Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”– Rev. 21:1-5
A few weeks ago we celebrated the good news that the world did not come to an end. Harold Camping predicted very publically the date of the rapture, that the faithful would be taken up into the clouds, and that the end of this world was at hand. Camping is not alone in his focus on a cataclysmic end of things. Hal Lindsey wrote about it in the 70’s. Tim LaHaye wrote the best selling Left Behind series based on the same perspective (although not claiming to predict a date.) Well, I am grateful that Camping was wrong, Lindsey’s fears have not manifested themselves, and LaHaye’s books remain fun fiction, but weak theology. I am grateful that God’s good gift of time and creation continues.
But this does raise a question about what our faith teaches about the future. We do need to recognize that the Christian faith is an eschatological faith. That is, Christians do look forward to the future that God has promised. This promise was spoken of by the Hebrew prophets. Jesus pointed to it. Paul and the writers of the New Testament continued to celebrate and rejoice in it.
Christians do still look toward that day in which the word in Revelation 21, quoted above, will be fulfilled. We look for that day when God makes all things new, when all suffering and causes of suffering are gone, when the dead are raised and death itself is swallowed up by life. The passage speaks in great poetry, but it points to a reality toward which God is bringing all creation.
The question we struggle with is when and how it will come to pass. Throughout history people have interpreted the scriptures in different ways. Early church leaders spoke of the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the final age of the Spirit. St. Augustine wrote about an undefined, symbolic millennium, in which the church would rule on earth for Christ, after which Christ would return and establish the Kingdom. A movement called “premillennial dispensationalist,” started in the 1820’s and 30’s, championed by a Scottish clergyman named Darby (whose student was named Schofield), taught that periods of history could be determined by a careful study of scripture, and that we were living in the last dispensation. This movement caught on particularly in North America. It is the school of thought which forms the bases of what we hear from Camping, etc. Periodically groups have predicted the end of time was throughout the 20th century. Yet time goes on.
What are we to make of this? First, I take seriously the passage of scripture that says ours is not to know the time etc. in which, or eve how, God will bring the fullness of the Kingdom (Acts 1:7-8). Scripture does not contain some secret code or formula that we are supposed to figure out. Second, the future is a source for hope and not fear. We believe that the God who is love will bring about the healing and reconciliation of all things. Third: people of faith are not to fret over the future, but rather to live compassionate lives now, rooted in faith and love, that reflect the Kingdom which is to come.
Time and creation are God’s good gifts. In this gift of time which we have right now, we are invited to experience the amazing love of God, and we are to share that love with our neighbors. Whatever the struggles we experience, whatever trials we go through, we can live without fear and with great hope; our time, our future, indeed, the future of all things, is in God’s hands. Like the hymn writer wrote: “I may not know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.” That is enough for me.
Enjoy the time given to us this summer. See you in church on Sunday. – Pastor Bill