocation of man; it is what we were created to do and to be, but only through obedience, only in relationship with God. The tempter offered another way, an apparently quicker and easier way – a way of death masquerading as a way of life. And our parents fell for it. They turned from the Creator to the creature. Man who was oriented toward God, moving ever closer and growing in grace and knowledge, turned his back on God and charted his own path.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death (Pr 14:12, NIV).

And death it was, for our parents chose to separate themselves from the Source of life, from God their Creator. Not death only, but exile too – life east of Eden. Still man’s nature calls; still man’s vocation beckons. We were made to be the sons and daughters of God, to be partakers – to share – in the divine nature. It is that union with God for which we continue to long and to strive. So, in this land east of Eden, let there be music. Let there be art. Let there be tools and cities and farms and flocks. Let us be fruitful and multiply. For this is good and God-ordained.

But for all this, even our best efforts are tainted by the sin which surrounds us and forms us from the womb. As Michael Card observes, man was meant to wake up in a garden, but finds himself instead in a sin-impregnated world. That sin pulls us away from our vocation and entices us to act contrary to our nature. The ultimate goal of union with God eludes us.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 38Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-35, 38, NRSV).

This is the mystery of the incarnation, a mystery beyond our comprehension, beyond our best mathematics and biology: one God in three Persons, one person – Jesus Christ – comprised of two natures. Try to do those theological sums: 1 person + 1 person + 1 person = 1 God, or is it 1 nature + 1 nature = 1 person? Try to construct the Punnett Square for a hereditary cross between the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Is divinity dominant and humanity recessive, or is it the other way round? All we can do is echo both Mary’s wonder – How can this be? – and her faithfulness – Let it be according to your word.

The Creed distills this account, this mystery, into very few words: He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. And these few words change the course of human history. Actually, these words – and the truth behind them – put human history back on course again.

In Jesus, specifically in the incarnation, the union of man and God that eluded us in the Garden – the union that we rejected through our disobedience – was accomplished on our behalf by God himself. Perfect obedience, perfect relationship, perfect union: these are the gifts of the incarnation. What we did not, and now cannot, achieve on our own God achieved for us through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit and the life-accepting yes of the Virgin Mary: He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

When the proclamation of the Gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit gives birth to faith in us, when we are baptized into Christ’s death and raised to walk in Christ’s life, we become the sons and daughters of God and are made partakers in the divine nature. What is true for Jesus through his incarnation is made true for us and for all who are in him through faith.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and this is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 John 3:1-2, NRSV).

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4, NRSV).

The incarnation has returned us to the Garden, reawakened us to our true nature, reoriented us toward a relationship with God and placed us once again on the path toward perfect union with God through Christ Jesus. We are once again on the path – not yet at the final destination – but able, in the light of Christ, to see the path and in the power of the Holy Spirit to walk the path. And walk it we must. Peter, who tells us that through Christ we may become participants of the divine nature, calls us to walk the path toward perfect union.

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are your and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you (2 Peter 1:5-8, 10-11, NRSV).

Through the salvation that is ours in Christ – a salvation that begins with his incarnation – perfect union with God is made possible. It is promised – not as a completed event but as an ongoing process. As with so much in our faith, it is “already but not yet;” already made possible and sure but not yet fully completed, already inaugurated but not yet consummated. And so we must cooperate with the Spirit. We must struggle. We must discipline ourselves. We must repent. We must work out our salvation. It is a struggle through life, for life. And though we have an essential part to play in this process, the power behind it all, the enabling power and grace are God’s.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:28-30, NRSV).

It is our God-ordained destiny – our nature and vocation – to bear the image of God, to be conformed to the image of his Son. He calls us; he justifies us; and he will glorify us. Those who are in Christ Jesus and who abide in him will one day – on the day of his appearing – be transformed fully into his image.

45Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Cor 15:45-52, NRSV).

One day we will all be changed, all those who are in the last Adam, Jesus Christ. But we can’t wait for that day. We must walk the path of transformation now. We must press on in obedience toward our high calling as the image bearers of God, certain that even now we are being changed into the likeness of Christ through the power of his incarnation.


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