New Earth or Renewed Earth?

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We live in a disposable culture, where we often throw away something when we have finished with it. My parents had their first washing machine for nearly two decades; now we think we have done well if it lasts 8 years, before we discard that last one, to buy the latest version. So it is with computers, cars, MP3 players, and almost everything else we possess. So have we created God in our image? Have we made Him act in ways that we act?

For long time I have always envisioned God bringing his mighty hands to bear on our earth at the end of time, to wrap it up as one does with the empty paper from Fish n’ Chips (for UK readers) or a MacDonald’s Burger (for US readers) and toss it into the bin. And then, of course, there is the hope of brand new creations, a New Earth & New Heavens: this time with no sin, death, pain or suffering.

Recently, I have looked again at this theology of the New Heavens and the New Earth, and began to see that maybe God isn’t going to destroy this present earth and make a new one, but to RENEW the one we have currently. The vision of Revelation 21 is of an earth with no sin and no effects of sin: no pain, tears, suffering; no death or destruction; no evil. There is a discontinuity with our current world, something tremendous has happened to destroy evil. But has God started again? Or has He purified and cleansed what we have now, setting all things right?

It is interesting to note that the creation described in Genesis 1 is not so much about the creation of the world, but God forming the earth, the sun, the birds, fish, animals and humans, bringing life and order from the chaos and darkness. God was stamping His DNA on the earth, His fingerprint, and it was very good. Will He not do that once again, bringing His order, His DNA once again to this wonderful world we live in, that has been stained so badly with chaos and darkness?

So back to Rev 21, the word new is not ‘neos’ (meaning new in time or origin) but ‘kainos’ (new in nature of quality) which implies that this world is to restored or renew taking on a new nature or quality, rather than a brand and completely different earth.

Some would say that 2 Pet 3:10-12 seems to speak of the destruction of the world we live in, with fire coming to melt the earth. Michael Goheen, in a brilliant and easily accessible theological paper that can be found here, suggests the question to ask is “whether the fire of judgement will annihilate or purify the world. Fire can to both. In Scripture the fire of judgement destroys that which is evil but purifies what is good.”

Does it make any difference? Well I think it does. If I see God’s purpose is to restore the earth the way I live now has to be consistent with that … I can’t just treat it as one of those disposable items that will be thrown away when finished with. I have a responsibility to care and tend, and to participate in God’s mission of restoring the whole of creation, bringing it back to His original blueprint. As Goheen says:

“If redemption is the restoration of the whole of our creational life, then our mission is to embody the good news that every part of creational life, including the public life of our culture, is being restored. It will mean being good news in our care for the environment, international relations, economic justice, business, media, scholarship, family, and law.”

What do you think? Is this a possible way of seeing God’s mission? Or theological nit-picking? Does it make any difference?

If you are interested, I have blogged a bit about this and engaged in some discussion about this on a couple of posts on my blog: New Earth and Carbon Emissions and What is missional church? – Part 8

Rupert Ward