• The Cross & Climate Change Part 2: Heaven

    Posted by The Hope For Creation Team

    2 December, 2013

    Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. Luke 23:43

    The fate of the dead has been a subject of fascination for the whole of human history, fodder for myths and rituals, poetry and pyramids, ghost tales and horror movies. So, it’s instantly fascinating when Jesus speaks to a crucified brigand about life after death. Is he offering the man the promise of a disembodied (ghostly or angelic) existence after death? What (and where) is “Paradise” and is it the same as “Heaven”?

    It’s entirely possible to let our imaginations run riot and build a picture of fields and clouds and spirits at rest or play, free from the pains and limitations of the body. However, our imaginations at this point may have been shaped by popular culture and a deep-rooted Platonism to believe more strongly in the immortality of the soul than we do in the resurrection of the body. Paradise as a state of disembodied bliss, however, is not the full Christian hope for life beyond death.

    Christians, of course, do not need to speculate about life beyond death. In the resurrection of Jesus, we see clearly that the reach of God’s love and justice extends beyond the grave. But more than that we see that that life beyond death is – in God’s grace and power – a resurrected and renewed physical life. Although it is strange in many ways, Jesus’ resurrected body bears the marks and scars of life, it can be touched and held; he eats and drinks with his disciples. And this resurrection of the body is something that awaits all, as Paul asserts again and again in his letters and in Acts. God will  raise both the just and the unjust in order to be judge of all (Acts 24:15).

    But what does any of this have to do with creation?

    Some Christians have taken a small handful of passages referring to catastrophic judgement, such as 2 Peter 3:5–13 in which the “present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire”, to argue that creation is of no lasting significance. They assert that because it is destined for destruction, then our care for creation is at best a matter of indifference and at worst a distraction from more urgent work, such as evangelism.

    Such a reading, though, hardly does justice to the care and attention that God lavishes on creation in Genesis (seeing that it is “good” and blessing it) or the Psalms. This reading is also a million miles from the pervading note of hope that fills the pages of the Bible when it speaks of the restoration and reconciliation of all things.

    While some sort of profoundly disruptive judgement seems to be in view in the 2 Peter passage, In Jesus’ resurrection we can see clearly that God’s fondness for matter, for the physical stuff of creation, is so great that not only did God’s own Son take it on for Himself in the form of human flesh, but that God transforms and renews it in raising Jesus from the dead. Furthermore, God promises to transform and renew our bodies in the same resurrecting power (1 Corinthians 15).

    Just as our bodies are not to be discarded like cheap suits, so too the whole of creation lives in the promise of transformation and renewal, waiting with eager longing and groaning to be set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:18–23). God’s good creation will not be destroyed or discarded but transformed and renewed in step, somehow, with the salvation and liberation of God’s people (2 Corinthians 5:17). As Tom Wright says,

    With the resurrection behind us, it should be impossible for Christians to think of creation in any other way than as the chosen vessel of the creator’s love. (New Tasks for a Renewed Church, p. 82)

    Our hope then, is not for heaven or paradise – leaving our bodies and creation behind – but for a new heavens and earth in which righteousness is at home (2 Peter 3:13). Our hope for creation is for its liberation and renewal just as God has promised.

    Yes, our citizenship is in heaven. But we don’t exercise our citizenship by hoping to escape our bodies or a doomed creation. Rather we exercise our citizenship by living lives shaped by the other-regarding, self-giving love of Christ, and awaiting the Saviour who will not only transform our bodies into his likeness (Philippians 3:20) but who will also fully and finally reconcile the whole of creation (Colossians 1:20).

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    This blog is the second in a eight part series on 'The Cross & Climate Change' originally posted by Hope for Creation. You can read the other blogs in this series here.